5 Things That Must Happen for Cleveland Cavaliers to Make 2013-14 Playoffs
The five things that must happen for the Cleveland Cavaliers to make the playoffs in 2013-14 do not include consistent production from Andrew Bynum.
If the newly acquired big man is able to regain 80 percent of his All-Star form during the second half this year, the Cavs could become a lock for the postseason. But even if Bynum's health prevents him from a significant contribution, the Cavaliers are still equipped with the pieces necessary to secure a playoff berth without him.
Those chances will ultimately begin with Kyrie Irving's ability to duplicate his All-Star performance from a season ago while making strides to become a complete superstar.
In addition, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack and others must also excel at their respective roles while making a collective commitment to defense under head coach Mike Brown.
No. 5: Collectively Committing to Defense
The Cleveland Cavaliers must collectively embrace a winning culture committed to defense in order to establish any chance of competing for a playoff berth in 2013-14.
After finishing as the NBA's worst defensive team in terms of opponent field-goal percentage under Byron Scott, this will be the first mission that Mike Brown must accomplish during his second tour of duty in Cleveland.
While he will be initially aided by a competent group of defenders up front, led by Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, Brown's message of accountability must be demonstrated throughout the roster.
To that extent, what should be most encouraging for Cavaliers fans thus far is that All-Star Kyrie Irving has entered training camp with a willingness to improve himself defensively.
Throughout the first two preseason games, Irving has consistently aligned himself in the proper defensive position far more often than he has previously. As long as that leadership continues from Irving, his teammates will have no choice but to fall in line behind their superstar and match his efforts defensively.
No. 4: Anderson Varejao Playing at Least 65 Games
If Andrew Bynum is eventually able to provide significant minutes on a consistent basis during the second half of this season, then maybe Anderson Varejao won't be required to play in at least 65 games for Cleveland to reach the playoffs.
With the uncertainty that currently surrounds Bynum's health, however, it's fair to suggest that Varejao's presence could be a deciding factor.
More than reaching certain thresholds in terms of scoring and rebounding averages, Varejao's veteran leadership up front will be pivotal in helping the Cavaliers' young roster establish a winning identity.
While attacking the glass and competing on the defensive end, Varejao's toughness has an opportunity to become contagious. His hustle and energy could provide a firsthand example to rookie Anthony Bennett, second-year big Tyler Zeller and everyone else in Cleveland of what it takes to succeed on a nightly basis.
During the last two seasons, Varejao has only appeared in a combined total of 50 games. If he can remain healthy enough to extend that number to 65 this time around, Varejao will be a driving force in determining the Cavs' success.
No. 3: Efficient Scoring from Dion Waiters
The Cavaliers' postseason aspirations must be supported by Dion Waiters' ability to emerge as a consistent scoring threat alongside Kyrie Irving that teams are forced to game-plan for on a nightly basis.
Based on the collection of talent now surrounding him in Cleveland, there may not be that many more shots available to Waiters than the 13.4 attempts per game he averaged last year. This will make it imperative for Waiters to increase the 14.7 points he averaged as a rookie by improving his shot selection and field-goal percentage specifically.
By pushing the 41.2 percent mark he shot from the floor in 2012-13 as close to 50 percent as possible, the offensive opportunities and spacing Waiters could help create will be endless for the Cavs backcourt.
Through two preseason games, the second-year guard has averaged 16.5 points on 50 percent shooting. If his regular-season production can resemble these numbers moving forward, the Cavaliers will not only secure a playoff berth, but also feature one of the league's best backcourts along the way.
No. 2: Dependable Bench Production Led by Jarrett Jack
Jarrett Jack will be the first player since Kyrie Irving arrived in Cleveland to come off the Cavaliers bench equipped with a proven ability to create shots for himself and others.
In order for the Cavaliers to reach the playoffs, Jack will be needed to capitalize on all aspects of that skill set in a manner that maximizes production from Cleveland's second unit specifically.
Beyond at least matching his career averages of 11 points and 4.4 assists, Jack will be counted on to aid in the on-court development of Cleveland's young nucleus. To open the season, that means he will be specifically tasked with helping Tyler Zeller and Anthony Bennett make significant contributions off the bench.
Regardless of whoever else rounds out the Cavs reserve group in 2013-14, Jack will be critical in helping that unit become a collective strength capable of holding or extending leads while Irving and company rest.
No. 1: Kyrie Irving's Continued Growth as a Superstar
Based on the sheer volume of intriguing storylines currently surrounding the Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving's superstar ability is sometimes dismissed as simply a given.
For any chance of reaching the playoffs, however, Irving will be first required to duplicate his All-Star performance by posting numbers similar to the 22.5 points and 5.9 assists he averaged a season ago.
He will also be now asked to extend that production through the bumps and bruises that may have sidelined him at times in the past.
If Irving is able to accomplish at least that much, though, the Cavaliers will have an opportunity to compete for the postseason.
If he is able to elevate his game to even new heights of superstardom, Irving could quickly shift the playoff tone in Cleveland from a discussion of simply qualifying to the potential of earning as high as No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.