With the draft well in the rear view mirror—summer league is here!—and most of the major free agents finding homes for the upcoming season, it's a little safer to speculate on just how successful the Cleveland Cavaliers can be in 2013-14.
The eye test suggests the Cavs should be much better and potentially in the mix for a playoff berth. But it's a long, steep climb from the No. 1 overall pick to grabbing a spot in the second season.
The signing of Jarrett Jack and the addition of Earl Clark will upgrade a subpar bench. Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev will have all the opportunities in the world to contribute as rookies. Mike Brown will improve a directionless, unorganized defense. Internal improvement from the youngsters—Dion Waiters, we're looking at you—might be the biggest barometer of improvement.
But what does Vegas think?
According to sportsbook.com, Cleveland will be on the outside looking in again in 2013. The website has the Cavs grouped with the Wizards and Raptors as the first teams to miss out on the postseason in the Eastern Conference.
Honestly, that sounds about right. Cleveland won 24 games last season; it'd need to improve by 17 wins just to reach .500. That's a massive one-year leap. Still, it is way too early to resign the Cavs to the lottery for the fourth straight year.
Sportsbook.com lists Boston and Milwaukee ahead of Cleveland. It isn't hard to see one of both of them missing the playoffs. Boston is a public team; I'd wager that if that same roster was wearing Bobcats jerseys, it wouldn't have such favorable odds. And no matter what Danny Ainge claims, I don't think the C's are super interested in winning a ton of games this season.
The Bucks actually are super interested in winning some games, but they've gone about it in a really confusing way. They have added talent, yes, but it's now a team full of defensive big men and shoot-first, -second and -third guards. Also important: they were six games under .500 last year.
What's really separating Boston and Milwaukee from Cleveland, Washington or Toronto? All five should be clustered together, so there's some value in grabbing Cleveland over the Celtics or the Bucks.
The more interesting odds, to me, are on the Rookie of the Year candidates.
The leader right now is Victor Oladipo. I'm struggling to see the logic here. Oladipo's biggest contribution will come at the defensive end, at least in his rookie season: He's often described as Tony Allen with a jumper. He's going to be playing on an awful Magic team that will experiment with using him at point guard, which will likely not go well since he's a terrible dribbler. His defense might be NBA-ready—maybe—but his offense almost definitely is not.
Rookie of the Year winners are guys who come into the league ready to score. Damian Lillard got torched on defense, but led all rookies in scoring so the league handed him the hardware. I'd feel more comfortable betting Oladipo doesn't average double figures than on him winning Rookie of the Year.
Trey Burke is listed second, which makes more sense. He'll likely start for a Jazz team which will flirt with the playoffs. Burke's a scorer with NBA range on his jumper already. If nothing else this season, he'll be a high-volume scorer on a frisky playoff contender. That sounds more like a Rookie of the Year to me.
As far as the Cavaliers go, Anthony Bennett is listed with two other players—Ben McLemore and Kelly Olynyk—with the sixth-best odds of winning the trophy (which, for the record, looks like it's made of plexiglass and was designed for the runner-up of a Saturday morning YMCA three-on-three tournament). Olynyk, I think, is getting a Boston bump, just like the Celtics with the Eastern Conference championship odds. McLemore, for my money, could be nudged higher; he's an NBA-ready shooter who should get plenty of minutes. If the Kings use him effectively, he'll be in line for some big nights.
Unlike almost everyone listed ahead of him, Bennett probably won't start. That hurts. But he should get enough minutes to stay in the race. Like Burke, he's a scorer first and foremost; unlike Burke, his size and speed will make him a mismatch on the offensive end. He'll struggle to defend his position—whatever that is—but defensive prowess matters little in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Of all the rookies, Bennett's offensive game is the most developed. That's not to say he'll end up being the best player, but in Year 1, he should have the "easiest" time scoring against NBA defenses, which is really all that the Rookie of the Year competition boils down to.
If I had to put a buck or two down, I'd feel much more comfortable betting it on Bennett winning Rookie of the Year than Cleveland getting into the playoffs. But if the former somehow occurs, then the latter becomes much more likely.
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