Ranking the Cleveland Cavaliers' 5 Most Improved Players This Season
In February alone, the Cavs went 7-5 with wins over teams like the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder. Narrow losses to the NBA's two best teams, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, also prove that the Cavs have become a much improved squad as of late.
With an improved team naturally comes improved players, and the Cavs have quite a few of them.
Here are five players that stand out the most in their development from last season or even earlier this year. All have made major strides in their game and are helping Cleveland become a solid team in the NBA once again.
Anderson Varejao, C
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2011-12 Stats Per Game: 10.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 18.93 PER
2012-13 Stats Per Game: 14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 21.85 PER
Vareajo may have only played in 25 games this season, but the overall improvement in his game was truly remarkable.
The NBA's leading rebounder this season, Varejao was likely headed to his first All-Star game due to his tremendous overall play. Even at age 30, Varejao brought the energy of a teenager every night to the Cavs and had an infectious hard work-first attitude.
The bad news with Varejao is that much of his improvement has been wasted sitting on a trainer's table or bench for the past three years now.
With two years remaining on his contract with the Cavaliers, Varejao still has room for improvement in his game but will hopefully get a break in minutes next season in order to help keep him healthy.
Perhaps no player in the NBA has seen their game grow and evolve as much as Varejao over the past decade.
Kyrie Irving, PG
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2011-12 Stats Per Game: 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.1 steals, .399 3P%
2012-13 Stats Per Game: 23.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.6 steals, .419 3P%
Kyrie Irving has taken the next step in his journey to become the NBA's best point guard.
His scoring has dramatically improved, and only Kevin Durant has scored more points in clutch time in the NBA this season.
While most of his shooting stats have remained the same, Irving has seen a nice increase in his three-point shooting, capping it off by winning the actual contest at All-Star weekend.
His defense was horrendous last season, but has improved this year. While still nowhere near the level of a Chris Paul, Irving has improved his man-to-man defense, and with it his steal total.
Last season Irving was on everyone's "best young player's list."
Soon, fans and critics will be able to remove the "young."
Dion Waiters, SG
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Pre-All-Star Break: 14.2 points, 3.2 assists, .396 FG%, .309 3P%, .768 FT%
Post-All-Star Break: 19.8 points, 3.7 assists, .523 FG%, .375 3P%, .793 FT%
Waiters has been a scoring machine in the season's second half, thanks largely in part to better overall efficiency in his shooting.
We are now truly beginning to see the Waiters that Chris Grant and Byron Scott were so high on going into the 2012 NBA draft. He's weaving his way to the basket and taking smarter shots from the outside, all leading to his resurgence in play.
Waiters has raised his field-goal percentage by a whopping 20 percent from December until now, a great sign for the Cavs. The knock on Waiters earlier wasn't about his skill, but rather his shot selections and overall shooting.
Now that Waiters is showcasing greater efficiency, we can begin to imagine what he and Irving will bring to the Cavs' backcourt now and for years to come.
Luke Walton, PF
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Pre-All-Star Break: 3.4 points, 2.4 assists, .381 FG%, 15.5 minutes
Post-All-Star Break: 2.4 points, 5.1 assists, .471 FG%, 20.1 minutes
I don't know if it's possible for a 32-year-old to start to take his game to the next level, but Walton appears to be doing just that.
While he'll never be a scoring threat as long as he continues to set foot on an NBA court, Walton has instead been a key catalyst in setting up others' scoring opportunities.
His passing is actually quite good, and overall much improved from last season and even earlier this year.
Recently against the New York Knicks, Walton dished out a career-high 12 assists in a game the Cavs controlled for the majority of the time. He understands the game and how to set up his teammates, which comes in handy given the Cavs' plethora of youth.
Luke Walton may not have been the name you expected to see on this list, but make no mistake, his improved play has been key to the Cavs winning over the past month.
Tristan Thompson, PF
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2011-12 Stats Per Game: 8.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, .439 FG%, .552 FT%
2012-13 Stats Per Game: 11.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, .489 FG%, .649 FT%
Thompson is the Cavs' most improved player from last season.
Seemingly every part of his game has gotten better, whether it be shooting, rebounding, free throws or individual defense.
An incredibly hard-worker, Thompson is starting to develop some reliable go-to moves in the post that he didn't have last season. He can finish shots around the rim with either hand and has really taken major strides at the free-throw line.
His motor never stops, and hopefully neither will his career progression with the Cavs.