Cleveland Cavaliers Early Season Report Card

Michael KeefeContributor IIIJanuary 10, 2012

Cleveland Cavaliers Early Season Report Card

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    Right on track.

    After eight games in the shortened 2011-2012 season, that's exactly where the Cleveland Cavaliers seem to be. With a .500 record, the Cavaliers are far from the worst team in the NBA, but they still have plenty of areas they need to work on. 

    Sure, because of the lockout, the beginning of this season wasn't exactly loaded with teams playing championship-caliber basketball, but the Cavaliers have shown the ability, when playing well, to be as good as any team on any given night. 

    Each of their victories this season have come by double digits, while two of their losses have come by 10 or more points. That  this team is able to blow out teams in games is a sign of improvement from the misery that was last season.

    From the beginning of this season, Coach Byron Scott has utilized two separate, five-player units. By doing this, Scott is allowing his young players to get more comfortable with their playing partners.

    The results are showing on the court. 

    The Cavaliers' starting five has  been solid, with rookie Kyrie Irving as the court general and veterans Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker finding their scoring touches. Equally as impressive is the second unit, which is third in the NBA in bench scoring at 41 points per game. 

    The key has been the productivity of the players, who have already grown accustomed to the units they're on. 

    Read through the slideshow to see player-by-player grades for the 2011-2012 Cleveland Cavaliers through the first eight games. 

Kyrie Irving

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    The No. 1  pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Kyrie Irving is making a living as the starting point guard for the Cavs.

    Boy, is he ever proving that he was worth that pick!.

    The selection of Irving didn't come without questions. As opposed to previous top picks in the draft, Irving only played 11 games during his only season at Duke, and some were concerned that he didn't show enough to warrant such a high pick.

    Game by game, Irving is answering all of those questions. An excellent shooter, a terrific passer, a solid defender, and an absolute hustle player, Irving is showing the traits that made him the top pick.

    He's also showing so much more.

    Nobody ever talked about how athletic the young man is!

    At least once in each of the first eight games, Irving has made a play that makes Cavs fans jump in excitement. Whether it's a soaring rebound, an acrobatic layup or a big block (like the one seen above), Kyrie continues to wow basketball fans with his athleticism.

    It's not all positive for Irving. He's had his issues in some defensive scenarios, especially in transition. He also has been in a couple of shooting slumps, but that's to be expected for a young, scoring point guard in the NBA.

    But the positives far outweigh the negatives.The best part about the rookie year that Irving is having is that it should only get better as it goes on.

    Kyrie has begun to make his way down the path to stardom in the NBA, and Cleveland fans are lucky to be along for the ride.

    Early season grade: A

Tristan Thompson

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    That's how many Cavaliers fans were feeling when Commissioner David Stern announced that the Cavs were selecting Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick in last year's NBA draft. 

    Another one-and-done freshman, Thompson didn't get a lot of media play in Cleveland during his time at the University of Texas. Aside from being a pretty good defender and rebounder, Thompson was pretty much an unknown, and fans don't like unknowns when it comes to top draft picks. 

    There were moans, there were groans and there were cries of "WHO?" It really was an interesting reaction to observe.

    Thankfully, it seems like the Cavaliers knew EXACTLY what they were doing, and it didn't take long for that to become evident. 

    Sure, some of the concerns that surrounded Thompson are still present. He's not a very good shooter, from the floor or from the free throw line. 

    However, as is the case with Kyrie Irving, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

    After the draft, Thompson was billed as a good defender and rebounder, who has a never-stopping motor. And after eight games, that motor has been on display.

    Thompson looks like he can develop into an elite defender and rebounder,. On top of that, Thompson has been better on offense than many people anticipated. A strong finisher at the rim, Thomson has shown the ability to use some good post moves to get himself some baskets.

    If Tristan can continue to develop that offensive game and maintain his stellar defense, he will be a cornerstone of the Cavaliers franchise for years to come.

    Early season grade: A

Alonzo Gee

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    Three Cavalier players will earn an "A" on this early season report card. The two rookies earning that high mark should not come as a surprise. The third player has been stellar this season, and his play has come as a shock.

