Grading the Cleveland Cavaliers' Current 2-Deep Depth Chart
The Cleveland Cavaliers have emerged from the wreckage of what should have been a franchise-killing scenario when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. We are talking Cuyahoga River on fire bad.
But instead, management has made a few shrewd moves and have stockpiled some fantastic young talent, as well as some very solid veterans.
This team is still looking at a long road until they reach NBA title contention, but they at least are heading in the right direction and in a very weak Central Division, who knows what the immediate future holds.
Here are the preseason grades for each position's top two players as well as the grade for the positions as a whole.
Starting Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is the present and future of this team. He showed why the franchise selected him with the No.1 overall draft pick two years ago, pacing the team in scoring and assists as a rookie.
And while questions remain about his durability, he has picked up right where he left off this fall, scoring nearly 15 points per game despite only playing about half a game's worth of minutes.
This year's Cavs squad will need Irving to not only avoid a sophomore slump, but improve his game in a number of ways. He will need to increase his assists to somewhere close to eight per game, and he will need to score in the 22-24 per game range in order for this squad to have a chance on a night-to-night basis.
There is little to suggest Irving won't be able to meet these challenges. He can score in a number of ways, and his supporting cast has gotten better. The key will be whether or not he can get some easy buckets and get some of his points at the line after dribble penetration.
Backup Point Guard: Daniel Gibson
Okay, so I know what you are thinking. Daniel Gibson really isn't a true point guard. He is more of a combo guard that generally looks for his own shot first, second and third. He has never averaged more than three assists in any of his six NBA seasons. It's tough to imagine him exceeding that number this year or any in the future.
As a result, Donald Sloan and Jeremy Pargo each will probably get some minutes at backup point guard as well. But the Cavs will need all the scoring they can get, and Gibson has proven that he can score in bunches in short periods of time.
This team will certainly take on a different look with Gibson in the lineup, likely becoming more of a half-court team on offense.
Position Grade: B-
Starting Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters
Dion Waiters came to the Cavs this year with the promise of a future star. He can score in tons of ways, has a strong NBA body and could pair with Irving to form one of the best young backcourts in the league.
But he has yet to play a regular season game, so it is hard to determine exactly what type of player he will become.
Will he be the dynamic scorer he was his last year in school, or will he revert back to the somewhat lazy player he was in his first season?
Furthermore, he will need to show that he can regularly knock down the three-point shot. Thus far, he is averaging about 35 percent from deep, but struggling with his short range game.
He might not begin the season as the starter, but he will likely reach that role before midseason at the very least.
Backup Shooting Guard: C.J. Miles
C.J. Miles was one of the most underrated free agent signings of the offseason.
He is a stud defender, provides veteran leadership and can score when asked to.
The challenge for Miles will be to get to the hoop on a regular basis. In Utah, Miles didn't need to score on a regular basis. He was asked to come off the bench and provide a defensive presence and mistake-free basketball.
In Cleveland, he will be asked to anchor the second unit, and perhaps initially to start at shooting guard.
That being said, look for Waiters to secure the spot by midseason.
Position Grade: B-
Starting Small Forward: Alonzo Gee
Alonzo Gee was a true find last season, stepping in for an ineffective Omri Casspi and providing toughness and athleticism at the small forward spot.
He went on to average nearly 11 points per game, paired with just over five boards in under 30 minutes per night.
Gee is not a natural shooter, instead getting the bulk of his points as a slasher and on garbage plays. But his stroke from deep isn't awful, and he actually started to show potential towards the end of the year, finally settling in at about 32 percent from deep.
The Cavs will need Gee to continue to step up his shooting as well as his rebounding if he is to keep this position going forward.
Backup Small Forward: Omri Casspi
Omri Casspi caught the ire of the Cleveland fans when he produced a lackluster first half of the season. Eventually, he was benched in favor of Alonzo Gee and failed to secure the spot going forward.
This year, there is little reason to believe that Casspi has a shot at earning the spot again. He is long and somewhat athletic, but he isn't a strong defender, rebounder or shooter.
On some nights he can hit the long shot, but last year's three point percentage of less than 32 percent leaves a lot to be desired for a player that really doesn't bring much more to the table.
So far this preseason, Casspi has shown a desire to reclaim some minutes. In four preseason games, he is averaging seven points per game in just over 17 minutes per contest. He also is shooting the ball very well, averaging better than 50 percent from both the field and three-point range.
Position Grade: C-
Starting Power Forward: Tristan Thompson
Tristan Thompson stepped in last season as a rookie and immediately showed a strong ability to block shots and play defense. His rebounding still needs work and his offensive game will probably never be a strength of his, but last year he showed why Cleveland committed a lottery pick to the big man.
So far this preseason, it appears that he is only scratching the surface of his potential. In only about 21 minutes per game, Thompson is averaging nearly nine points and seven boards per game to go with close to two blocks.
Furthermore, he is showing the beginnings of a face-up offensive game and the makings of an actual 10-15 foot jumper.
Heck, if Charles Oakley could redefine his game, perhaps Thompson can as well. The fact of the matter remains that he has the potential to average a double-double this year with consistent minutes and offensive opportunities.
Backup Power Forward: Jon Leuer
The Cavs have a few solid, young players that could develop into potential stars in this league.
Jon Leuer is not one of those players.
Now this isn't to say that Leuer will not develop into a solid NBA player. He is a smart player that attacks the game with workmanlike effort and has solid techniques on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
He is a solid rebounder that could eventually become a solid scorer as well.
But Leuer lacks athleticism and shot-blocking ability. He also lacks lower body strength and can get overpowered on the blocks.
He will probably never be much better than a backup. Luckily for Cleveland, that is all they need from him. He also is still very young and could prove the league wrong.
Position Grade: C-
Starting Center: Anderson Varejao
Anderson Varejao is the epitome of a hustle player. He lacks a true offensive repertoire, but makes up for that with tremendous defensive ability and energy on both sides of the ball.
Last year, Varejao showed his value as the team suffered terribly when he got hurt.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, getting hurt has become a recurring theme for Varejao. The talented big man has only played more than 70 games three times in his eight year NBA career. And given the lack of depth up front, the Cavs will need Varejao to buck this recurring trend.
The good news is that Varejao has seen his numbers go up quite a bit in the last couple of years, even averaging a double-double last year.
If he is healthy, the Cavs could be a surprise team in the Central this year.
Backup Center: Tyler Zeller
Okay, the good news first. Tyler Zeller comes from a winning program in which he was a major part of the team's success. He was the team's most consistent rebounder and low-post scorer and ran the court like a gazelle.
However, the bad news is that he isn't in college anymore. In the NBA, he will struggle in the post until he gets stronger in his upper and lower body and despite the fact that he has good instincts on both sides of the ball, his lack of elite athleticism could hinder his development.
So far in the preseason he has shown what we already knew; he can score near the hoop, he runs the court well and he lacks the strength to hold his own in the post.
But he is a hard worker that should get better with more time in the gym.
Position Grade: C+