Byron Scott has his team competing in the East.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have come a long way from their 19-win showing of a year ago. They are (for the most part) playing good defense, rebounding well, and competing against tough opponents. They’re even finding ways to win some games they probably shouldn’t.
A road win over Boston (something the LeBron-led Cavs could never get) and home wins over Dallas and the Clippers should have won over a few of the doubters who thought the team’s good start was merely the product of an easy schedule.
The Cavaliers look ready to play on most nights. They’ve hung tough in many losses, and have looked a lot better on the road than in years past. Despite their lack of overall talent, they’ve hung tough with the Lakers, Heat and Magic.
Unfortunately for enthusiastic Cavs fans, the lack of talent up and down the roster has been evidenced following a slew of recent injuries.
Byron Scott’s team can compete without Anthony Parker or Daniel Gibson. It can’t win without Kyrie Irving or Anderson Varejao.
The following slideshow will examine the individual strengths and weaknesses of the Cavs roster and determine each player’s worth moving forward.
The Cavaliers have missed Kyrie Irving despite a win over Dallas.
This is a no-brainer. The 2011 first overall pick is the consensus Rookie of the Year, despite the Ricky Rubio craze. The T’Wolves point-guard might be a craftier passer, but Kyrie is a better overall player.
The stats don’t lie, and at 18 PPG and 5 APG a game, the 19-year-old Irving will be running the Cavaliers offense for many years to come.
Cleveland won’t make the same mistake they did with LeBron by caving to the wants and desires of another talented young player.
Kyrie will play within the system Coach Scott is trying to instill, and he’ll definitely need to step up his defensive skills before he’s truly a complete NBA player.
The positives definitely outweigh the negatives with Irving, however, as he has a very nice shooting touch, is able to finish in traffic at the rim, and knock down the three. With a little more offensive talent around him, Kyrie’s assists will increase as well.
The Cavs definitely caught a tough blow when Irving took a knee to the head against the Heat, and he could very well sit out until the All-Star Break. When the second half resumes, however, I’d expect to see Kyrie back to business leading the Cavaliers.
Varejao was amongst the list of All-Star snubs.
The heart and soul of the Cavaliers, Andy was in the midst of a second consecutive career year. Alas, for the second consecutive year, his season has been cut short, this time by a sprained wrist that will cause Varejao to miss at least 4-6 weeks.
When healthy, Varejao could very easily be the most effective NBA player that is neither extremely athletic, physically gifted, nor offensively sound. He simply knows how to play the game.
Andy’s made a career of playing pesky defense, running the pick and roll, and grabbing rebounds.
The statistics are finally starting to show that Varejao is truly one of the game’s best hustle players, as he was averaging 11 PPG and 11.8 RPG before Drew Gooden whacked him on the hand in Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
A lot of the recent praise heaped on the Cavs’ center has in turn generated a debate on his future worth for the team. Varejao’s hustle, gutsy play style and unabashed admiration for the city of Cleveland have endeared him to Cavs fans.
His history of nagging injuries, however, seem to lump him in with all of Cleveland sports favorites, and jeopardize his future with the team.
Personally, I don’t buy the argument that Varejao is breaking down, or that he’ll be “too old” by the time the Cavaliers become legit playoff contenders again. Andy will return from his injury and continue to play at a high level for years to come.
Although he’s been around a while now, he’ll only be 30 entering next season, and his style of play is not the kind that will deteriorate with age. Scrappy players tend to hang around the league, and if the Cavaliers truly hope to contend in the near future, they won’t be relying on Varejao to score anyways.
As long as Andy keeps playing defense and rebounding, he should have a role with the Cavaliers. His team-friendly contract makes him one of the game’s greatest bargains, and you simply cannot trade a professional athlete who claims to love the city of Cleveland.
Gee has hung tough on defense.
Let's all take a moment to thank the lockout for giving Alonzo Gee the opportunity to play in Poland. Whatever happened to the swingman’s game over the off-season has resulted in his emergence as the Cavs’ third most valuable player.
To be fair, Gee played pretty well in his first season with Cleveland in 2011, when he started the majority of his games at small forward for the Cavs. This season, however, his play has been elevated to a new level.
He’s established himself around the league as a thunderous finisher at the rim, and a versatile defender capable of guarding various positions.
His improved outside shot is evidenced by his .489 FG% and .389 3p%. Still only 24, Gee should be an integral piece of the rebuilding Cavaliers.
GM Chris Grant would be wise to begin serious contract-extension talks with Gee, who has the respect of head coach Byron Scott.
Sessions can get to the rack at bay.
Along with Kyrie Irving, Sessions solidifies a rare position of strength for the Cavaliers roster at point guard. Lost in the catastrophe of a 63-loss season was Ramon’s impressive first season in Cleveland, where he averaged 13.3 PPG and 5.2 APG despite only playing 26.3 minutes per game.
