Top 5 Realistic Expectations for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012-13

Matt MoranContributor IIIAugust 30, 2012

Top 5 Realistic Expectations for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012-13

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    It's no secret that the Cleveland Cavaliers are a long way from an NBA championship. But maybe there is a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel back to contention.

    OKa very dim light at best. 

    Only four players on the Cavs roster have more than four seasons of NBA experience on their resumes. Cleveland has been in rebuilding mode since LeBron James left town, and it's going to be no different this season.

    At least the Cavaliers have another superstar to construct the team around with reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving at the helm. But the rest of the roster still has more holes than the Cleveland Browns' offensive line.

    Here are the top five realistic expectations for the Cavs as the 2012-13 season approaches.

5. Tristan Thompson Will Solidify the Starting Power-Forward Role

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    Tristan Thompson had a decent rookie season, and with a year under his belt, he is ready to take the next step in his development.

    It's not surprising that Thompson is a freak athlete, which is why Cleveland selected the one-and-done Texas Longhorn with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.

    In 23.7 minutes per game last season, Thompson averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. He shot only 43.9 percent from the field, which has to improve. Thompson is still developing an arsenal of post moves and an outside shot, and both will get better with more playing time.

    The Cavaliers would like to see more aggressive possessions from Thompson on the offensive end of the floor. According to his DraftExpress.com profile, he was the best big man of the 2011 draft prospects at getting to the free-throw line. 

    According to Basketball-Reference.com, Thompson averaged only 3.2 free-throw attempts per game last season, which he made at a rate of 55.2 percent. Both numbers have to improve for Cleveland to become a better team.

    All of the aforementioned improvements that need to be made are typical of any young NBA post player, and Thompson is no different. Expect the athletic forward to make solid strides this season, possibly posting numbers close to 12 points and nine rebounds per game.

4. Cleveland Will Not Finish Last in the Central

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    Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers finished at the bottom of the NBA Central Division with a 21-45 record. They finished four games behind the fourth-place Detroit Pistons.  

    Both teams will likely battle to stay out of the basement once again in 2012-13. But this young Cavs team has more bright spots on their roster than the woeful Pistons.

    At point guard, Kyrie Irving is better than Brandon Knight, who still has a lot to learn compared to the reigning Rookie of the Year. The only advantage Detroit has in its core lineup is big man Greg Monroe. 

    Both teams are in the same boat, but Cleveland has the better franchise player in Irving. The Pistons are hoping that Knight could develop into the playmaker they need, but that remains to be seen. With Irving, the Cavs have at least one legitimate superstar while Detroit searches for its own.

    The Pistons will struggle to improve upon their 25-41 record of last season and will likely finish with a similar winning percentage. Cleveland's young roster should improve enough to at least pass up the Pistons on the division ladder.

    There may be no such thing as moral victories in the NBA, but the Cavaliers can at least hang their hats on a step in the right direction if they could pass Detroit in the standings.

3. Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller Will Have a Limited Impact

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    The Cavaliers certainly raised some eyebrows during the 2012 NBA draft when they selected Dion Waiters at No. 4 and then traded three picks to move up to No. 17 to select Tyler Zeller.

    Cleveland needs another playmaker alongside Kyrie Irving in the backcourt, but is Waiters really the answer? 

    Waiters was a sixth man at Syracuse, and he clearly has the strength to finish with contact and get to the line in the NBA. However, he lacks elite quickness to make an impact right away, so it will take some time for him to figure out opposing defenses and to find a way to score consistently at the NBA level.

    If he fully develops, Waiters has a ceiling comparable to that of James Harden. Harden struggled during his rookie season before figuring out how to best succeed in the NBA.

    Waiters will have plenty of bumps this season, and whether or not he uses those failures as motivation to get better remains to be seen. Until then, he is in for a rough wake-up call.

    Zeller was another interesting selection. The Cavs needed to beef up their frontline, and Zeller will be a player that won't be afraid to stick his nose in the action to fight for rebounds.

    But Zeller has a low ceiling. He lacks athleticism, and like Waiters, it will take some time for him to adjust to the type of athletes he will be going up against. Many view Zeller as a player who could have a solid career as a good backup center, and not much else.

    That assessment is completely true.

2. The Cavaliers Will Win 33 Games

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    In the shortened 2011-12 NBA season, the Cavs had a winning percentage of .318. A comparable record over an 82-game season is 26-56. 

    Cleveland would have to improve by seven games to finish 33-49, which is an absolutely realistic expectation for this club. That yields a .402 winning percentage.

    The Cavaliers are not a contending team yet, but they are starting to develop the right pieces. Head coach Byron Scott is great with young talent, and he will help each player improve individually, which is the first step for the team to become a playoff contender.

    Luckily for Cavs fans, the hardest part in the rebuilding stage is already taken care of with Kyrie Irving. The No. 1 pick of the 2011 NBA draft exceeded expectations during his rookie campaign, and he will only get better with more experience.

    Experience will be the only way for this team to get better, and that takes time. A 33-49 season is still a rebuilding year anyway you look at it, but it will be important for the young players to get plenty of playing time. 

    A seven-game improvement may be just a baby step on the road to redemption, but it is a necessary one for the Cavaliers if they have aspirations of reaching the playoffs in 2013-14.

1. Kyrie Irving Will Make the NBA All-Star Team

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    Perhaps the most realistic expectation for the Cleveland Cavaliers this year is that star point guard Kyrie Irving will earn his first all-star berth in just his second NBA season.

    Irving is a strong candidate for the third best point guard in the Eastern Conference behind Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo with Derrick Rose expected to miss the majority of the season. Irving is on track for an all-star nod even if he improves only slightly from his stellar rookie campaign.

    Irving averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists per contest last season with an awful supporting cast. Expect Irving to put up similar scoring numbers, but if the players around him improve, he can push his assist total to seven or eight per game. 

    An all-star nod for Irving would give Cleveland fans something to be optimistic about as the team continues to rebuild. The team might not win much in 2012-13, but Irving has a strong chance to take the next step in his path to becoming a superstar. 

    Irving is a special talent and is another stud in the large crop of talented NBA point guards. He can light it up from outside or score off the dribble. Most importantly, he makes the players around him better.

    In the words of his alter-ego Uncle Drew, Irving gets buckets. Last time I checked, putting the ball in the hoop is the most important part of the game.

    It seems so simple. So why do the Cavs make it look so difficult?