    Alonzo Gee, the third-year small forward out of Alabama, has been a huge spark off the bench and a major reason the Cavaliers bench bunch has been one of the best in the NBA this season.

    Picked up by the Cavaliers during the 2010-2011 season, Gee last season was thrust into a starting role for a team that was fighting to find an identity. This season, Gee is being used as one of the primary reserves for Byron Scott's team, and he is making the most of his time on the court. 

    Averaging more than eight points, three rebounds and two assists per game, Gee is making an impact on and off the stat sheet. 

    Most impressive has been his athletic and physical style of play. . He uses his high-flying ability to block shots and finish at the rim, and he has shown a drastic improvement in stepping back and making the outside shot. 

    Gee was a player with an uncertain future at the beginning of this season. After eight games, it looks like he has created a future for himself as a big contributor for this team.

    Early season grade: A

Ramon Sessions

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    No aspect of this year's Cavaliers has been more enjoyable to watch than the work of Kyrie Irving and Ramon Sessions. With Irving and Sessions, the Cavaliers have been able to play a non-stop, never-resting style of play that has allowed the team to have success with both the first and second units. 

    Defenses can't catch a break when these two point guards are going well, as the Cavaliers have been a tremendous team on the run this season.

    Sessions has excelled as the backup point guard. Averaging more than 10 points, five assists and four rebounds per game in just over 20 minutes a game, Sessions is forming the dynamic tandem with Irving that Byron Scott probably has dreamed about. 

    The biggest improvement in Sessions' game has been his outside shooting. Only a 20 percent three-point shooter last season, Sessions has been able to bump that number up to 37 percent this season, which has allowed him to create more for himself and to play better off the ball.

    Sessions still has some of the same weaknesses he has had in the past, most notably his defense. He has never been a great man-to-man defender. But his role on the second unit this year has been able to mask some of his weaknesses.

    This year, Sessions is on a more defensive-oriented unit. When his man gets past him, he has to to deal with the likes of Tristan Thompson. That's enough to give any opposing guard pause.

    In the right system, Sessions can be a serviceable defender, and the Cavaliers will take that if he can be as efficient on offense as he has been this year.

    The Cavaliers have to be happy about their point guard situation. 

    Early season grade: B+

Antawn Jamison

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    Yet another pleasant surprise in the early stages of this season has been the energy and poise of veteran power forward Antawn Jamison. 

    Jamison, a 13-year veteran, has been battling an inevitable decline in recent years. A fantastic offensive player in his prime, Jamison's defensive limitations were always easy to overlook.

    But with that offense slipping on a rebuilding team, Jamison's play was a major question mark heading into the season. 

    Then they began playing the games, and it became clear that Jamison still has something left in the tank. Seemingly rejuvenated by the influx of young talent around him, plus more rest caused by a decrease in minutes played, Jamison has been a solid player and leader for the Cavaliers. 

    This isn't, by any means, one of Jamison's best seasons. As a matter of fact, when looking at his career stats, many of the numbers are down from years past. But, once again, the stat sheet doesn't always tell the complete story. 

    Who knows whether  Jamison will be around to see this season through with the Cavaliers?

    The most important thing is that he continues to play with the hustle, intelligence and skill he has displayed to this point. If he does that, the Cavaliers will continue to compete night in and night out.

    Early season grade: B

Anderson Varejao

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    It's good to see Anderson Varejao back and healthy again, isn't it?

    After battling numerous injuries last year, The "Wild Thing" has picked up right where he left off, only this time as the starting center for the Cavaliers.

    Varejao has made a living in the NBA by being the guy you love if he's on your team, and the guy you love to hate if he's not. 

    He has perhaps the best, and quickest, feet of all big men in the league, which means he is a constant nuisance to whomever he is defending.

    He is famous for flopping/taking charges, but Varejao is an absolutely fantastic man-to-man defender, even on players who can shoot from the perimeter.

    After eight games, he is averaging more than 10 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. He has been a force on the offensive glass, which has kept so many possessions alive for this young Cavaliers' offense.

    In Byron Scott's new two-unit system, Varejao's worth is on full display.