Sessions has handled his constant rotation between the bench and starting lineup well, producing at a relatively consistent level. Despite shooting a career-low .358% from the field this season, he’s still averaging 10.1 points and 5.7 assists in 24.8 minutes.
Sessions has added the trey to his offensive arsenal, an aspect that had been conspicuously absent throughout his career. In his three starts in Irving’s place, Sessions has averaged 18.3 PPG and 12.3 APG on .447% shooting.
Although he does tend to force a lot of offense, Sessions is able to consistently get to the basket and draw fouls. His ability to reliably knock down free throws is a shot in the arm for a Cavs team whose troubles from the line can be infuriating.
Sessions also does a good job taking care of a basketball, with a 2.61 assist-to-turnover ratio. At 25, Sessions could form a solid point guard duo with Kyrie for the foreseeable future and help the Cavs get back into contention.
How much longer will Antawn wear a Cavs uniform?
Jamison isn’t higher on this list only because the aim of this article focuses on both the team’s short- and long-term future. Antawn has been nothing but a class act while enduring a painful rebuild and constant trade talks after initially coming to Cleveland with instant championship expectations.
Antawn has been a steady scoring presence for the young Cavaliers, even if ‘unorthodox’ is a kind way of describing his game. In the wake of injuries to Kyrie and Andy, Jamison has stepped up his production, but merely looks like the best player on a bad team (without Irving and Varejao, the Cavs are a bad team).
More likely, Jamison looks like a player who will be traded. The Cavaliers might not be saying it publicly, but there’s no way GM Chris Grant isn’t looking to move Jamison, who will be 36 after this season.
A glance at Antawn’s stat line would indicate that despite his age, he’s still an effective scorer at 16.8 PPG, but an undersized forward whose too small to be a force inside but too slow to play the 3.
Jamison can stretch the floor shooting a decent 35 percent from deep, but his free-throw troubles have been a glaring blemish on his stat line since joining the Cavaliers.
His troubles were showcased by his inability to knock down either of two free throws at the end of regulation against Milwaukee, a game the Cavs would end up losing in OT.
If a contender is willing to part with a first-round pick for Jamison, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Jamison’s a solid player, but he’s the obvious choice to be dealt for a rebuilding team looking to get better with young talent.
Thompson needs to look to pass a little more.
The fourth overall pick of the draft has continuously shown mixed results with the Cavaliers in his rookie season. Raw athleticism can help offset inconsistent offensive production, as Thompson’s physical presence inside enables him to grab rebounds and alter shots with authority.
Tristan has shown flashes of offensive creativity with his ability to score with either hand. Unfortunately, his knack for getting to the foul line is offset by his inability to make free throws.
It’s inexcusable for an NBA player to shoot .426 from the foul line. Thompson’s .424 field goal percentage might be even more disturbing for a big man who has only 3 assists in 360 minutes of NBA playing time.
Despite his offensive struggles, Thompson could benefit from some more playing time. He’ll get just that following Varejao’s injury and the potential trade of Antawn Jamison.
It’s important to remember that Tristan is still only 20, and his offensive game can only improve with time. He needs to learn to be unselfish with the ball in his hands and not look to score every time.
I’ve often compared Tristan’s game to that of a young Ben Wallace. If that’s what his production with the Cavaliers amounts to, I’d be more than okay with that.
Casspi should look to drive more and settle less.
Opportunity. The best word to describe what injuries to Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao mean for Omri Casspi. After being handed the starting job at small forward, the third-year swingman has been a huge disappointment thus far for the Cavaliers since being acquired for J.J. Hickson.
At 6’9,’’ 225, Casspi has the size to be an effective NBA scorer and defender. The glaring hole in Casspi’s repertoire is athleticism. He' can’t seem to catch an alley-oop or finish at the hoop whenever contested.
He also looks completely lost in the offense, unsure of where to go on the floor, or what to do with the ball in his hands.
Far too often, he settles for poor shots, jacking up contested threes that miss badly. It seems as if the fans’ patience with Casspi is starting to wear thin.
What Omri needs is a boost of confidence. The Cavaliers should try calling a few plays for him to get him involved in the flow of the half-court offense. Without Andy, we’re likely to see a lot less pick-and-roll offense, so Casspi should have more opportunities with the ball in his hands.
Casspi needs to stop jacking up bad shots and drive to the hoop. He’s only shooting .304 from three on the season, but .504 from inside the arc. He plays good defense, and shouldn’t be demoted to the bench in favor of Alonzo Gee.
To be an NBA starter, though, you should at least be in consideration to be playing at the end of games, and right now, Omri continues to ride the pine in crunch time.
