The Cavaliers are an early season surprise.
Five games into the 2011-12 NBA schedule, a miraculous thing is happening in Cleveland: The Cavs are winning.
Before the season, expectations weren’t high. After a disappointing opening night, however, the Cavs have won three of their last four, and came within a missed lay-up of upsetting the Pacers in Indiana.
Kyrie Irving has silenced his doubters. Those who claim he doesn’t have “John Wall-type athleticism” haven’t been paying attention. Five games in, Irving’s Cavs stand at 3-2 and look much improved from last year’s malaise, while Wall’s Wizards—with a supposedly much better supporting cast—are winless at 0-5.
The former Duke standout has demonstrated quickness, crafty passing and smart play-making decisions. Irving has also shown good scoring ability and smart shot selection, shooting an efficient 46 percent from both the field and behind the arc. He doesn’t try to do too much with the ball in his hands, and looks very in tune with the flow of the game.
Irving was definitely the right choice as the first overall pick, and will win rookie-of-the-year this season for the Cavaliers.
Despite many objections from surprised Cavs fans, Tristan Thompson has also proven a worthy selection. To me, he looks like a mix of a young Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao. Tristan’s shot-blocking ability will make him a defensive force to be reckoned with for many years to come. On the Cavs, his hustle and offensive rebounding are rivaled only by Varejao.
Thompson's offensive game is unmistakably raw, and his free throw-shooting also draws the egregious comparison to Big Ben. These are problems that can be refined with time, however, as the positives have definitely outweighed the negatives.
The Irving-Thompson combo looked vastly more efficient than the Charlotte Bobcats fellow first-round duo of Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo in Tuesday’s contest.
Antwan Jamison and Anthony Parker have both demonstrated their leadership as savvy veterans on a scrappy Cavs squad, and Anderson Varejao continues to wreak havoc on opposing teams’ big men. The bench play has been much better than expected with Ramon Sessions serving as one of the league’s best backup point guards, Daniel Gibson scorching from behind the arc and Alonzo Gee proving he’s a legitimate NBA reserve.
Balance is a prominent aspect of the roster, with someone different stepping up to lead the team in scoring or play-making each night.
The Cavaliers have brought exciting basketball back to Cleveland. There is a definite buzz to this year’s team that was absent from last year’s LeBron-less hangover squad.
Last year’s Cavaliers looked as lost as their fans felt dejected. There was no direction, no leadership and no cohesion. This year’s team looks fresh, energized and disciplined. Byron Scott has his club playing great defense and moving the ball on offense.
Even though they've had an easy schedule thus far, the bottom line is the Cavs are winning. Tonight, Cleveland will embark on a seven-game road trip. Even after returning, the Cavs will face a very tough stretch of 17 games from mid-January through mid-February where they could be lucky to win five.
Should the Cavaliers aim for the playoffs or a higher draft pick in 2012?
It will be interesting to see if Cleveland can tighten up their defense against Toronto’s pick-n-roll and watch Kyrie and Ricky Rubio go at it in Minneapolis. These are no longer unwatchable games between basement-dwelling NBA teams.
Cleveland could realistically take the NBA by storm and sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the east. With the way things will likely shake out, that would pit the Cavs against the hated Miami Heat. LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh have also silenced their detractors, and left Boston, Chicago and New York behind as the hands-down best team in the Eastern Conference.
A Heat-Cavs first-round matchup would have NBA fans salivating. While the odds would be overwhelmingly against the Cavs, the national press would be refreshing for a team looking to establish itself without its former superstar. If you’re a Cavs fan, you couldn’t help but think of the 2007 Warriors or 2011 Grizzlies in their unthinkable upsets over heavily-favored Dallas and San Antonio.
Despite the Cavaliers’ improved play, there still exists a great debate surrounding the future of the franchise. Do you see how far this early momentum can take you, or bank on tailing off in hopes of securing a high draft pick?
The 2012 draft class is widely considered one of the best in years, and the Cavs would certainly love to fill a need on their roster with either Andre Drummond at center or Harrison Barnes at small forward.
As a Cleveland fan, you’d certainly love an early shot at taking out LeBron, but the Cavs would be humungous underdogs against a vastly superior Heat team. With all the talent in the east, however, even making the playoffs would be a huge challenge for the young Cavaliers.
Although the Cavs have made some nice strides this season, hopes of a postseason appearance could ultimately prove unwholesome when the opportunity to take another great leap forward exists right around the corner.
After taking notice of the team’s improved play, however, tanking games to secure a higher draft pick would prove a difficult sell to fans so desperate for a winner.