    Unfortunately, the center position is not one in which the Cavaliers are particularly deep. Varejao's importance can be seen when he sits. Opposing teams generally look to take advantage of that new matchup until the "Wild Thing" makes it back onto the court. 

    The only reason Varejao will not get a higher grade is because his offense has regressed a bit. Sure, he's still averaging more than nine points per game, but his shooting percentages have all dipped. 

    A series of injuries like the ones he faced last season can really impact a player who has worked so hard to improve a once-missing offensive game. Last year, before the injury, Varejao looked as though he had found a shooting touch, and he became a threat from different spots on the floor.

    He hasn't got that back yet. 

    If Varejao can do that, this Cavaliers team will get a big boost from their big man.

    Early season grade: B

Daniel Gibson

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    Dead-eye shooter. 

    That's the best way to explain the start to the season for Cavaliers veteran Daniel Gibson

    Through eight games, he is shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the three-point arc. It's getting to the point that when "Boobie" raises up from downtown, most Cleveland fans expect the ball to go in the hoop. 

    Gibson is pretty much a one-dimensional offensive player, but he is really, really good at that dimension. 

    As good as he is at shooting, that's just about how bad the rest of his offensive game is. Gibson isn't a great ball handler, or a great passer. He is capable of getting to the rim on a dribble drive, but he is downright awful at finishing once he gets there. If Gibson could just add a consistent floater to his repertoire, he would become a really dangerous weapon for the Cavaliers.

    As it stands, Gibson provides the second team with one of the best spot-up shooters in the game. 

    The nice development this season has been his emergence as an effective defender. He is terrific at staying in front of bigger and faster guards. Plus, he has very active hands, making him a  frustrating player to have to go up against. 

    Gibson generally guards the other team's best wing player when the second unit is on the court, which leaves Sessions to roam the court and step into passing lanes. This is a dynamic that  has been the catalyst for a lot of the success of the second team, and Gibson deserves a lot of the credit.

    Early season grade: B

Anthony Parker

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    Anthony Parker is the first of a couple players who have started the season in a slump, with Parker's being the most minor.

    Known for being a great shooter and a solid defender, Parker has definitely had his issues on offense this season. He's shooting  38 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range, the worst numbers he's had since becoming a regular NBA player in 2006-2007. 

    Parker, like Daniel Gibson, is another player who is best when he can set and shoot. He is not a playmaker. The addition of Kyrie Irving to the starting lineup figured to benefit Parker greatly, as he would now have a playmaker and would be able to fall back into his role as a shooter.

    For some reason, that hasn't happened. 

    The beginning of the season hasn't been terrible for Parker, just subpar. He continues to play solid, physical defense, and he is a calming force on an offense that can get a bit out of sync and sloppy. 

    However, Parker needs to rediscover his shooting touch to help this team compete night in and night out. Too often, he simply disappears on the court.

    Early season grade: C

Omri Casspi

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    Calling the first eight games of the season a struggle for new small forward Omri Casspi would be a serious understatement 

    Acquired in an offseason trade with the Sacramento Kings for J.J. Hickson, Casspi was expected to bring consistent shooting and playmaking abilities to the small forward position. Instead, Omri has struggled to find his place in the offense, and his entire game has suffered. 

    Known for being an unorthodox but effective scorer (much like teammate Antawn Jamison), Casspi was supposed to step in and become a running mate with Kyrie Irving in the starting lineup. After the preseason games against Detroit, it looked like that was exactly what would happen. 

    Then the regular season started and it all fell apart for Casspi.

    It has become a season of bad misses and frustrating mistakes for the Cavaliers' swingman. The pain and anger is evident just by looking at his face and body language during games. It has really been a tough go for Casspi. 

    However, he has the track record to show that he will break out of this slump eventually, and when he does, it will almost be like a midseason pickup for the Cavaliers. 

    There is no doubt that Casspi has the talent to be a starting small forward in the NBA. Byron Scott and his coaching staff need to figure out how to help Casspi overcome this mental issue he's having, and the frustrated fan base will then see what Omri can bring to the table. 

    Until that happens, I'm afraid Casspi's game will continue to look ugly.

