Sudden and amazing are the waves of transformation that can overtake an NBA franchise in a short amount of time. The 2011-2012 Cleveland Cavaliers are experiencing first-hand, the destructive shock waves created by the decision of one star player and the ever changing scenario of picking up the pieces.
Comparing the 2009-2010 Cavaliers to this year's team is like comparing good and evil. The transformation began last season, when players who were considered role players the previous year, had to step in and become reliable contributors to the team. That certainly was a main reason for the rocky season, but it also allowed coach Byron Scott and general manager Chris Grant to find a couple of diamonds in the rough, who can be integral parts of the rebuild of the franchise.
The revolving door of players continued during this past offseason, which saw the Cavaliers select two of the top four players in the draft, trade a former first-round pick for another team's former first-round pick, re-sign their starting shooting guard after he tested the free agent waters, and finally, use the amnesty clause on former star Baron Davis.
Nobody really knows what to expect out of the Cavaliers in 2011-2012. The front office has most certainly turned the roster over, adding players through trades, free agency, and simply by getting them healthy. So what should fans expect out of the players who will dress in the Wine and Gold this year?
Alonzo Gee is a second-year swing man who played in forty games, and started twenty-nine, for the Cavaliers last season. Expectations for Gee were minimal when he signed with the Cavaliers about a quarter of the way through the season. However, Alonzo was able to provide some stability at the small forward position, which was clearly the weakest spot on the floor for the team.
Unfortunately for Gee, he was the best small forward in a very, very bad group of small forwards, which also included a developing Christian Eyenga, Joey Graham, Jawad Williams, and Luke Harangody.
This season, the Cavaliers have improved their small forward group, and that doesn't leave much room for Alonzo Gee. The end of the bench is probably where Gee will make his home this year, playing the role of cheerleader, and occasional player in games that are out of hand. It will not come as a surprise if Gee is either included in a trade, or flat out released by the team during the course of the season.
Role: Bookend of the bench.
Luke Harangody, along with Semih Erden, came to the Cavaliers in a deadline deal that sent a 2013 second-round pick to the Boston Celtics. In twenty-one games, Harangody averaged just over six points and four rebounds per game for the wine and gold.
Harangody is a popular player with fans because he epitomizes hard work and dedication. He's not the biggest, fastest, or most talented player on the court, but he somehow manages to be productive through his sheer hustle.Every game he's in, he makes one of those plays that just makes you scratch your head and wonder how he managed to pull it off.
Unfortunately for Luke, with the improvement the Cavaliers have made at both forward positions, he isn't going to get the nineteen minutes per game that he was used to last year. Defensively challenged, Harangody is a player the Cavaliers tried to rely on to provide an offensive spark off the bench. It's too bad that spark was pretty dim. Harangody shot thirty-seven percent from the field and just twenty-five percent from beyond the arc. Those numbers just won't get it done on a team with much more talent.
Role: Very limited role player.
Semih Erden is the other player acquired by the Cavaliers, along with Luke Harangody, in last year's deadline deal with the Boston Celtics. A second-round pick in 2008, Erden is entering his second season in the NBA. In 2010-2011, Erden played in thirty-seven games with the Celtics, averaging about four points and three rebounds per game. Erden only played in four games with the Cavaliers, and had very little impact.
The return of Anderson Varejao is going to limit Erden's ability to stay on the court, though he should stay as a part of the normal rotation. Erden has some major flaws for a big man that he is going to need to correct, or he will lose any playing time he gets. Even though he is six feet, eleven inches tall, and relatively light on his feet, Erden is a very poor rebounder. Looking at his stats from Boston, he averaged under three rebounds in his nearly fifteen minutes per game. This stat shows that Erden is not a physical player, and he gets pushed around by just about anybody under the hoop. Erden is also a foul machine, who finds it very difficult to defend other centers and power forwards in the league.
If Semih wants to keep himself in the regular rotation, he needs to become much more aggressive on the boards, and much smarter on defense.
Role: Last big man in the rotation who might see ten minutes per game, when healthy.