Still only 23 in his third NBA season, however, Casspi will have every opportunity to prove himself as a member of the Cavaliers before being written off for good.
Boobie has never been great inside the arc.
I’ve never been a huge fan of ‘Boobie.’ He’s always struck me as an overrated and overvalued guard whose too small and one-dimensional to consistently play either guard spot.
Just when I’m ready to see him sent to the bench, however, he always seems to splash a big three, thereby silencing my frustration.
Gibson is easily the Cavs’ best three-point marksman and his defense does look better than in years past. Despite shooting .420% from three, however, Gibson simply hasn’t found a way to improve as an all-around player in his six years in the league.
For his career, he only averages 8.2 PPG, 2.0 APG and 2.1 RPG. Even as a reserve guard, you’ve got to be able to either score a few more points or hand out a few more assists to be earning your worth. It’s never a good sign if your career field goal percentage is lower than your career 3-point percentage.
For a player who takes so many shots from behind the arc, Boobie is shooting just .369 from the inside the perimeter.
Samuels' game is pure power.
After being in-and-out of Byron Scott’s supposedly non-existent doghouse, Samardo will need to get more minutes in the wake of Varejao’s injury. The strongest physical player on the Cavs, Samuels can literally bulldoze his way inside.
He has an inconsistent offensive game, but does manage to get to the foul line a lot. That Samuels’ .683 mark from the charity stripe is considered respectable is a telling indictment of the Cavaliers’ inability to make free throws.
Like Tristan Thompson, Samuels would benefit from increased playing time. He’s logged more than 20 minutes just three times this season after averaging almost 19 a game last season. In those three games, Samardo has averaged 12.7 PPG and 5.3 RPG on .615 shooting.
Like so many players on the Cavaliers, Samuels’ greatest asset is his age. At only 23, he should have plenty of opportunities to prove his worth and hopefully win consistent minutes as the Cavaliers backup center over Semih Erden and Ryan Hollins.
Jamison, Parker and Varejao are the Cavaliers' veteran leaders.
Like Boobie Gibson, I’ve never been a huge fan of Anthony Parker. For a player whose made a career of playing good perimeter defense and knocking down the corner three, he’s earned too much respect for his three decent seasons with the Toronto Raptors.
In his first year as a role player, he may have been a good fit for the Cavs. In his second season on a rebuilding Cleveland squad, he seems out of place, and constantly unable to stay healthy. An ailing back doesn’t bode well for a 36-year-old shooting guard with bad knees.
I wasn’t in favor of retaining Parker for this season, but obviously management thought he could provide some leadership for the Cavaliers’ young squad. While ‘AP’ might be a great locker room guy, the NBA is about what you can do on the court.
Parker will inevitably get his minutes when his back is feeling up to it, but that is more an indication of the Cavaliers’ lack of talent at the shooting guard position than Parker’s value at either end of the court.
Can Eyenga hit an open jumper?
The Cavaliers' first-round pick in 2009 has proven himself an enigma. In between highlight-reel dunks and sending opposing shots into the stands, Christian Eyenga has proven himself incapable of knocking down open jump shots and often playing out of the rhythm of the game.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Eyenga’s greatest asset is his age. Only 22 on a rebuilding Cavaliers squad that's absent a legitimate shooting guard, Eyenga will get his chances to showcase his supreme athleticism, and hopefully refine his game a little.
The Cavaliers’ gaping hole at the two spot should inevitably make that the focus of their first overall draft pick in 2012.
Hollins seems to forget to jump on defense.
In addition to being one of the ugliest trios of basketball players in recent memory, there’s really not much else to say about the three-headed monster that is Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden and Luke Harangody.
The jury is out on Hollins. As a true 7-footer with occasional freakish athleticism, Hollins looks the part of an NBA force inside. Unfortunately for any team that’s ever given him a chance, Hollins has never reached his potential.
For his career, he averages 2.2 RPG and only 0.5 BPG. It’s simply inexcusable to give any guy playing time who gives you DeSagana Diop production in return.
The mystique of Semih Erden was embedded into the minds of Cavs fans last season when Cleveland obtained the 7-foot Turkish center along with Luke Harangody from the Celtics in exchange for a second-round pick.
Between failing to stay healthy and showing inconsistent effort, Erden hasn’t helped his cause by shooting 36 percent and recording just four blocks in his 200 career minutes in a Cavaliers uniform.
Harangody is just plain bad. I’ve never seen an NBA player who was so inept at canning open threes. Luke played decently in his first stint with the Cavs last season, but now he looks reluctant and incapable of doing anything with the ball in his hands.
If you’re an NBA player, your game needs to be more than looking to pass the ball as soon as you get it and missing open shots whenever you get a look.