The Cavaliers were as bad as a team can be last season, finishing only ahead of the Bobcats and Magic. The front office understood what the deal was going to be in a post-LeBron world and they continued to bring in young talent in the off-season and brought back head coach Mike Brown who led them to their best seasons ever.
The Cavaliers are one of the youngest teams in the league but almost every youngster is a former highly touted first-rounder. The team did bring in a few key veterans, though, in Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, and Earl Clark. Whether Bynum plays or not is questionable but there is plenty to like about this young team under Mike Brown.
If they can get luckier than they were last season in the injury department, the Cavs have a legitimate shot at immediately becoming a .500 team. On the other hand, if they do endure another slew of injuries, it could open the door for young guys to get opportunities to develop which still only helps you for the future. Mike Brown has never finished below second place in the central and, even without LeBron James, he has the roster to build another contender within the next two seasons.
Points Per Game: 19th
Points Allowed Per Game: 25th
Rebounds Per Game: 22nd
Notable Additions: Anthony Bennett, Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev
Point Guards: Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack – Grade: B+
Irving was slowed by injuries last season but still walked away with a very solid 22.5 PPG, 5.9 APG, 1.8 3PPG, 1.5 SPG, and shot 45% from the floor. At 21, he’s entering just his third year and he’s likely the best scorer on this team, especially from deep, making 39% of his three point attempts. The only hole in his game is his turnovers, 3.2 per game last season. Still, as long as he can stay on the court, he’ll continue to grow into the elite guard the Cavs need to turn it around.
Jack is a well-traveled vet and a great addition to the Cavs rotation. One that will likely play close to 30 minutes per game. He was huge last year for the Warriors, playing 30 MPG and putting up 13 PPG, 5.6 APG, and 1.0 3PPG, shooting 45% from the court and 40.4% from three-point range. Jack also makes for a great insurance policy if Irving gets injured, having started 253 games over the last seven seasons. He’s as solid as solid gets and will be a go-to veteran for Mike Brown.
Waiters was the Cavs’ first-round pick last season but struggled with consistency in his rookie season. The 21-year-old shot just 41% from the floor and 31% from three-point range. He didn’t add much in the other categories save for the occasional steal but he did get plenty of shot attempts and averaged 14.7 PPG on volume alone. There’s plenty of development ahead but he has shown that promise that the Cavs were banking on when they drafted him.
Miles is another experienced vet on the Cavs bench and an excellent three-point shooter, averaging 1.9 3PPG and shooting 38.4% from three-point range. I’d expect more of what we’ve seen from him the last few years; about 20 MPG, 10-12 PPG, and a steady diet of long range shots.
Small Forwards: Earl Clark, Alonzo Gee, Sergey Karasev – Grade: C+ (higher if Karasev is ready)
Clark hadn’t gotten many chances to play in his first three seasons but he finally got some opportunities in 2012 as the Lakers were ravaged by injuries last season. He’ll rejoin Mike Brown in Cleveland but he’s not a true starter, more of a rotation player. He got to start 36 games in LA last season but averaged just 9.0 PPG and 6.8 RPG over those contests. If Anthony Bennett or Sergey Karasev can develop quickly, this could very well be their spot for the taking.
Gee started every game for the Cavs last season but shot just 41% from the floor and didn’t add much elsewhere, thus a return to the bench. Again, this position figures to have a lot of mixing and matching so we’ll see how everyone fits as the preseason and regular season move along.
Karasev is a kid to watch. While the other guys at the position are boring and bland, Karasev is a 19-year-old first-round pick who has already led the Russian league in scoring and played on the national team. A three-point phenom, Karasev shot 49% from three-point range his last season and went on to play in the London Olympics. The Cavs haven’t seen too much of him yet which will likely limit his opportunities early on but he has the talent and the pedigree to become the best international draft pick of 2013. That’s a serious statement considering there were seven international league players drafted in the first round alone.
Power Forwards: Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett – Grade: B
Thompson, a fourth-overall pick two seasons ago, is clearly developing into a serious talent. After putting up some promising numbers in his rookie season, Thompson started every game in 2012 and averaged 11.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG, and shot a strong 49% from the floor. There is a ton to like about this 22-year-old already and he’s only going to improve defensively with Mike Brown at the helm.
Bennett was the first-overall pick in this year’s draft after playing just one year in Nevada-Las Vegas. He impressed teams enough with his 16 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 1.2 BPG to go first overall and, why not? He’s been sought after since middle school. His .533 FG% in college is strong but we’ll see if he can translate that type of efficiency to the NBA. He brought down 10 rebounds in his first preseason game but shot just 2-for-12. Between transitioning to the pros, his conditioning, and his makeup, there is a ton of Mike Brown will have to develop before Bennett is ready to be an elite NBA forward.
After coming to the 76ers, we heard that Bynum was going to be back “eventually” just about every week. He never did suit up and now the Cavs find themselves in the same position. His return date is “uncertain” but he will “definitely play this season.” Whatever. We can believe that when we see it. About to turn 26, Bynum has now been in the league for eight years. A 7-footer with significant miles and bad knees is rarely the recipe for a grand comeback. But it’s a gamble worth taking for the chronically struggling Cavs. In his last season, he averaged a career-high 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, and 1.9 BPG while shooting a great 56% from the floor. Only time will tell but, last season, we were talking about how good Bynum could be for the Sixers.
Varejao is another question mark. He has really broken out over the last two seasons but he’s only managed to play 25 games in each season. He’s played just a combined 81 games over his last three seasons. When he is on the court, the 31-year-old is solid, averaged a phenomenal 14.4 RPG last season (11.5 in 2011) and 14.1 PPG but his .478 FG% at center leaves something to be desired. Both he and Bynum make for great options at center but who knows how many games you can get out of either?
Zeller ended up starting most of the games at center last season with Varejao out and may have to do so again this season. A first-round pick in 2012, he didn’t exactly impress. His 10.8 PPG on 44% shooting is a huge drop from what you’d get from Bynum or Varejao. His 5.7 RPG (7.8 per 36 minutes) is also hardly passable for a starting center and not in Bynum or Varejao’s league. Still, he’s only 23 and look at how long it took for Varejao to develop.
Coach: Mike Brown – Grade: A
Brown built a contender in Cleveland, never finishing below second place in the central, but wasn’t a good fit in Los Angeles. Returning to Cleveland is a perfect move for both teams, especially considering how young this team is. A defensive minded coach, he will certainly work hard to improve the Cavs’ 25th ranked points allowed. A teacher, he will be a great fit to develop this squad of guys in their early-20s. The Cavs may have been terrible last season but there is a lot to be optimistic about, if not this season then definitely the next.
Team Grade: B-