Winners and Losers from Week 1 of Cleveland Cavaliers' Preseason
"I want to be close to youuu."
With these words, we officially welcome Cavaliers basketball back for another season.
Such were the melodious words of Cavs' TV broadcaster Austin Carr to Fred McLeod during the Cavaliers first preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks, when describing Mike Brown's defense.
Ahh, it's good to be back.
With the annual Wine and Gold scrimmage and first preseason game completed, the Cavaliers season can now be considered underway.
In case you missed it, here are the early winners and losers from the first week of basketball in Cleveland.
AC is ready, are you?
Loser: Anthony Bennett
Bennett looked every bit a rookie who hasn't played basketball in months.
The Cavs' first overall pick is still working his way back into basketball shape after sitting out for most of the summer following shoulder surgery.
Bennett told reporters at the Wine and Gold scrimmage that he weighs around 250 pounds, up from his college playing weight of 242 at UNLV.
In both the scrimmage and game against Milwaukee, Bennett did indeed look out of shape, gasping for air early on in both games.
His shot was well off the mark in both contests, connecting on just two of 12 attempts against the Bucks. He looked nervous, and seemed to force some shots in the first half.
Players like Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles both were seen talking to Bennett during free throw attempts and other breaks, likely telling him to relax and slow things down.
In the second half of the game against Milwaukee, Bennett seemed more aggressive on offense and got to the basket more often instead of settling for jumpers. He threw down a nice alley-oop pass from fellow rookie Sergey Karasev that really helped demonstrate his athleticism and leaping ability.
Like Bennett, Dion Waiters came into last season a little out of shape and his game suffered for it.
By the end of the year though, Waiters looked much trimmer and his shooting percentages and scoring average benefited.
Look for Bennett to slowly get back into playing shape and to avoid similar mistakes like the ones he made in the first week.
Winner: Cavs' Defense
Who knew Mike Brown could coach a defense?
The Cavs hounded the Bucks, forcing 23 turnovers while holding Milwaukee to just 59 points through the first three quarters, and 87 for the game.
Milwaukee doesn't have an All-Star lineup, but Cleveland did a great job contesting shots no matter who was in the game. The Bucks ended up shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three-point land. Apparently the spirit fingers worked from Cavs fans sitting baseline, because Milwaukee struggled at the free throw line as well, connecting on 67.6 percent (25 of 37).
The activity on defense was evident from the start.
Players seemed to be moving, and talking, more than at any point during the past three years. The Bucks' starting backcourt of Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo was held to just 11 combined points on 4-18 shooting.
Overall the Cavaliers did an outstanding job on the defensive end which helped cover up their own offensive struggles at times.
Loser: Earl Clark
Clark started the game at small forward, but may have to fight to keep it.
The combo forward, who was brought in on a two-year deal from the Los Angeles Lakers, struggled in his Cavalier debut.
He ended up with a final stat line of just three points (1-5 shooting), three rebounds and one assist in 16 minutes.
While nobody played more than 25 minutes, Clark had to leave the game after just 16 because he had already accumulated the six allotted fouls.
It's clear Clark is not a jump-shooter, no matter how much he's improved over the past few years. He'll have to really win over coach Brown with his defense and rebounding to keep a starting job.
While Alonzo Gee didn't play due to a sore hamstring, C.J. Miles made a strong case for Clark's starting job.
Miles dropped 12 points in 19 minutes, shooting 4-7 from the floor and 2-4 from the three-point line. His defense was also solid, as he collected two steals and three rebounds.
Clark had a rough night in his transformation to a full-time small forward role. He'll definitely have to pick up his play to ensure a starting gig.
Winner: Tristan Thompson
If Thompson had any fear over losing his starting job, those worries can be safely set aside for now.
With Bennett struggling and facing conditioning issues, Thompson would have really had to fall on his face to be in danger of losing his job.
Instead, Thompson led all scorers with 17 points, to go along with eight rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes. His right-handed shot looked strong, as he knocked down seven of 10 shots from the field and three out of four free throws.
One play that stood out was early in the first quarter. Thompson was cutting to the basket, got a pass near the hoop and threw a mean fake that sent two Bucks flying in the air. He then easily layed the ball in. While this may not seem so spectacular, it marks remarkable progress for Thompson, who had a whopping 23 percent of his close shots blocked a year ago (per 82games.com).
Thompson is a great worker who came into the league very raw with a lot of potential. A play like this signifies his development, and speaks volumes to his hard work.
His free-throw shooting looked much better, but no one's going to confuse his shot for Ray Allen's anytime soon. After knocking down 55.2 and 60.8 percent of his free throws the past two years, it's not unreasonable to think Thompson could hit 75 percent this year. The stroke looks much better, and as Austin Carr refers to it, less like a "dying quail".
Now in his third year, Thompson looks primed for a breakout season.
Nobody expected the new Cavaliers to mesh right away, and thank goodness for that.
Of the 17 players who entered the game against Milwaukee, 12 of them weren't on the Cavs roster a year ago. This may lead to some chemistry issues early on.
Rookies Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev combined for seven total turnovers, doing their part to contribute to the 26 total cough-ups Cleveland accumulated.
Guys are just now feeling out where their teammates like the ball at, which, for now, will result in some sloppy play.
Even experienced players like Kyrie Irving had a touch of the turnover bug, handing it over to the Bucks five times. Newly signed backup point guard Jarrett Jack chipped in four miscues, although he had the pass of the night in a behind-the-back gem to Bennett for an easy dunk.
For a good stretch of the fourth quarter, Mike Brown had five rookies on the floor, which especially made for a sloppy game.
The bright side is that Cleveland can use this opportunity to get their timing down, build rapport with teammates and work on their overall ball-handling.
It is the preseason, after all.
Winner: Anderson Varejao
Varejao was back on the court for the Cavaliers for the first time since December 2012.
More importantly, he walked off of it under his own power.
After playing just 81 total games the past three seasons, Cavs fans should try to get their Varejao fix now while they still can, even if the games don't count yet.
Varejao picked up where he left off last season when he was leading the NBA in rebounding. In just 21 minutes, Varjeao had racked up 10 boards while chipping in four points, two steals and a blocked shot.
The energy was still there, but with some more knowledge to go with it this time. During the first quarter there was a loose ball heading out of bounds. Varejao began chasing it down and was about to go into full-out Wild Thing dive mode before you could tell something in his head was screaming "nooooo!!!"
Now 31, Varejao has to be more mindful of his body and the abuse it can take. Diving for a ball like that in the NBA Finals is one thing. When you've got a sizable lead on the Milwaukee Bucks in the first preseason game, it may be best to not risk personal injury for now.
With Andrew Bynum still recovering from knee surgery, Varejao should once again be the starting center. Coach Brown needs to keep his workload light, even it if means a big drop in stats for Varjeao this season.
After all, the most important part of his stat line this year will definitely be "games played".