Booby heads into the 2011-2012 season coming off a career year in which he averaged over eleven points per game while shooting over forty percent from three point land. A career spot-up shooter, Gibson always seemed to thrive off of the open looks he got when Lebron James was taking on double teams. Many people had their doubts on whether Booby would be able to contribute when he had to create his own looks, but he managed to calm those fears.
Heading into 2011-2012, some of the same questions follow Gibson that have followed him his whole career. The biggest issue with Daniel is that he has some serious trouble finishing around the rim. He shoots a higher percentage from beyond the arc than he does from right under the hoop. Gibson is relatively quick, and he has good footwork, so he should be able to get to the rim and finish, but that's where he struggles.
At six feet, two inches tall, Gibson is an under-sized shooting guard, without the real ball handling ability of a true point guard. This will continue to make him a defensive liability on the court. Don't tell him that, though, as Daniel has always given maximum effort on the defensive side of the ball.
Gibson enters the season as the second-longest tenured member of the Cavaliers, and he seems to embrace the veteran role. Look for Booby to build off the momentum he started last year, and for his numbers, and playing time, to increase.
Role: Byron Scott's most dependable shooter off the bench. Equally as important, Booby will be the emotional leader of the team.
Christian Eyenga is making headlines in Cleveland, not because he did something stupid, or because he had a tumultuous offseason, but because he has apparently grown two inches since the end of last season! That makes Eyenga an interesting player for the Cavaliers' bench.
Always known as a high-flyer, Eyenga had a bit of a coming out party during the 2010-2011 season. "Skyenga," as he was commonly known by fans, showed that there is a little more in his offensive arsenal than just the highlight dunks. Toward the end of the season, Eyenga showed a major improvement on his mid-range jump shot, as well as his three point shot. Looking at last year's stats will not tell the story of the improvement Eyenga made on the court.
Having said that, "Skyenga" remains a project for coach Byron Scott, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Getting passed his ability to block shots, which he does pretty well, Eyenga is not a very good man-to-man defender, and he's a particularly poor rebounder, averaging less than three boards per game last season. His defensive struggles can not be attributed to a lack of hustle, but more to a lack of experience and court awareness. Expect coach Scott to focus on these areas with Christian this offseason.
Role: In a bit of a surprise, expect Eyenga to back up Omri Casspi as the number one small forward off the bench, in front of Alonzo Gee. The season may not start this way, but Eyenga will prove himself to be more valuable than Gee as the year goes on. Don't underestimate the two-inch growth spurt, which will make an incredibly athletic Eyenga much more dangerous.
Frustrating. There is no word in the English language that can more accurately describe the play of Ryan Hollins last season. Entering his sixth season, the seven-foot, string bean, center looks to avoid another year of being the punching bag for centers around the league.
A product of UCLA, Ryan Hollins has played for four teams in his five NBA seasons. With terrific quickness, footwork, and athleticism for a seven-footer, Hollins would seem to be able to produce rebounds and solid defense, even with limited offensive moves. That assumption has proved to be absolutely false.
In about seventeen minutes per game, Ryan Hollins managed to pull down less than three rebounds per game. It would seem like a man that size would have to intentionally try to be that bad on the boards. It would seem like a seven-footer would get at least five rebounds that just find their way to their hands. Such is not the case with Hollins. Some of the blame has to go with his lack of strength and size, but most of the blame has to go to an apparent lack of interest in cleaning up the glass.
Along with his inability to rebound the ball, Hollins really struggles to play defense without using all of his six fouls in a short time span. He seems incapable of using his quickness to stay in front of offensive players. Instead, Hollins is prone to reaching and slapping, and because of that, Hollins can't stay on the court.
Role: Hollins will probably get the nod over Erden as the primary backup center to start the year. However, if he continues to struggle to be productive in any facet of the game, he will spend most of his time on the bench, or in a different jersey. It's safe to bet on the latter.
There are plenty of reasons for the Cavaliers to be excited about the talented young power forwards on the team, including second-year big man Samardo Samuels. Think of the exact opposite body type of Ryan Hollins, and you will get a good idea of Samuels, a six-feet nine-inch, stocky power forward out of Louisville.
Signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2010-2011 season, it wasn't until halfway through the season that Samardo got an opportunity to be an every day player. Undersized, but never over powered, Samardo made the most of his opportunity with a gentle touch around the rim and the ability to get to the free throw line.
Samuels' rookie season was not all peachy, though. Samardo had his troubles when it came to rebounding the ball when in the midst of taller players. Hopefully he watched tape on players like Chuck Hayes and Paul Millsap, who are capable rebounders despite being undersized.
Samuels also should have spent plenty of time during the offseason working on his free throws. Samardo proved more than capable of drawing fouls and getting to the line, because of his strength, and ability to back his defender under the hoop. Converting those free throw opportunities proved difficult for Samuels, who managed to convert just sixty-one percent of his attempts.
Role: The game should slow down for Samardo during his sophomore campaign. Expect the rebounding numbers to increase nicely, while Samardo continues to impress with a nice offensive game. Samuels will become a go-to player for coach Byron Scott off the bench.
Fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers were thrown a curveball when their favorite team selected Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Thompson played only one year at the University of Texas, where the big man showed tremendous athleticism and court awareness. Averaging almost fourteen points and eight rebounds as a Freshman, the lefty proved himself as a defensive stopper and an expert at drawing fouls, the type of player the Cavaliers desperately need.
Thompson doesn't come to Cleveland without concerns. Though he was able to get to the free throw line at will, he really struggled to convert his free throws, shooting under fifty percent from the stripe. Thompson will also need to develop both his mid-range shooting and post game on offense. As a lefty, Thompson is gifted at finishing at the rim with both hands, so it will be up to the Cavaliers' coaching staff to teach him more moves in the paint.
Even with the struggles Thompson may experience on offense, he has the defensive skill to carry his entire career. With a long wing span, Thompson is a shot blocker who can also play man-to-man defense and defend the perimeter. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time when going up for rebounds as well. Thompson should study film of Hall of Fame power forward Dennis Rodman, and he should attempt to model his game after The Worm.
Role: By midseason, Thompson will be Byron Scott's go-to big man off the bench. The typical fanfare that follows a high draft pick is being focused more on number one overall pick Kyrie Irving, which will make Tristan Thompson a very pleasant surprise for all Cavaliers fans.
Ramon Sessions, of all the players that were on the Cavaliers last year, should be the player who benefits most from a better surrounding cast this year. Though he had his best scoring season of his career last year, Sessions only averaged about five assists per game. With his quickness and ability to get into the lane, Sessions should be able to kick the ball to open shooters who can actually make shots this year.
The Cavaliers obviously like Sessions, deciding to use the amnesty clause on Baron Davis, leaving them with Sessions, Gibson, and Kyrie Irving. Though he's not a great spot up shooter, Sessions is a fantastic finisher around the rim, and he is an expert in the runner/floater department. Sessions' best quality is his ability to see the court, slow the game down for himself, and create shots for himself, and for others.
As good as Sessions can be on offense, and rebounding the ball, that's how bad he can be defensively. The trend of very quick, slashing point guards in the NBA is troubling for Sessions, who struggles to keep up with them and often ends up defending shooting guards. The Cavaliers probably like the idea of playing Sessions and Irving at the same time. Kyrie is a much better shooter who can defend most point guards, while sessions can slash and defend the other guards. This combination could become deadly for the Cavaliers, as they begin this new phase in the franchise's history.
Role: Sessions will most likely begin the season as the starter at point guard, while Kyrie Irving catches up to the speed of the NBA. Eventually, Kyrie Irving will take over as the starter, at which point Sessions will become the first player off the bench. Sessions and Irving will combine to create a formidable point guard tandem for the Cavaliers for years to come.
Like Samardo Samuels, Manny Harris joined the Cavaliers as an undrafted free agent before the 2010-2011 season. One of the all-time great Michigan Wolverine basketball players, Harris' draft stock fell due to his size, and an injury that he suffered in his final year in Ann Arbor. After impressing the Cavaliers' coaching staff in training camp, Harris was given one of the final roster spots. Harris saw the court in fifty-four games for the 2010-2011 Cleveland Cavaliers, proving that he deserves a shot to be an NBA player.
