It's been a rough first six weeks for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Just in case you haven't been paying attention: The defense has been subpar, the offense has been nonexistent and the team's best individual players just don't fit together on the floor.
The bright side? Save for the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference is playing historically bad basketball right now. At 6-12, the Cavaliers are just 1.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Charlotte Bobcats (8-11).
Still, with just over one-fifth of the regular season in the books, you'd be hard-pressed to look at this team and know for sure what you're getting on a night-to-night basis.
None of this is anyone's particular fault—player or personnel—but the team-wide struggles do make the task of ranking the Cavs players based on performance alone a difficult one. Context matters.
With this in mind, I offer you the first installment of the 2013-14 season's Cleveland Cavaliers Power Rankings.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats provided by Basketball-Reference and current through Thursday, Dec. 5.
15. Carrick Felix
Carrick Felix played a total of 15 minutes for the Cavs in three games before being recently assigned to the NBA D-League's Canton Charge along with teammate Henry Sims.
14. Henry Sims
Sims has played in slightly more games than Felix—six games to be precise, for a total of 35 minutes. In that time, he's accumulated 10 points, an impressive 17 rebounds and two blocks.
13. Sergey Karasev
The Cavs' other 2013 first-round pick, there was hope that the Russian small forward would be able to contribute in toward the void at the 3 for the Cavs. Unfortunately, he's been wedged between Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller in minutes, and he has dropped to the bottom of the depth chart for his position without any meaningful playing time to his name.
12. Tyler Zeller
You forgot this Zeller existed, didn't you? Unfortunately, behind Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao, Tyler has been relegated to the end of the big-man rotation after appearing in 77 game (starting 55) last year and averaging 26.4 minutes (now 7.8) in place of the then-injured Varejao.
11. Anthony Bennett
Since nailing his first basket of the season, Anthony Bennett is up to 13-of-39 shooting on the season, excluding his first four field goal-less games. He's still struggling to work himself into regular-season shape, but the minutes and expectations have been minimized for Bennett at this point.
Stats: 3.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, .452 FG%, .667 FT%
Has there been a bigger (positive) surprise this season than the play of Australian native Matthew Dellavedova?
Refusing to be lumped with the other sad sacks at the end of the bench, Dellavedova worked his way up to just under 31 minutes of action in the Cavs' Nov. 16 road victory over the Washington Wizards. Covering the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal, Dellavedova finished the game tied with Irving in the plus/minus column with a team-leading plus-16, grabbing six boards along with two assists and two steals.
After the following loss at home, Dellavedova's minutes again became inconsistent. But he does play with consistent defensive effort and a nose for the ball, including four steals in the Cavs' otherwise blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs a week after their win over the Wizards.
Stats: 6.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, .398 FG%, .500 FT%
Earl Clark is what you get when you try to develop a prospective three-and-D player, only to have said player drop the "D."
To Clark's credit, he's been an exceptional three-point shooter, especially above the break, where he's nailed 13-of-29 shots, per NBA.com's shotchart. Overall, he's hitting 44.4 percent of his threes, and they always seem to come with out-of-nowhere timing.
But for all the physical tools Clark has that should enable him to be at least a somewhat-effective disruptor on the wings, watching Clark repeatedly yanked from the lineup in favor of Gee on critical possessions has been discouraging.
Hey, speaking of Gee...
Stats: 3.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.7 APG, .458 FG%, .833 FT%
Just when fans thought they'd seen the last of Alonzo Gee in the starting lineup, Coach Brown slotted the defensive-minded swingman back in during their road game at the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 22; a starting gig that Gee will likely retain barring a revelation from Clark.
At this point, there's hardly anything new to say about Gee, although his shooting percentages have gone up across the board thanks to playing just 20.1 minutes per game, the fewest in his career thus far as a Cavalier. He's shooting a career-high 51.3 percent on two-point field goals, and 35 percent on three-pointers—his best mark since his short-lived rookie year.
In addition, his usage rating with the ball is a team-low 10 percent. Put it all together, and Gee is simply on the floor to do exactly what he does best and exactly what Coach Brown needs of him: To stand in front of the otherwise gaping defensive hole on the perimeter and only take shots with which he has absolute confidence.
Stats: 9.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, .427 FG%, .864 FT%
While the Cavs probably weren't expecting Jarrett Jack to light it up off the bench as he did in Golden State, Jack's noteworthy games have been few and far between.
Still, his ability to play in spurts at either guard position and spread the floor in three-guard lineups has helped make for some entertaining offensive basketball.
More importantly, however, he's one of a handful of Cavs players who aren't afraid to take and make shots when it counts, at the risk of his net-negative defense being exposed on the floor.
His veteran leadership and steady play has also helped stabilize a unit for a team that otherwise has a dearth of offensive weapons. How this role further develops, however, may ultimately depend on his relationship with the next player.
Stats: 14.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, .412 FG%, .672 FT%
Honestly, where would you have ranked Dion Waiters?
It's not as if he's suffering a sophomore slump on the court—he's shooting the exact same percentage from the floor as he did in his rookie year, although his three-point shooting has increased to 40.4 percent in lieu of a mysterious drop in his free-throw percentage.
He's still a high-usage player and volume scorer, second only to Kyrie Irving in both categories. His defensive effort is intermittent at best, but give him the ball and a supporting cast to play off and he thrives offensively.
For that reason alone, the Cavs could and should revolve their secondary units around Waiters, giving him the keys to igniting some instant offense in the second quarter.
But whether or not Waiters ultimately stays with the team through the end of the season still remains to be seen. The Cavs are reportedly shopping the former No. 4, per ESPN's Chris Broussard.
