Year-End Grades for Every Key Cleveland Cavaliers Player
The Cleveland Cavaliers enter the final week of the 2013 calender year riding a .500 record in their last 10 games. Thanks to several players grading above preseason predictions—think Anderson Varejao and C.J. Miles—the Cavs stand just one game behind the currently eighth-seeded Boston Celtics.
The following 10 players have been chosen and listed according to their overall contribution to the team. Note that there is no definite correlation between list placement and grade. The latter is formulated based on each player's development on both sides of the ball, efficiency in specified team roles and general play with regard to relative expectations.
For example, Kyrie Irving is clearly the team's best player. However, his porous defense and poor decision-making have dampened some hopes for a breakthrough All-NBA season. Even if Irving is likely headed to New Orleans as a starter for the 2014 Eastern Conference All-Star team, these factors should matter for both Irving and the Cavs moving forward.
My apologies to Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev, Henry Sims and Carrick Felix—your respective total minutes weren't anywhere near close to cracking the top 10.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats provided by NBA.com and are current through Wednesday, Dec. 25.
Earl Clark: C+
Earl Clark hasn't sniffed the starting lineup since the Cavs' 91-98 home loss to the Washington Wizards on Nov. 20. That's unfortunate when you consider, on paper, Clark is superior to current starter Alonzo Gee in virtually every significant metric.
Disclaimer: The Cavs are not receiving production from the small forward position at all. Per HoopsStats.com, their current player combination ranks nearly or at last place in multiple categories—offense, defense, assists, efficiency, etc.
With that in mind, it's still curious as to why head coach Mike Brown gave up on starting Clark just 12 games into the season.
It's not like Clark has been a defensive slouch compared to Gee. The Cavs have allowed 4.9 fewer points per 100 possessions with Clark on the floor than when he's off, per 82games.com. With Gee, the Cavs defense has actually allowed 5.2 more points.
Context does play a big role in the disparity. In the nine games Gee played as a reserve, he was an absolute plus/minus disaster, at minus-73 in just 172 minutes.
Still, Clark has also provided a significant shooting touch that the Cavs sorely lack. He's shooting a blistering 46 percent on three-pointers above the break as one of only three Cavs players cracking 40 percent overall from behind the arc.
Consistency and effort will be key for Clark (and several other players, actually) to re-earn favor and playing time with Brown, but it's hard to fault the Louisville product too much for not being the savior the Cavs need to alleviate their forward conundrum.
Matthew Dellavedova: A
Matthew Dellavedova has been a revelation as the Cavs' sole impact rookie. Honestly, what's not to like about the Australian native?
Of course, it's not as difficult to shoot a high percentage when you're nearly last on the team in usage rating. But despite not having the offense run through him, Dellavedova has made a borderline immeasurable impact for the Cavs on that end.
To wit: The Cavs improve by an astonishing 17.4 points per 100 possessions when he's playing. And it's not like he's a hindrance on defense either, where he's plus-3.6 for the team under the same circumstances. His net impact of plus-21.1 points is head and shoulders above his teammates, and he's the only player on this list to have a positive plus/minus rating (plus-15).
The sample size is admittedly small, and Dellavedova has primarily been featured in ultra-small lineups reliant on outscoring opponents in bursts at the risk of being exposed defensively. But so far, Dellavedova has yet to be a singular liability, with his hard-nosed play earning him high praise as the team's "mini-Anderson Varejao."
Not bad for an undrafted rookie from Saint Mary's.
Alonzo Gee: C
Alonzo Gee is the most difficult player among the Cavs' regular contributors to grade, if only because it's a struggle to find concrete, positive evidence of his contribution.
The same disclaimer for Clark applies here, but the added penalty of Gee's shooting range allows opposing teams to double up on Irving, Thompson and Bynum in the starting lineup.
On one hand, the Cavs rarely end their possessions with Gee. His 10.6 percent usage rating is a team low, and if he does get the ball in his hands, it's usually for an end-of-the-clock heave.
However, despite being a nonshooter, 36.1 percent of Gee's shot attempts come from threes, which he hits at only 29.4 percent. To put those numbers in perspective, only four players on the Cavs roster attempt a higher percentage of their total shots from three-point range—Karasev, Clark, Miles and Dellavedova, all of whom (with the exception of Karasev) are adequate long-range snipers.
Defensively, it's been established that Gee's calling card may be slightly overstated, although it's worth noting that he's holding opposing small forwards to a 51 percent effective field-goal percentage—not so bad considering the bevy of talent that inhabits the 3, and a notable bump up up from the 57.5 percent job that Clark pulled off.