After one season in the NBA, the biggest area of concern for Manny Harris was his carelessness with the ball. Harris was clearly used to being a special talent at the college ranks, but he quickly learned that his style of play would have to be revised in the NBA. Harris is a player that loves to slash to the hoop with the ball, but the defense in the NBA makes it tough if a player doesn't have the strength to get to the rim.
Harris should let the game come to him more in his sophomore season. If given a chance, Manny Harris can transform from a hard-working hustle player, to a skilled and dangerous shooting guard for the Cavaliers. He needs to focus on protecting that ball, and turning into a better defensive player.
Role: I fully believe that Manny Harris has the actual skill to be a big role player for the Cavaliers in 2011-2012. He is a gifted scorer who seemed to press a little in his rookie season. If he can slow things down this year, Harris should become the primary replacement for Anthony Parker off the bench.
A one-time premier player in the NBA, Antawn Jamison is the veteran presence on the Cavaliers, especially with the release of Baron Davis. While he managed to score eighteen points per game for the 2011-2012 Cavaliers, it was evident that Jamison's career is on the downhill path.
Throughout his career, Jamison has been a terrific rebounder. Last year was the first year since he joined the Washington Wizards in 2004-2005 that Antawn did not average at least seven rebounds per game. Jamison seems to be very reluctant to play physically at all, and that has lead to the decline in some of his numbers.
The other area in which Jamison is seriously lacking is on the defensive side of the ball. Antawn Jamison has never been considered an elite defender, or even a very good one. As he ages, his defensive skills continue to diminish, which has lead to him getting dusted by just about every power forward he has to defend. Don't look for any kind of miraculous improvement in his defense this season.
Things aren't all bad with Antawn Jamison, however. Always an offensive threat, Jamison may provide the only threat of interior offense the Cavaliers have to start the season. An expert in the post, Jamison is one of those players that just finds a way to score, and it's not always pretty! His eighteen points per game last year shows that he has certainly not lost the ability to put the ball in the hoop.
Role: Jamison should start the year as the starting power forward for the Cavaliers, but don't expect him to be with the Cavaliers throughout the entire season, especially if he remains healthy. There will be plenty of teams who will see the value of Jamison's scoring abilities, and the Cavaliers should capitalize on the opportunity to improve the team heading into the future.
Parker rejoins the Cavaliers after testing the free agent waters once the lockout ended. A veteran shooting guard, Parker is coming off of a 2010-2011 season that saw him post his lowest shooting percentages in more than a decade. This can most certainly be attributed to the fact that Parker became a focal point of the team's offense, and was constantly forced to create his own shot. As he heads into his mid and upper thirties, creating his own shot is just not something Parker's able to do anymore.
Another player who should benefit from another year in the system, and more talent around him, look for Parker to rebound from his poor shooting season last year. A very capable spot-up shooter, Byron Scott should try to find ways, through pick and rolls and penetration-passes, to get the ball in Parkers hands as he stands ready to shoot.
Defense is also one of the strengths of Parker's game. A big, strong guard, Parker has lost the quickness that once made him an elite defender. He does struggle a bit when guarding quick shooting guards on the perimeter, and often has to guard bigger forwards. Still, though he has lost a step, he has not lost his awareness and physicality. Parker is excellent with defensive rotations, and has terrific hands, so he presents a challenge to all players he defends.
Role: Parker tested the shortened free agent waters, and didn't find a true contender that wanted to pick up his services. Look for Parker to start, improve his shooting numbers, and become a trade target for a contender before the deadline. At thirty-six, it's tough to see where Parker can help the Cavaliers in the long-term, so they'll probably look to trade him if they can.
Omri Casspi came to the Cavaliers in a July trade that sent former first-round pick, power forward JJ Hickson to the Sacramento Kings. Hickson's time in Cleveland was filled with highlight dunks, bonehead mistakes, and lowlight fade-away jumpers. Nobody could question Hickson's athleticism, but the lack of any real progress, especially on defense, and in his post game, led to the end of Hickson's days in Cleveland.
Enter: Omri Casspi. A tall (six feet, nine inch) perimeter forward, Casspi has an above-average shooting touch and is terrific at finishing at the rim. Casspi's game almost looks like it was modeled after teammate Antawn Jamison. It is unorthodox, technically flawed, and constantly makes you shake your head in amazement. Obviously, Jamison is, and always has been, a more skilled post player, but there are some definite similarities in their styles.
