Grading Every Key Cleveland Cavaliers Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
For the Cleveland Cavaliers (20-33), nothing ever seems to quite make perfect sense. As far as the roster goes, everything remains the same, but since general manager Chris Grant was canned, the team has been enjoying a rare four-game winning streak.
Even if it took nearly two-thirds of the season to accomplish, and despite head coach Mike Brown still at the helm, the team finally appears to be gathering some momentum heading into NBA All-Star Weekend.
With that in mind, it's time to re-evaluate the roster once again and hand out another round of grades. As usual, the grades here are relative and provide an overall picture of how each player has performed (although recent breakout performances are taken into specific account). Every player has his role, so how have they fared within those parameters? Click below to find out.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats provided by NBA.com and are current through Wednesday, Feb. 12.
Anderson Varejao: B+
I value Anderson Varejao as much as any player on the roster, but with Grant's dismissal, it's easy to wonder if interim GM David Griffin will value the veteran with the same admiration.
He still rebounds like heck and has an eye for both the mid-range shot and passing, but at some point, age and a loss in quickness will have to be taken into consideration, especially while Varejao's value is so high.
In fact, outside of perhaps the top two players listed here, his value is higher than anyone else's on the team. Whether that can still be said for the remainder of the season or in the seasons ahead is the question on my mind.
Still, he kicks off this slideshow with standard-setting marks for staying relatively healthy, doing the dirty work and filling his role as a quality big man.
Tyler Zeller: C
Last season, with Varejao missing most of the season, Tyler Zeller was able to step in and find his niche over the course of 77 games. While it was discouraging to see him have a reduced role this season, he's been sneaky good in limited minutes when spotty injuries have taken his Brazilian teammate out of the rotation.
Sure, Zeller's upside may be a bit limited, and he looks a bit outmatched against most NBA centers. But so far this season, he's done what he can: taking (and making) easy shots, rebounding the ball and making sure that he soaks up those fouls so that his teammates won't have to.
For a reserve big on a thin roster, he has provided a positive impact and some toughness inside, which is more than enough to keep Zeller around for the foreseeable future.
C.J. Miles: A-
When you're the only player on a team who offers a positive net rating on the field, despite a sub-.500 record, you know you're doing something right.
Even if he's a little banged up, C.J. Miles has been Cleveland's unsung hero for nearly the entire season, especially given his contract. His shooting and scoring have seen a slight uptick in the past two months after a torrid December: For January, he averaged 12.6 points on 47.8 percent shooting overall and 46.5 percent from behind the arc.
He may not have a noticeable game, but make no mistake: He has proven value on this team in terms of spacing the floor, sensing chances on handoffs and playing a bit of defense on his man.
Matthew Dellavedova: B
Matthew Dellavedova's shooting has more or less nosedived over the course of the Cavs' previous losing streak, but even then, his ability to keep the ball moving and pesky playing style have equated to a relative net positive on the court.
He's not a no-stat All-Star in the mold of a Shane Battier, but considering his status as an undrafted rookie who has experienced a breakthrough moment or two in an NBA roster, I can forgive him for playing through a bit of a slump and continually pushing the Cavaliers' needle in the right direction.
The advanced metrics tell the tale: He's a top-five contributor on the team in terms of win shares, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Jarrett Jack: C-
Jarrett Jack hasn't exactly performed up to his contract, and moving him into the starting lineup in lieu of C.J. Miles hasn't helped. Both players have been less productive however way you want to slice it in their swapped roles, but the Cavs have been winning (so far), so it's hard to make too much of a fuss.
Still, 6.1 points in nearly 27 minutes as a starter alongside Kyrie Irving is a bit of an eyesore, especially for someone who's making more than $6 million this season and the next two.
Is there salvation for him? Perhaps, but if there is, it's going to require him to pick up his shooting, increase his activity and, most importantly of all, keep the team on a winning track.
Anthony Bennett: D+
It's tempting to fail Bennett, but considering his play through January, and where the bar has been set expectation-wise for Anthony Bennett's rookie season, it's safe to say that his recent double-double in Tuesday night's win over the Sacramento Kings was a very good sign as to what the big guy can be capable of.
His length, improved shooting stroke and activity around the basket have been hard to ignore. He may never quite improve into the type of dynamic pick-and-roll partner that ex-GM Chris Grant envisioned him to be, but in limited doses off the bench, he's shown signs of offensive versatility.
Considering that some regard Bennett as one of the worst top picks in NBA history, look for him to continue his mini-tear through the coming months.
Tristan Thompson: B
Tristan Thompson may not be the type of threat on either end of the floor to warrant coaches bending their game plans around him, but he earns high marks for remaining the team's most consistent player through 53 games.
He's a terror on the offensive glass and has shown signs of progress in scoring around the basket. His productivity has softened the blow of occasional disappearances from Varejao, and it's never quite a surprise whenever Thompson churns out a double-double.
On the other hand, I'm still waiting to see if it's within him to break out in terms of his per-minute production, especially with Cleveland's need for some quality play from its limited bigs.
Dion Waiters: C+
Sunday night's home victory over the Memphis Grizzlies was an exemplary showcase for Dion Waiters. He finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists—and one monstrous dunk during overtime that caught Marc Gasol sleeping.
He was also plus-18 for the game while somehow missing 14 shots and only earning three attempts from the charity stripe.
So it goes for Waiters, who has enough upside and talent but no infrastructure to help him bring it all together on a consistent basis. He has enough warts at this point that giving him a lower grade was possible, but since he might not be moved by the trade deadline, a C-plus feels like a good compromise, given his overall body of work.
Luol Deng: B+
As it stands, he's still light years ahead of the alternatives as far as production at the wing has been concerned, but his arrival and subsequent play haven't quite brought on the type of on-court revelation the Cavs have been hoping for. His numbers are average across the board, and he's had a few genuine stinkers (0-of-9 from the field in Wednesday night's win over the Detroit Pistons).
Still, given how quickly he's transitioned despite playing in a radically different offensive/defensive scheme than the one he enjoyed in Chicago, his complete style of play and his value as one of two players that the team is willing to retain at any cost, it's hard not to appraise Deng highly entering the All-Star break.
Kyrie Irving: B-
When you're an All-Star, it's only appropriate to grade you on the All-Star scale.
In a vacuum, Kyrie Irving should probably have an "A" here, but I can't quite justify it, at least not yet. By all means, his recent play suggests a more aggressive player who is committed to attacking, making plays and enjoying the game. But that would ignore the fact that this current success has followed a long, overdramatized malaise of rock-bottom prospects.
As an All-Star and someone who is supposed to represent the creme de la creme of the (admittedly weak) Eastern Conference, Irving still has some work to do if he wants to earn a grade of excellence. At least for me, he needs to show the same edge and leadership that the East's current playoff-bound point guards (see: John Wall, Kyle Lowry) have, and he has to keep plugging away at those wins.
And he'll get there. But right now, with the Cavs as a whole teetering between "not quite good enough" and "not quite bad enough"? I just can't see him as being on the same level of the league's elite at his position, although I hope I'm proved wrong.
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