Spotlighting and Breaking Down Cleveland Cavaliers' Power Forward Position
Heading into the 2013-14 season, power forward looks to be a position of strength for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Tristan Thompson, last year's starter for all 82 games, returns with some talent behind him. Rookie and first-overall pick Anthony Bennett is viewed as a power forward by the team but could also play some small forward as well.
Earl Clark was brought in during free agency, and like Bennett can play both forward positions. Anderson Varejao is also an option to play the 4, now that he'll likely be coming off the bench behind Andrew Bynum.
With so many different possible scenarios involving this group, here's what to expect from each power forward on the roster this season.
Backup Power Forward/Center: Anderson Varejao
Varejao will (hopefully) be returning to the bench and will not be forced into the starting center job like he was for the past three seasons. Not that Andy's incapable of doing the job, but at 30 years of age and coming off three consecutive injury-plagued campaigns, it would be best for all involved if his workload was lessened.
Varejao was the NBA's best rebounder last year at a whopping 14.4 a game before splitting a muscle in his leg in December. He was also contributing 14.1 points per game, both numbers being career highs. A healthy Varejao, even at 20-25 minutes off the bench, would be a huge boost for the Cavs. Cleveland finished 2012-13 ranked 22nd in the NBA in rebounding (41.0 per game).
Once thought of as just a hustle player, Varejao's offensive game has grown by leaps and bounds. Part of the reason for his career high in scoring was his ability to hit the outside jumper.
From 16-23 feet away, Varejao shot a very respectable 41.0 percent while attempting nearly three shots a game from that distance. The season before, Andy attempted 0.9 shots from 16-23 feet while connecting on just 32 percent, per Hoopdata.com.
Although Varejao will get most of his minutes backing up Andrew Bynum at center, he could very well fill in at power forward as needed.
Projected Stats: 8.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 blocks, 53.2 FG%, 20 minutes per game
Backup Power Forward/Starting Small Forward: Earl Clark
Clark has primarily played power forward throughout his career, so we'll include him on this list even if most of his time is spent on the wing.
Signed, as one would guess, to compete with Alonzo Gee for the starting small forward role, Clark should see time at both forward positions.
His 6'10", 225-pound frame should allow him to match up with the larger small forwards of the league or slide down to guard the undersized 4s. A good rebounder, Clark also added a three-point shot to his arsenal last season, at which he was successful 33.7 percent of the time.
The best part about Clark's game is his versatility. The Cavs are built around players who can play and defend multiple positions, which is precisely what Clark can do.
Don't expect big offensive stats from Clark since he'll be surrounded by the likes of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Andrew Bynum and others. Instead, we should expect a solid defensive and rebounding effort from the four-year pro.
For now, we'll assume he's the starter at small forward for the sake of projecting his minutes.
Projected Stats: 7.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 blocks, 45.0 FG%, 25 minutes per game
Primary Backup: Anthony Bennett
It's rare that a first-overall pick gets the luxury of coming off the bench at first and is not expected to be a franchise's savior.
Such is the case for Bennett, who should begin the season as the main backup at power forward. At 6'7" with a reliable outside shot, Bennett is a bit of a combo forward whom the Cavs see as strictly a 4 for now.
Bennett wasn't able to play in the NBA Summer League while still recovering from shoulder surgery but should be ready for the start of training camp.
Bennett is an offense-first player who could turn into a dream pick-and-roll partner for Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. Able to put the ball on the floor or knock down a mid-range shot, Bennett has a diverse offensive game that helps make up for his lack of size for a power forward.
Bennett's role for 2013-14 will be to develop and get used to playing against NBA power forwards, most of whom are two or three inches taller. It's also entirely possible that we see Bennett switch to small forward for the start of next season, provided the Cavs don't land any big names in free agency.
Cleveland's strategy for taking Bennett over a player who played a position of need was that he was the best talent available. Since he'll get most of his playing time against other teams' second units, we should get to see that talent shine through very soon.
The Cavs' will need Bennett to be a scorer off the bench, much like Marreese Speights was for the second half of last season. Defense could be an issue at first, but a year under Mike Brown should help improve whatever deficiencies Bennett may have on that end of the floor.
Projected Stats: 10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.8 blocks, 48.5 FG%, 25 minutes per game
Starter: Tristan Thompson
Thompson enters his third season for the Cavs and should once again be the opening-night starter.
The former fourth-overall pick made a huge leap in play last season and should only continue to get better. The big news surrounding Thompson this offseason is his decision to switch shooting hands from left to right.
While Thompson has used both hands in the past to finish shots around the rim, it may be the first time in NBA history a player has changed their jump-shooting hand during their career.
That being said, it's worth noting that most of Thompson's scoring is done around the basket and not on jumpers. Last season, over half of all of Thompson's shots were taken at the rim, where he converted on 62.4 percent of his attempts, per Hoopdata.com. Stepping out to shots from 3-9 feet, that number drops to 41.0 percent.
A better mid-range game would certainly help his overall offensive game and force opponents to step out and guard him from longer distances. Perhaps a switch to the right-hand side will continue to help Thompson and transform his jumper into a reliable one.
Given Thompson's work ethic and young age (22), it's very possible he'll come back even better as a righty this season and in the future.
For now, Thompson's strength centers around his offensive rebounding (second in the NBA last season) and defense.
Anthony Bennett will challenge for the starting role and should be pushing Thompson all season for it, but for now the former Texas Longhorn has earned the nod.
Projected Stats: 12.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 blocks, 52.5 FG%, 30 minutes per game
Even though Bennett will likely be a starter at one of the forward positions, expect Thompson to begin the year where he left off.
Who should start for the Cavs at power forward?
Thompson really took off last season after Varejao went down for the year and wasn't grabbing every available rebound. It will be interesting to see if he keeps up his high level of play during the time he's on the court with Varejao.
Varejao should have less pressure on him but will also see fewer minutes and a drop in his stats. If it correlates to playing more than 25 games a season, everyone should be okay with that.
Clark is under pressure to perform, as the Cavs hold a team option for next season and can drop him and the $4.5 million he'd be owed if they don't like what they see.
Overall, the Cavs' power forward spot is quite deep with a nice mixture of experience and young talent. Cleveland has a few starting options should a player not perform up to expectations, making for what should be a very competitive and fun training camp.
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