What Cleveland Cavaliers Must Find out About Their Youngsters
As the Cleveland Cavaliers make their final push toward the playoffs, this is also a valuable time to evaluate the roster's young talent before the season ends.
The Cavs have a wide array of youngsters on their squad, ranging from former No. 1 overall picks to undrafted rookies.
Despite their draft position or background, all of the Cavs' young players have something to prove. While some will have to work their way back from injury first, here's what the Cavaliers should be looking for in each of their prospects.
All stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Matthew Dellavedova, G
Has Dellavedova earned a spot on next year's roster?
"Delly" is averaging 4.5 points and 2.7 assists per game this season after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Saint Mary's College.
The stats won't blow you away, but Dellavedova does a lot of the dirty work that helps the Cavaliers win games. Cleveland scores 3.1 more points and allows 5.5 less points per 100 possessions with Delly on the floor, per 82games.com. A gritty, in-your-face defender, Delly is quickly developing a reputation as a pest due to his non-stop motor.
While the Cavaliers love his passion, Delly's upside really isn't that high. He's not a good shooter, can't create his own offense and struggles to cover quicker point guards.
Given that his contract is non-guaranteed for next season, per shamsports.com, Delly could be one of the first players cut should Cleveland need to create an extra roster spot this summer.
Dellavedova must prove he's worth keeping as a third point guard again next year with a strong finish to the season.
Anthony Bennett, PF
Can Bennett continue his improvement upon returning?
Bennett was sidelined on Mar. 10 with a left patellar tendon strain that was supposed to hold him out for three weeks, per the team website.
When he does finally return, which Bennett will we see?
The confused rookie constantly chucking jumpers, or the more confident, rim-attacking forward Bennett started to become before the injury?
Before the All-Star break, Bennett was putting up a per 48-minute stat line of 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.0 assist while shooting just 31.8 percent from the field.
Since the break, Bennett has bumped these averages to 20.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 46.9 percent shooting.
Numbers are nice, but the Cavs should really be concerned about Bennett's confidence, aggressiveness and comfort level while in the game. If Bennett can get the mental aspect of the NBA down, his stats will certainly take care of themselves given his physical talent.
Here's hoping we see the 2013 first overall pick back on the court soon.
Tyler Zeller, C
What is Zeller's ideal NBA role?
In just two seasons, Zeller has spent time as a starting center, primary reserve and little-used rotation piece, depending on who's been around him.
The 2012 first-round pick out of North Carolina, Zeller brings a lot of nice qualities to the table. He's 7 feet tall and can run the floor better than most at his position. When given the playing time, Zeller has shown a major improvement over his rookie season.
More of a jump-shooter than a traditional back-to-the-basket center, Zeller can play the pick-and-pop game and has been more aggressive in the pick-and-roll.
Per 36 minutes of play, the 24-year-old center is averaging 13.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Zeller's field goal percentage stands at a solid 51.9 percent, up from the 43.8 percent he shot his rookie year.
Current starting center Spencer Hawes will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Anderson Varejao has just one year left on his deal, which is only partially-guaranteed, per shamsports.com. Before the Cavs make a decision on both players, they'd probably like to see more of Zeller this season.
Is he good enough to be a starter, or would the role of a solid rotation player be best for Zeller on the Cavaliers?
Tristan Thompson, PF
How much is Thompson worth when talking extension?
Thompson will be entering his fourth professional season this fall, and he will be eligible to sign an extension this summer.
Just how much will he command?
After all, Thompson is arguably slightly worse than a season ago. He's averaging 11.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.4 blocks. His field goal percentage is just 47.2 percent, down from the 48.8 percent from a season ago. A new, right-handed jumper was supposed to take his offensive game to the next level but instead Thompson has begun to revert back to his old push-shot habits.
He's extremely durable, having starting every game at power forward the last two seasons. Thompson also ranks first among power forwards in offensive rebounds at 3.2 a game. His defense has been steady but not at the level many hoped it would be.
So what's the going rate for a player like Thompson? Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal explored two players similar to Thompson and the contracts they got coming off a rookie deal.
The benchmark contracts for Thompson belong to (Derrick) Favors and Larry Sanders. The Milwaukee Bucks gave Sanders a four year, $44 million extension after he averaged 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds last season while ranking second in the league in blocks and finishing seventh in Defensive Player of the Year rankings. Favors’ deal was even richer at four years and $49 million. He rarely started with the Utah Jazz prior to this season, but his numbers now are similar to Thompson’s.
Honestly, the idea of paying $11-$12 million a year to a young forward with little offensive game who already seems to be regressing is a bit terrifying.
The Cavaliers will have a tough decision to make on this one.
Obviously they'd like to bring Thompson back but at what cost?
Dion Waiters, SG
Can Waiters maintain his improvement, maturity?
I recently covered all the areas where Waiters has been showing tremendous growth with both the physical and emotional aspects of the NBA. Quite frankly, it's been awesome to watch.
Since taking over the starting shooting guard job, Waiters is putting up 22.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. Thanks to his strong production, Cleveland has won three of their last four games and are technically still alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
His maturity as a person and basketball player are evident. As Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal wrote:
When I joked with Dion Waiters after the game that he was becoming the voice of sound and reason in the Cavs’ locker room, his eyes twinkled and he flashed a wide grin. “I’ve been in the media a lot for being the bad guy,” he said. “I’m changing my image.”
Still, it's one thing to be a leader and happy when you're starting and playing 40 minutes a night. Will Waiters remain as positive upon Kyrie Irving's return, especially if he's moved back to the bench?
The Cavaliers need to decide what's best for their young guards for the future and if they can truly maximize their talents while playing next to one another.
Kyrie Irving, PG
Can Irving bounce back from yet another freak injury?
Having missed the last seven games for the Cavaliers with a strained left bicep tendon, Irving could be back as early as next week.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Irving is scheduled to have his left bicep strain re-evaluated Monday, and he said he's hopeful he could be available Wednesday in Orlando.
A return against the Magic would be huge for the Cavs. It would mean having Irving for the last seven games of the season and represent an impressive turnaround from yet another injury. Irving has previously missed time in his career with a left knee contusion, fractured index finger, hyperextended right knee, sprained left AC joint, concussion, sprained shoulder and broken hand.
Irving had actually been quite durable this season, missing just three of his first 67 games before getting his left arm caught up with Blake Griffin on Mar. 16.
If Irving can rehab quickly enough to return and help the Cavs secure the final playoff spot, it's safe to say his reputation as a leader would receive a significant boost. Even a return and a strong run at the postseason would help his cause and likely ensure the Cavaliers extend a maximum contract offer Irving's way this summer.
If Irving can't prove he can stay healthy, quickly battling back from those injuries is the next best thing.