Casspi doesn't come to the Cavaliers without his flaws. Last year, he experienced a bit of a sophomore slump, seeing his shooting percentage and scoring average drop. While he has size, and decent speed, Casspi is also not a great defender, especially against the elite small forwards in the league. Having said that, Casspi is a hustle player, and will make some good plays on the defensive end of the court.
Role: Casspi should step right in and fill the void that was the small forward position last year. Casspi will provide an instant offensive boost, while continuing to crash the boards, which is something he has done very well throughout his career. Expect his scoring numbers to jump as Casspi establishes himself as a building block for the future of the Cavaliers franchise.
Perhaps the single biggest factor in determining just how competitive the Cavaliers will be in 2011-2012 is the return of center Anderson Varejao. Almost halfway through the 2010-2011 season, Varejao went down with a foot/ankle injury, and the team went on to lose the next twenty-one games. The return of one of the best defensive big men in the league, not to mention one of the hardest working players in the league, could be a huge catalyst if the 2011-2012 Cavaliers are to compete for any kind of postseason berth.
Varejao is the Cavaliers' version of the player who you love if he's on your team, and you hate if he's not. Perhaps the quickest of all the big men in the league, Varejao uses that speed advantage to pester ball handlers, draw charges, and disrupt the post. He also has an incredible ability to spoil pick and rolls, which is a big reason the Cavs have been such a good defensive team for so many years.
The question with Varejao has always been his ability to produce on offense. For the first part of his career, Varejao was a player who only touched the ball if he was open and cutting to the hoop. He has always been pretty good at finishing near the rim, either with dunks, or with nifty layups and baby hooks. He has always had trouble once he gets more than six feet from the hoop, until last year at least.
When healthy last season, it was evident that Varejao had spent plenty of time working on his mid-range shooting. He showed a drastic improvement in his spot-up shooting ability, which dramatically affects how the Cavaliers will be able to run their offense, because that will cause the other team's big man to have to guard him away from the hoop. This new element of Varejao's game will create nice driving lanes for the likes of Kyrie Irving, Omri Casspi, and even Antawn Jamison.
Role: For Varejao, it will be business as usual as he returns to the starting center role for the Cavaliers. The pesky defensive stopper, with the added element of a mid-range game, should have the best year of his career, assuming he stays healthy. It will be nice to watch the games and see the never-ending energy of the "Wild Thing" at it again.
When the Cavaliers had the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, the organization figured that it would not be in that position again for quite some time. Eight years later, after the departure of that first pick, the Cavaliers again found themselves at the top of the draft board. The last time they were in this position, they drafted one player who was able to change the direction of the franchise right from the very beginning. The Cavaliers are hoping they have once again found a player like that in Kyrie Irving.
At six feet two inches, Kyrie Irving brings size, quickness, and an incredible basketball I.Q. to the Cavaliers. The one-and-done point guard out of Duke showed nothing short of brilliance in his eleven game college career, averaging over seventeen points and nearly five assists per game.
Irving will bring a different style to the Cavaliers than the other point guards who were drafted first overall recently. Irving is not the freak athlete that Derrick Rose is, but he also brings a better shooting touch than Rose had out of college. Irving does not have the blazing speed of John Wall, but he is incredibly adept and identifying driving lanes and deciding to pass, or shoot, in traffic.
Identifying ways that Irving may struggle is difficult at this point. Most likely, Irving will struggle to defend some of the quick lead guards in the league, like Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and Chris Paul. He is big enough to stay with and bother any point guard, so don't expect to see many point guards backing him into the post, which Cavaliers fans have become so accustomed to seeing.
Kyrie Irving is set to become the new face of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a franchise with only a few great eras of basketball, and a lot of forgettable times. He will look to make sure that the Kyrie Irving era is the former.
Role: Irving will more than likely start the season as the backup for Ramon Sessions, but he will see plenty of playing time. I would expect him to step in and take the reigns at some point halfway through the year, and he won't relinquish them for many years to come.