Stats: 9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, .436 FG%, .900 FT%
Amidst a rash of inconsistency through the early season, C.J. Miles was the only player that could be counted on to bring some order to the Cavs offense by consistently knocking down shots.
While he's cooled down tremendously—Miles hasn't scored in double-digits since the Cavs' road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 8—his efficiency has remained solid so far, with a team-leading Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 17.5.
Just as well, he's one of a handful of players on the Cavs roster who plays within himself and doesn't necessarily need the ball to be effective in limited playing time. For his efforts, his Player Impact Estimate (PIE)—a new metric introduced this season by NBA.com, which shows the percentage of game events a player achieves—ranks second on the team, at 11.2 percent.
Given the nod to start over Waiters as of the team's Nov. 13 blowout loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miles gives the Cavs a 2-guard with prototypical size who can play off Irving and space the floor with three-point marksmanship, stroking the ball at a still-respectable 37.5 percent.
Although his recent lack of production is a concern—as is a possibly lingering calf injury—for the season as a whole so far, he receives his due recognition here, nestled as the Cavs' fifth-best player.
Stats: 11.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 0.6 APG, .421 FG%, .747 FT%
The good news: Tristan Thompson is one of only nine players in an increasingly shrinking league to average a point-rebound double-double for the season.
The bad news: Of those nine players, aside from Minnesota's Kevin Love (who's hoisting 17.6 shots per game), he's the only big shooting under 48 percent from the field.
In a lot of ways, Thompson resembles a shorter, more athletic version of teammate Anderson Varejao (and this isn't bad—we haven't even gotten to Andy yet).
They're both low-usage, high-energy bigs who can shoot the mid-range shot and crash the boards. And when I say crash the boards, in the case of Thompson, I mean really crash them. Only six players grab more offensive boards than Thompson's 3.7, and two of those are currently out due to injury.
However, because Thompson and Varejao are so similar, this causes some issues on offense in crunch time, when the two are often paired together in smaller lineups.
To wit: Neither big has much of a low-post game, and despite Thompson's prodigious offensive rebounding, he's converting at the rim at a below-average rate of 47.22 percent, per NBA.com.
Even with his newfound jumper, until the Cavs can play Andrew Bynum heavier minutes, the mantle will have to fall on Thompson to provide the team with higher-percentage shots, for both his own benefit and the team's.
Stats: 7.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, .400 FG%, .920 FT%
Make no mistake: Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers is gone.
That's actually fine. The Cavs still aren't getting anything in the restricted area, ranking dead-last in both field goals made and field-goal percentage.
While that development wasn't entirely expected, what was expected was for Bynum to come in and make it harder for other teams to score down low.
And he has. In just under 18 minutes, he's averaging a team-leading 1.4 blocks, including 5 in his breakout game against Chicago at home on Nov. 30—the second night of a back-to-back, no less.
As for the points, they're just the proverbial cherry-on-top as Bynum's minutes have steadily increased. In his last two games—both wins at home for the Cavs—Bynum is averaging 17 points on 14-of-29 shooting, to go along with 8.5 rebounds and three blocks in just over 50 combined minutes.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that Bynum—who made headlines earlier this season by publicly contemplating retirement—seems to want to play again and has been putting in the routine work, per The News-Herald & The Morning Journal's Bob Finnan, necessary to help keep the Cavs' regular season alive.
Stats: 8.9 PPG, 8 RPG, 2.1 APG, .519 FG%, .692 FT%
When healthy, Anderson Varejao is arguably the Cavs' MVP.
Even though he's been relegated to a reserve role, Varejao still posseses the team's highest PIE at 12.6 percent. But in Varejao's case, it's an especially appropriate catch-all stat because it captures just how much his hustle brings to the table for the Cavs.
On defense, he hasn't missed a step since his first stint alongside Coach Brown. Among players with at least 10 games played, Varejao leads the pack in individual defensive efficiency rating (102) and defensive win shares (0.7).
Offensively, he's just as effective spotting up as he is rolling to the rim, which gives the Cavs more options either running Varejao in the pick and pop or in a spread offense. Per Synergy Sports, Varejao is posting a points per possession (PPP) of 0.9 as the roll man and 1.15 on spot-ups—a mark that would rank 35th and 49th in the league respectively—at conversion rates of 56.5 and 57.7 percent. If that weren't enough, Varejao also leads the team in offensive win shares as well (1.0)—and it's not even close.
But even if all the advanced metrics value Andy as the Cavs single-most important cog, there's only one player who has proven the ability to actually win—and lose—tight games on the floor.
Stats: 20.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.8 APG, .404 FG%, .802 FT%
Here's the golden question for Kyrie Irving fans and critics alike: Do you praise or punish Irving for putting up only 21-3-6 every night, despite a team with no clear No. 2 scoring option?
Despite opposing teams game-planning their defense around stopping Irving?
Despite an offensive "system" that doesn't inherently generate countermoves or pass releases once the initial play is stopped in its tracks?
Fair or unfair, the NBA is a league predicated on star systems. Even if Irving's shooting percentages keep him from repeating as an All-Star this season, guards of his caliber don't just grow on trees.
Of those six guards, guess who's the youngest?
Irving hasn't shown the acumen to consistently make his teammates better, at least not yet. By the end of the season, there's a chance he'll single-handedly win as many games for the Cavs as he'll lose. He probably won't be the Cavs' long-term franchise player—not so long as he's burdened as the team's best scorer and playmaker.
But what he can be, six weeks in, is the Cavs' best player. And that, at least, is certainly par for the course.