Early Predictions for Cleveland Cavaliers' Starting 5 Next Season
There is still an offseason period for trades to be made and starters to be shuffled, but for now, we can take a good guess as to who will be in the Cavs' starting lineup this fall.
Last season, Cleveland used 26 different starting lineups during their 24-58 campaign. Some continuity would definitely help this year, as will a deeper team and stiffer competition for minutes.
So, how many starters from last year will remain in that role, and which of the new draft picks and free-agent signings could earn a spot themselves?
Here are your likely starters, their roles, strengths, weaknesses and who they'll have to beat out to earn a starting job.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Chance of Starting: 100 percent
Role with Team: Primary scorer, team leader
Primary Backup: Jarrett Jack
Kyrie Irving enters into his third season with the Cavaliers, all as their starting point guard.
Last season, he led the Cavs with 22.5 points per game, and he has shown the ability to score from anywhere on the court. His assist total should only rise with the quality of talent added around him, as should his shooting percentage now that teams won't be able to double-team him as much.
Irving as a starter is as sure as it gets for NBA predictions, even though he now has a quality veteran backup in Jarrett Jack. Jack spent last season with the Golden State Warriors serving as a backup/mentor to another young stud point guard in Stephen Curry.
Irving's development could be greatly enhanced by watching and listening to Jack on the court, as he's played in 611 games, starting 252.
As far as his development goes, Irving simply has to improve on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, Byron Scott didn't have a player like Jack to bring in if Irving wasn't giving his best defensive effort. Now Mike Brown does, and with his defense-first style of play, you can bet Irving will be much improved on that side of the ball this season.
Durability is also an issue for Irving, as he's missed 38 games over the past two seasons. Jack is a nice spot starter, but the Cavs need Irving for a whole season if they want to make the playoffs.
Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters
Chance of Starting: 90 percent
Role with Team: Secondary scorer, perimeter defender
Primary Backup: C.J. Miles
Collectively, C.J. Miles, Sergey Karasev and Jarrett Jack make up a great shooting guard, but none possesses the talent individually to start over Dion Waiters.
The only way that Waiters doesn't start is if Mike Brown wants his offense in the second unit and instead chooses more of a spot-up shooter like Miles in the starting lineup next to Kyrie Irving.
Still, this isn't likely to happen. Irving and Waiters have only played 47 games together and need time to mesh. Waiters thrived in the second half last season, averaging 16.1 points on 45.8 percent shooting.
His shot selection was much improved, and his three-point shot attempts dropped from 3.6 to 2.6 a game as he began to attack the basket more.
In his 61 games as a rookie, 48 were spent as the starting shooting guard. The addition of Jack almost ensures that Waiters will remain a starter instead of moving to the sixth man role that Jack will occupy.
Another reason to believe Waiters is the full-time starter is Brown's emphasis to simplify his role this season.
"I’m viewing him strictly as a 2-guard," Brown told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
This means Waiters will never be the primary ball-handler when on the court, but he will instead focus more on his defense while playing alongside Irving or Jack.
Small Forward: Earl Clark
Chance of Starting: 51 percent
Role with Team: Defense, rebounding
Primary Backup: Alonzo Gee
The first true positional battle for the Cavs will come at small forward, with a number of names being thrown into the mix.
The starter the past two years has been Alonzo Gee, who has been solid but definitely not spectacular. Gee brings a strong defensive game but lacks an outside shot and ideal size for the position. Whether he begins the season as a starter or not, expect Gee to end up coming off the bench at some point due to his versatility.
For now, I'll go with Earl Clark as the starter over Gee by a nose. Clark, like Gee, isn't known much for his offense. Both have hung their hat on the defensive side of the ball thus far in their respective careers. The main advantage Clark has over Gee is his size (6'10" vs. 6'6") and rebounding.
Last season, Clark averaged 9.5 rebounds per 48 minutes while in the lineup at small forward, according to 82games. His opponents in this same amount of time averaged just 6.9 boards.
Rebounding was a struggle for the Cavs last season, as they ranked 22nd in the NBA. Gee was particularly bad, as he pulled down just 3.9 rebounds in 31 minutes per game. Clark, in addition to his superior rebounding, shot a better percentage from beyond the arc (33.7 to 31.5) compared to Gee.
While Sergey Karasev, C.J. Miles and even Carrick Felix could make their case for the starting small forward spot sometime during the season, expect Clark to be in the starting unit on opening night.
Power Forward: Tristan Thompson
Chance of Starting: 75 percent
Role with Team: Rebounding, post defense
Primary Backup: Anthony Bennett
Power forward is another questionable spot for the Cavs in terms of a starter, but it appears Cleveland will stick with Tristan Thompson as their 4-man for now.
After the drafting of Anthony Bennett, Thompson should have immediately hit the gym. Not to say Thompson isn't a good young player, but teams don't draft players first overall to keep them on the bench for long.
The Cavaliers have made it known they view Bennett as a power forward, even though at 6'8" with an outside shot, he can play a little small forward as well.
Bennett carries a significantly higher upside than Thompson, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft.
That being said, Thompson will begin the regular season healthy, we presume. Bennett missed the entire NBA Summer League rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
Thompson also has two more years of experience under his belt and played very well last season, especially after the All-Star break (12.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG).
Look for Thompson to begin the season as a starter, but don't be surprised if Bennett takes over at some point during the year.
Center: Andrew Bynum
Chance of Starting: 100 percent (if healthy)
Role with Team: Low-post scoring, rebounder, rim protector
Primary Backup: Anderson Varejao
Andrew Bynum may be 25 pounds overweight and coming off of knee surgery, but he'll still be the starting center when healthy, says Mike Brown.
In an interview with Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Brown says that Bynum is his choice to start at center, likely meaning a return to the bench for veteran Anderson Varejao.
Varejao has been the opening night starter the past three seasons at center. I say "opening night" starter, because his stay on the court hasn't seemed to last too long. Varejao hasn't played more than 31 games in each of the past three seasons due to various injuries.
With Bynum and Varejao both recovering from lost time last year, expect Brown to bring both along slowly. A minute total of around 20-25 per game for each would be ideal while they work on getting back into playing shape.
Varejao can also play power forward, where he spent most of his time under Brown from 2005-10. Now 30, the best spot for Varejao would be as a hustle/energy guy off the bench in limited minutes. It's best for the Cavs to have Varejao for 75 games at 20 minutes a night rather than 25 games at 35 minutes.
Bynum has proven to be one of the best centers in the game when healthy. His deal with the Cavaliers should motivate him to become the player he once was, if not better.
Still just 25, the Cavs can use Bynum as a building block with Kyrie Irving in the future.
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