The Cavs technically have a better record (7-11) with Gee as their key starting perimeter defender, but until he proves he can consistently offer something more, I'm hard-pressed to grade him higher.
Dion Waiters: B-
With Dion Waiters, it's too hard to not conjecture on the status of the Cavs' enigmatic 2-guard.
Here's what we do know: Since moving to the bench, Waiters has been playing as well as one could hope. In 13 games as a reserve, his scoring is up to 15.9 points on 45.5 percent shooting, compared to 13.3 points and 39.8 percent as a starter.
He's still a minus defender on the floor, but his offense makes up for it, boosting the team by a net positive-4.7 points per 100 possessions. While inconsistent, Waiters has had a few big games, with eight outings of at least 20 points, although a majority have come during garbage time in losses.
To be frank, the Cavs have won games regardless of whether or not Waiters plays well—Waiters' minutes, points and shooting splits are actually higher during losses.
This leads to the very serious question of just how expendable does the Cavs front office view Waiters?
It's not like Waiters has shown significant growth. His stat line per 36 minutes is nearly identical to last year, according to Basketball-Reference, and the Cavs have enough backcourt depth to deal Waiters without losing the ability to trot out an ultra-small lineup.
Still, there are too few players in the league who can provide the type of instant offense that Waiters brings simply by stepping onto the court. Waiters earns a B- on the promise of improvement for the remainder of the season, whether it's in Cleveland or elsewhere.
Jarrett Jack: B-
It's time to admit that Jarrett Jack hasn't delivered on the promise the Cavs were hoping for.
Playing in his ninth professional season, Jack is one of only two players on the roster quickly approaching the wrong side of 30. With Waiters' seamless transition to the bench, Jack's effectiveness has taken a hit, albeit he has yet to flash the type of sixth-man flair that made him a staple in last season's Golden State Warriors rotation.
While he's never been a plus defender, what's particularly shocking is that the Cavs are actually better—significantly better, in fact—with Jack off the floor. Per 82games.com, the Cavs offense suffers 9.6 points per 100 possessions with Jack active, which is nearly how much he averages per game (9.9).
So, why the same grade as Waiters? Aside from the assists (3.7 per game, second on the team), Jack has been one of the few consistent players in the Cavs rotation of late. He's scored in double digits in seven of the Cavs' past nine games, and he's a much safer bet from the free-throw line, where he's connected on 88.4 percent of his attempts.
Though his total field-goal percentage is down and his ball-handling can be sloppy, both are at least partially explainable as symptoms of a team-wide problem. For a Cavs squad in dire need of playmaking, free points and leadership, Jack has just a bit more value—albeit not that much more.
C.J. Miles: A-
Even if C.J. Miles has cooled off from the red-hot player efficiency rating (PER) he opened the season with, he remains one of the Cavs' most important players as a true no-stats All-Star.
While his stat line entering 2014 is modest at best for a starting 2-guard—8.3 points on 40.1 percent shooting (33.7 from three), two rebounds and one assist per game—where Miles has made his biggest impact is on defense.
Although he's by no means a lockdown defender, opposing 2-guards are posting a PER of just 9.5 against Miles—the league average for PER is set at 15. He's also holding his own against bigger wings at the 3, who are posting a 17.6 PER—an improvement of 0.8 and 1.2 points over Gee and Clark, respectively.
Within the team game, the Cavs are allowing just 98.5 points per 100 possessions while Miles is on the floor, as compared to 106.9 when he sits, for an 8.4 point difference—the single largest defensive impact among the players listed here. Or, to put that another way, the Cavs resemble the Chicago Bulls when Miles plays and the Sacramento Kings when he doesn't.
Compound that defensive efficiency with a still-solid true shooting percentage of 51.4 percent (ranked fifth on the team, just ahead of Waiters, Irving, and Jack) and Miles remains one of the Cavs' more rewarding acquisitions in recent years.
Andrew Bynum: B+
The good news for Andrew Bynum fans is that Coach Brown has finally worked the rejuvenated big man up to the regular-season grind. He's played in every one of the Cavs' games since Nov. 16 and is averaging just over 20 minutes per game.
The bad news for Andrew Bynum fans is...that Coach Brown has finally worked the rejuvenated big man up to the regular-season grind.
