6 Keys to Watch as Cavaliers Use 2nd Half to Prep for Another Lottery

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

6 Keys to Watch as Cavaliers Use 2nd Half to Prep for Another Lottery

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    It's been yet another hard season to watch for fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    With Kyrie Irving, though, the sky is the limit for this organization. He's quickly become one of the most exciting players in the league to watch and has almost single-handedly won games this year.

    Many experts regard this Cavs team as terrible in the present but set up quite well for success in the future.

    It's not as if there's nothing left to play for this year. While the team is completely out of the playoff hunt, however, it could build some serious momentum to take into next year.

    For fans, there's also plenty of reasons to watch beyond simply Irving.

    Here are six keys which will show whether or not the Cavs can make some improvement in the second half in order to build a playoff team in a year or two.

1. Ascendance of Kyrie Irving to Elite Level

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    Irving has rapidly become one of the best point guards in the NBA. He's not quite at the level of Chris Paul, but the second-year star needs to keep working toward that level.

    He's leading all point guards in scoring, averaging 23.7 points, and his 5.7 assists are tied for 19th.

    In order for the Cavs to improve in the future, Irving needs to continue his progression. It shouldn't be much of a concern watching Cleveland's games.

    Only 20 years old, Irving is the unquestioned leader on this team. The win against the Boston Celtics Tuesday night was proof positive of that. Irving scored 40 points on 16-of-24 shooting.

    The failure to win a title with LeBron James provides a blueprint for Cavs management in regard to building a team around a star player. The team shouldn't make the same mistake again of failing to provide enough secondary pieces.

2. Continued Progression of Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller

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    The Cavaliers have invested quite a bit in Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller. Thompson was the fourth overall pick in 2011 and Zeller the 17th pick in 2012.

    Thompson has made a good leap in his second year. He's playing more minutes, so his numbers (10.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG) are naturally up from last year.  He's averaging a double-double per 36 minutes, so that's encouraging.

    Zeller's numbers are lower than Thompson's, but that's to be expected. He's recording 8.2 points and 6.1 rebounds a game in addition to 1.1 blocks a game.

    Both were slowed slightly by injuries this year, with the two having to wear masks.

    It's unlikely either will become huge stars in the league, however, it's important that they improve and become steady producers on the court.

3. Integration of Newly Acquired Players

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    As Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported, the Cavs traded Jon Leuer to the Memphis Grizzlies for Josh Selby, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington. Cleveland also received a first-round draft pick.

    While the draft pick was the biggest asset of the trade haul, it will be interesting to see if any of the three former Grizzlies can be contributors to the Cavs. None of the three will blow fans away, but one or more could maintain a consistent level.

    Speights in particular could be a good player for Cleveland. With Anderson Varejao out for the season, there's a hole in the Cavs' post. While his numbers aren't overwhelming, Speights can be a good option off the bench.

    All three players' contracts will be up in the next couple of seasons. If they perform well, there's no reason the team shouldn't lock them up for the long term.

4. Offensive Improvement from Dion Waiters

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    Dion Waiters has averaged 14.6 points a game. That's a very good average for a rookie on a team where Irving is the unquestioned star.

    However, when you dig deeper, Waiters' numbers, especially the metrics, are absolutely brutal.

    He's shooting only 37.8 percent from the field. His player efficiency rating is 12.7, which is bad when you consider 15 is average.

    Waiters' offensive win shares is 0.1. That means he's only contributing 0.1 wins as a result of his offense. It ranks him ninth on the team.

    It's even more poor as Waiters is the second-most used player on the team.

    Waiters is taking the second-most shots on the team, so it's understandable that he would be second in scoring.

    As his shooting percentage illustrates, he's not making the most of the shots he's taking. Waiters needs to become a much more efficient player on the offensive end of the floor.

5. Separating the Haves from the Have-Nots

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    As a fan, you have to wonder how many of the players currently on the roster will be there in a few years when the team is ready to make a run for the playoffs.

    This is the time that Byron Scott and Cavs management should be weeding out who can be counted on in the future from the players that are just placeholders in the present.

    It's a bit the same as the slide about the players just acquired from the Grizzlies.

    Clearly the team needs better players in order to take the step to the next level. The Cavs are one of the thinnest teams in the league, and it's frightening to think where Cleveland would be without Irving.

    However, the entire team might not need to be blown up in order to make the improvement necessary. The rest of this season could help determine whether or not guys like C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee are really the kind of players who can push Cleveland to the postseason.

6. How Low Can They Go?

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    Watching the Cavs can be a tough task at times this season. Fans could be heartened by remembering the worse the team is now, the higher the chances it gets a high pick in the draft.

    As of right now, Cleveland's record is the third-worst in the league.

    Drafting with consistently high picks is quickly becoming the easiest way for an organization to build a playoff team.

    The Cavs aren't going to be able to lure a ton of established stars to play in Cleveland. If they could, LBJ would probably still be with the team.

    Therefore, Cleveland has been doing a great job of hoarding a ton of first-round draft picks. It'll be setting themselves up nicely if it can surround Irving with a young, stable corps of contributors.

    The short-term pain of watching a poor team now can be offset by the long-term gain of establishing a consistent playoff contender again.