Cleveland Cavaliers: An NBA Star for 5 Young Player to Model Their Game After
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a young team on the rise in the Eastern Conference, even if it'll be a few years before they are considered championship contenders.
With a young nucleus of Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and last season's Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, the Cavs have a talented group to build around.
When developing young talent like this, it's important they have a role model or player to look up to. Studying a players game who's already made it in the league will only help a young player succeed.
For the following five Cavaliers, these are the NBA stars of today that they should model their game after.
Tristan Thompson: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
Skills to Emulate: Post Defense, Shot-Blocking
As a young player in the league, there may be no better player to study when it comes to defense than the Thunder's Serge Ibaka.
A member of the 2011-2012 NBA All-Defensive First Team, Ibaka led the league with an incredible 3.7 blocked shots per game.
What makes this number even more remarkable is that it was reached in only 27.2 minutes per game. If given typical starters minutes—roughly 36 per game—Ibaka would be swatting away 4.8 shots a night.
For reference, three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard only averaged 2.0 per game over the same 36 minutes.
Ibaka and Thompson have very similar frames and the ability to guard both power forwards and centers. Thompson, at 6'9", is a natural power forward, but he was stuck at center for much of last season because of an injury to Anderson Varejao.
A move back to full-time power forward will be a great help to him, and so should studying Ibaka's defensive game.
Alonzo Gee: Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets
Skills to Emulate: All-Around Game, Defense, Motivation to Prove Yourself
When thinking of a player for Gee to look up to, Wallace's name immediately came to mind.
Like Wallace, Gee has needed patience and an opportunity before becoming a contributor in the NBA.
Wallace was buried on the Sacramento Kings bench for three seasons before getting a chance to start with the then expansion Charlotte Bobcats. After seven and a half seasons with the team, Wallace is widely regarded as the franchises best player to date due to his defense and all-around game.
While Wallace never blew anyone away with his stats, he did average as many as 19.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.1 blocks per game. His defense has been solid for years, and as a small forward can guard three different positions on the court.
Gee came up to the NBA through the developmental league and finally gained a spot as a regular starter for the Cavaliers last season. He's already a good scorer, slasher and defender who's shown an improved outside shot.
While Gee many never reach Wallace's level, he could still prove to be a valuable member of an NBA team for years to come.
Tyler Zeller: Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
Skills to Emulate: Mid-Range Game, Touch Around the Hoop
Zeller and Gasol have similar games, but have taken very different paths to the NBA.
Gasol was the third overall pick in the 2001 draft out of Spain and was an immediate star for the Memphis Grizzlies.
In his first year, Gasol averaged 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game in just under 37 minutes. A true seven-footer who can run the floor extremely well, Gasol has shown an excellent all-around offensive game during his 11 seasons and is a two-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Zeller's skill set right now compares very favorably to a young Gasol.
While neither are the most athletic or physically dominating, they run the floor well for someone their size and can score from inside or outside the paint.
Gasol has never been a standout defender, but has been adequate throughout his career. Since Zeller will often be paired with the defensive-minded Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao, his defensive deficiencies won't be as big of a deal.
When looking for an offensive model to emulate, Zeller should study the Lakers star.
Dion Waiters: James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
Skills to Emulate: Getting to the Basket, Shooting, Versatility
Coming out of Syracuse University, many compared Waiters to a Dwyane Wade/James Harden type with his ability to split defenders and get to the hoop.
While this may be true one day, Waiters has a long way to go before reaching either of those players levels. Wade may even be too generous of a comparison at this point, but Harden could be spot on.
As good as Harden is at driving to the basket, his shooting may even be better. Last season Harden put up a shooting line of .491/.390/.846 on shots from the field, three point line and free throw line, respectively while averaging 16.8 points per game.
He's also shown tremendous versatility for the Thunder, as his skills warrant a starter but has instead embraced his role as a sixth man. His ball-handling is excellent, and some view Harden as more of a combo guard with his ability to run the point when called upon.
While it's unclear whether Waiters will be a starter right away for the Cavs or play the sixth man role he did at Syracuse, Cleveland will need him to be a productive scorer right away.
If Waiters can put up anywhere close to Harden's shooting and scoring numbers right away, he will indeed be viewed as worthy of the No. 4 overall pick.
Kyrie Irving: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Skills to Emulate: Shooting, Passing, Defense, Overall Leadership
Coming into the league, Irving stated that the two players he looked up to and wanted to model his game after were Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul.
Billups is great point guard with a championship ring to show for it, but Paul has been the best in the league for years.
Last year with the Cavaliers, Irving had the highest PER (21.49) of any rookie since—you guessed it—Chris Paul.
Both began their careers with Byron Scott as head coach (Scott also got the best basketball out of Jason Kidd's Hall-of-Fame career).
His leadership, scoring, passing and high steal total have made him the league's best point guard for years now, and there's no better player for Irving to strive to become.
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