    Early season grade: D

Samardo Samuels

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    Most players spend their NBA careers either on the court, on the bench, or in some combination of the two. 

    Samardo Samuels is spending the early part of this season in a different place, and that place is Coach Byron Scott's doghouse. 

    Scott's frustration with the second-year big man has has continued to mount. Samuels missed the first two games because he showed up to camp in poor condition. He finally got some playing time after that, and looked promising for a while. 

    Then, because of his lack of interest in rebounding, Scott took more minutes away.

    The latest turn in this saga of a season for Samuels was that he wasn't able to travel to Toronto with the team because he lost his passport and didn't replace it. 

    The frustration felt by Scott is totally understandable. 

    Samuels is a brick house of a man. What he lacks in height for a power forward, he makes up in size and strength. A skilled offensive player, he has shown flashes of brilliance.

    Unfortunately, those flashes are outnumbered by displays of wasted minutes. The issue is clearly mental with Samuels, who can't seem to get it right at this point. If he does, he will become a main contributor off the bench. 

    However, if he continues to make bonehead mistakes, he may stop seeing the court from anywhere but his seat on the bench.

    Early season grade: D-

Ryan Hollins

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    There will be a common theme to Ryan Hollins' early season report card:

    F is for Frustrating.

    Hollins has to be the most frustrating player I can remember watching. A true 7-footer with freakish athleticism, Hollins should be able to make some sort of positive contribution in his sleep! 

    Instead , Hollins seems hell bent on getting benched, even though Byron Scott clearly wants to give him a chance to succeed. 

    Some people just aren't meant for that success.

    F is for Foul Machine.

    When Hollins actually does see the court, he struggles to stay on it for any extended period of time because he simply cannot stop fouling. 

    Instead of using that height and athleticism to alter shots, he uses them to reach, push and slap. Ugh.

    F is for Frail.

    Height isn't always accompanied by strength, especially in the case of Hollins, who has to be the worst rebounding 7-footer in the game. 

    One would think that a man so large, with such long arms and great athletic ability, would find it hard to get less than three rebounds a game. Once again, that doesn't apply to Hollins, who has never averaged more than three per game. 

    One would also think that such a specimen would be able to finish a few dunks off pick-and-roll plays. Unfortunately, however, he has a bad case of the stone hands and rarely ever catches a pass or rebound cleanly. 

    F is for Fail.

    Until they add another big man, Hollins will most likely continue to get chances on this team. It's hard to imagine he will ever do anything with them.

    Early season grade: F

Semih Erden

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    Semih Erden just played in his first game after coming off an injury, so his grade is incomplete.

    However, in those few minutes, he showed an aggressive post game that could really help out the second unit if he can stay healthy.

    There really isn't enough information on Erden at this point to make any other judgements about his game. If he continues to play with the hustle and aggressiveness he showed in Portland, he should see y more time in the games to come.

    Early season grade: INC 

Luke Harangody

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    Luke Harangody will also earn an incomplete grade. He hasn't been hurt or forced to miss any games, but he has played so sparingly that there's nothing to grade him on.

    He most likely won't get any meaningful minutes this year. That's just how it goes when you are not part of a 10-man rotation.

    Unfortunately, though he always displays hustle and decent offensive and defensive rebounding skills, Harangody just can't keep up with the pace at which the Cavaliers want to play.

    So, for now, Harangody will continue to be the guy that gets garbage minutes, and for whom the crowd goes nuts when he scores.

    Early season grade: INC

Mychel Thompson

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    Mychel Thompson has yet to see the court after Byron Scott elected to keep him over Manny Harris before the season started. 

    Thompson impressed during training camp and the preseason, but he is also the victim of not being part of the 10-man rotation Scott has put in place. The guard/forward positions have been pretty good for the Cavaliers, which hasn't left any opening for Thompson.

    The Cavaliers aren't going to cut the minutes from Omri Casspi, even though he's struggling, and Alonzo Gee has emerged as a solid bench contributor. That has pretty much squashed any playing time for Thompson for now.

    Until we get a chance to see him play in a meaningful game, it's impossible to give him a grade, unless we're grading his suits.

    I'm no fashion expert.

    Early season grade: INC