Cavaliers Win Season Opener: Cleveland Has a Core in Irving, Varejao and Waiters

Benjamin Flack@@ClevelandFlackSenior Analyst IOctober 31, 2012

It was just one game. And it was just the Wizards, without John Wall.

But dang it, I don’t care!

It’s great to have Cavaliers basketball back and I really like this team!

I’m going to steal a line that Tony Kornheiser used on his radio show on the Monday morning after the Redskins opener and Robert Griffin III’s first NFL game: “This is the land of unbridled optimism.”

I could point out that the Cavs may have the worst bench in the NBA, that Tristan Thompson still has no discernible offensive skill apart from dunking dump-off passes, or that Alonzo Gee is an out-of-control maniac at times who should be limited to five (and only five) shots a game. But we’re not going to talk about any of that.

What we’re going to talk about is about is how Anderson Varejao is amazing and might be the most underrated player in the league (boldly overstated, I know) and how the backcourt duo of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters is going to take over the NBA (also a bold overstatement).

Varejao’s stat line from the opener was amazing: nine points, nine assists, and 23 rebounds, 12 offensive! The man they call “Wild Thing” was all over that rather bland-looking new court with a giant over-sized C on Tuesday night.

We’ve never expected much out of him on the offensive end, mostly just garbage points and hitting the boards where he’s better than anyone in the league. But the passing we saw against Washington was a total revelation.

I don’t expect that from him every night. Heck I don’t expect our center to lead the team in assists ever again. But if he can continue to find his niche on the offensive end like that, then his value on the team will be huge.

The rumors about Varejao getting traded will really get ramped up if his play continues to be at that high of a level. I don't want to trade Andy because I believe that when this team gets back to the playoffs that he's exactly the kind of guy that you're going to want on your team. That's why so many teams will be calling about him as the season progresses.

If they do decide to trade Andy, it will have to be for a pretty good package of players and picks. I really believe that Varejao has so much value on this team that goes beyond just numbers...which are pretty freaking good anyway.

I've been driving the Dion Waiters bandwagon since the draft. It hasn't been a smooth ride through Summer League and preseason but it was looking pretty good last night.

Waiters' stat line was modest but pretty good for a rookie guard playing in his first game: 17 points, 6-of-14 (2-5 3P%), two rebounds, three steals, plus-13.

While that's nothing too great on the surface, it looks a lot better than the stat line for Bradley Beal, the guy taken one spot ahead of Waiters in the draft and who was so greatly desired by many Cavs fans: eight points, 2-of-8, three rebounds, three assists, minus-16 (worst on the team). Kyrie Irving only scored six points on 2-of-12 shooting in his first career game.

Waiters will fully grow into his role as the second scorer on the team over time, but it looked on opening night that he already gets it. He showed that he has a second gear and was figuring out when to attack and when to sit back and let Kyrie go.

I wrote in my Season Preview piece yesterday that one of the things that sets Kyrie apart from most rookie guards was the pace with which he played. He played like a five-year veteran and not a rookie that just barrels into the lane every time he gets the ball. We saw some of that pace from Waiters last night.

I was a little worried that the pace of the game was going to be Waiters' biggest issue this season. In college, he came off the bench and was a scorer. His main role on the team was attack, attack, attack.

Now in Cleveland, he's starting for the first time in three years since high school and has to balance his game alongside a superior offensive talent in Irving. I thought he handled the change of roles masterfully for a guy playing in his first game.

The other thing I loved seeing from Waiters was the passion that he displayed on the court. After he hit that huge three-pointer with 7:00 left to put the Cavs ahead for good, he appealed to the raucous crowd at The Q to get their on their feet and soaked in the moment with his teammates.

That kind of passion is what Cleveland is all about. If he continues to learn and grow and play with that edge and balance, he'll be a fan favorite in Cleveland in no time.

Oh yeah, and then there's the reigning Rookie of the Year and the guy who is already one the best crunch-time players in the NBA: Kyrie Irving.

He contributed 29 points, 11-of-20 (3-of-6), six rebounds, three assists, plus-23...if ya need him.

Kyrie once again showed why he's the brightest young star in the NBA and why he's on the fast track to being talked about among the superstars in the league. Another thing I wrote in my Season Preview was that by the end of the season Kyrie would be a top five point guard in the league.

I think I was wrong. He's already there.

Granted, he did it mostly against A.J. Price, not Wall. But he was often being guarded by Trevor Ariza who is a very good defender, and he couldn't slow Kyrie down.

He can get into the lane whenever he wants and from there either set up a teammate or make an impossible layup himself. The crazy thing is that even at his young age he always seems to make the right decision. It's uncanny for a point guard of his age.

Irving may not have the freakish athleticism of Derek Rose and Russel Westbrook, the thick build of Deron Williams, the crazy long arms of Rajon Rondo, or the herk-jerky style of Steve Nash. But what Kyrie does have a simple knack for balling (that's a technical term).

Maybe I'm blinded by my Cleveland pride, but if I had the choice of starting my team with any of those guys as a rookie, I'll take my chances with Kyrie. He just has it (another technical term).

The guy that I could most compare him to today is Chris Paul, but even that isn't quite as close. He can sense the feel of the game and control the pace. He has his hand of pulse of team and knows when to let things ride and develop and when to bust out the defibrillator. He controls the team and the game.

I once wrote during the Dark Year (in between LeBron and Kyrie) that I never wanted a star in Cleveland again.

I lied.

I don't want to throw him up on a giant over-sized myopic poster across the street from The Q. I probably won't buy four of his jerseys. But I have no problem embracing Kyrie as our star.

Cleveland has been through some pretty rough times, especially with its sports teams. Kyrie Irving is a guy who can change that. The city needs get behind Kyrie and this team and support them on their road back to the playoffs.

And yes, I said "playoffs." Because if you believe, anything is possible.

Man, that was cheesy!

Nah, screw it...Go Cavs!

We have a core on the Cavaliers, ladies and gentlemen: Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Dion Waites.

On pace for 82-0 baby!

This is Cleveland, the land of unbridled optimism!




You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.


    Warriors' Margin for Error Is Now 0

    NBA logo

    Warriors' Margin for Error Is Now 0

    Will Gottlieb
    via Bleacher Report

    Twitter in Disbelief After Harden's Iconic Poster Dunk

    NBA logo

    Twitter in Disbelief After Harden's Iconic Poster Dunk

    Rob Goldberg
    via Bleacher Report

    Glen Davis Arrested on Felony Assault Charges

    NBA logo

    Glen Davis Arrested on Felony Assault Charges

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Andre Iguodala (Knee) Out for Game 4

    NBA logo

    Andre Iguodala (Knee) Out for Game 4

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report