Bynum's main offensive issue is two-fold. First off, the knees. Bynum may have two 20-point games on the season, but these are, if anything, a statistical abnormality. For every great performance wherein he resembles the dominant low-post threat he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, he'll have one goose egg of a dud, such as Monday night's 0-for-11 outing against the Detroit Pistons.
That's not completely on Bynum's head, by the way—Coach Brown needs to remain vigilant regarding Bynum's health, especially if he wants the Cavs to retain adequate rim protection into and after the All-Star break.
The other half of Bynum's struggle is more system-related, although he isn't doing himself any favors by straying from the rim.
When Bynum is on the floor, the Cavs run an inordinate number of their plays through him. It's mind-boggling, to say the least, especially when Bynum is only finishing 41.5 percent of his shots. You don't need me to tell you that's terrible for a 7'0" center. The Cavs need to allow Bynum to establish deeper positioning and hit him within the flow of a passing offense.
As bad as Bynum has looked trudging along on offense, he has delivered the type of rim protection the Cavs dreamed of when they signed him. Opposing teams are shooting just 38.1 percent at the rim against Bynum—just for comparison, teams are hitting 41.3 percent over Indiana Pacers anchor Roy Hibbert.
Could there be room for improvement? Obviously. But both Bynum and the coaching staff have a responsibility to one another to ensure that the Cavs are getting the most out of their soon-to-be-fully-guaranteed center.
Tristan Thompson: B
Tristan Thompson is an example of how the eye can perceive what the mind wants it to.
He's looks like a better offensive player with expanded range and a smoother stroke, but what he's amounted to after 27 games is essentially the exact same player he was last season. He's averaging the same 11.7 points and his rebounding is up by 0.4 boards—nothing you'd exactly write home about. If anything, he's actually slightly worse due to the higher volume of outside shots, with his PER having dropped from 16.1 to 14.9.
His impact on the floor is moot on offense, and the defensive efficiency rating actually picks up by 2.4 points with him on the bench, although that can be chalked up to a general trend when between starting and reserve lineups.
Ultimately, Thompson may be the same player from last season, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Along with Varejao, he's still a menace on the offensive glass, picking up a constant 3.7 rebounds on that end. His mobility has adapted nicely within Brown's defensive system, allowing him to help guards contain the pick-and-roll with some proficiency.
He's as safe a bet as anyone in the league to secure a point-rebound double-double within the flow of the game, and while it would have been encouraging to see more tangible improvement, there's bigger worries facing the Cavs for the time being—no point in fixing what isn't broken yet.
Anderson Varejao: A
Along with Miles, Anderson Varejao has been quietly making an immeasurable impact on the Cavs, although as with Miles, how he's done so may surprise you.
There's no need to go in depth with Varejao—the defense, the hustle, the experience, etc. That's all good and dandy, but what I'm here to talk about is Varejao's offense.
Wait, what? Despite not being known as an offensive threat, Varejao swings the Cavs' offense by 6.3 points just by stepping on the floor, from 93.8 to 100.1 points per 100 possessions. It's the same type of subtle, but noticeable, impact that Miles makes on the defensive end.
Varejao rarely takes bad shots, period. He can roll hard to the rim, where he's an adequate finisher at 51.02 percent, but he's more than proficient at hitting the mid-range shot, as evidenced by his team-leading field-goal percentage of 49.4.
Within a team offense that, realistically, has shown little to no actual scheme, the extra bit of spacing that Varejao's versatility offers provides the perfect amount of floor balance to accompany the Cavs' litany of driving guards.
Rounding things out with his usual work on the offensive glass helps to sustain unconventional small lineups that would otherwise be toast without two rebounding fiends such as Varejao and (more often than not) Thompson.
Kyrie Irving: B+
I'm not sure if there's anything left to be said of Kyrie Irving.
His shooting still isn't where it should be, although December saw a notable spike across the board—overall field-goal percentage up from 40.9 in November to 44, three-point percentage up from 31.3 to 36.8 and even free-throw percentage from 79.7 to 88.5.
Along with Waiters, he's one of the few players on the Cavs roster who's an overall minus defender, but makes enough of an impact on the other end to keep the team afloat.
He'll likely coast to a starting spot in the All-Star Game out of sheer popularity, despite evidence that he could and should be much better. And as ESPN's Bill Simmons has infamously repeated ad nauseam, Irving still hasn't elevated his team to a .400 record.
But you know what? He's still this team's best player by a long shot, and so long as he is, the team will continue to revolve, ebb and flow around his scoring and creativity. So he'll end 2013 with a pretty good grade, but we'll all know that excellence was in his reach.