With the NBA season fast approaching, I figured I'd throw my two cents in on how I see things playing out. These projections were created using Wins Produced (WP) from the Wages of Wins Journal and The NBA Geek. To gauge how rookies and incoming international players perform, I used the amazing projections of Arturo Galletti. If you haven't read any of that stuff, you should. I march on with the still-a-year-away Cleveland Cavaliers. Enjoy.
Cleveland Cavaliers 26-56 (4th Central)
TOP NINE PRODUCTION (numbers listed are 2011-12 WP)
|PG Kyrie Irving||3.9|
|SG Dion Waiters*||2.5|
|SF Alonzo Gee||5.1|
|PF Tristan Thompson||2.2|
|C Anderson Varejao||4.2|
|C Tyler Zeller*||1.6|
|G Boobie Gibson||0.5|
|F C.J. Miles||-0.9|
|F Omri Casspi||1.8|
I don't know about you, but I am shocked Alonzo Gee led the Cavs in WP last season. That will happen, though, when a team's two best players combine to miss 56 games, as Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving did last season. On a per 48 minute basis, however, Varejao led the team with 0.257 WP48, which was 4th highest among NBA centers. Surprisingly, Gee still outperformed Irving, finishing 2nd on the team with 0.133 WP48, edging out Irving's 3rd place 0.119. While Irving certainly shot like a superstar (49.1% 2FG, 39.9% 3FG, 87.2% FT), and showed a knack for taking a game over late like few other rookies ever have, a poor turnover rate sank his production. That turnover rate isn't likely to improve much this year, either, as Kyrie finds himself surrounded by an even younger collection of teammates, none of whom project to help all that much on the scoring front.
Rookie Dion Waiters certainly should be able to put up eye-catching point totals, as he will almost certainly be the number 2 option behind Irving. Unfortunately, Waiters came to camp out-of-shape, and has done little to disprove all of the draftniks who scoffed when the Cavs took him 4th overall. While I personally like Waiters more than Harrison Barnes or Austin Rivers, I would have been much more satisfied if Chris Grant would have just taken Thomas Robinson and tried to figure out what to do with Tristan Thompson later. Either one would have been an asset off a currently weak bench, and--as hinted at above--it's pretty much a given that Varejao will miss some time with an injury.
In the event that does come to pass, Cavs fans should get an extended look at Tyler Zeller, who I was higher on than most entering the draft. Zeller was far from a stiff at North Carolina, and his ability to knock down a mid-range jumper should play nicely in the pick-and-roll with Kyrie. That being said, the price the Cavs paid to move up and get Zeller was steep, as it cost them the 24th pick and two high 2nd round picks. While the Mavericks essentially punted the first two picks on Jared Cunningham and Bernard James, they used the last selection to snag Jae Crowder, who projects as the 2nd best member of this year's rookie class. Zeller at best will be a Kosta Koufas-type, while Crowder could have been the running-mate Kyrie still lacks.
So is another dismal season in the cards for the Cavs? Dismal may be too strong a word, but it won't be successful, at least not in terms of wins. For the 50 or so odd games Andy and Irving are on the floor together (and, yes, I do see them each missing a decent chunk of time, as they probably will for the rest of their careers), the Cavs will float around respectable, posting maybe a 20-30 record in those games, pulling a few upsets, and generally looking like an actual NBA club. For the 32 games one or both of the Big Two are missing, though, look out below.
Without Irving, the Cavs will struggle to score 80 points, as Waiters looks very much like he would struggle to score 20 on 30 shots, and no one else on the roster seems capable of 25 on the best night of their lives, let alone putting up those numbers on a consistent basis. And without Varejao, opponents will hit triple digits by the end of the 3rd quarter, as only Gee has any defensive acumen right now. Thompson is a willing shot-blocker, but that willingness often takes him out of position to help his teammates or pull down rebounds (which partly explains how a guy who can be such a monster on the offensive boards--6.3 per 48, nearly double what an average power forward pulls down--can also be so putrid on the defensive glass--6.8 per 48, nearly a full rebound less than the average NBA power forward pulls down). Zeller will take up space in the middle, but to expect a game but slow-footed rookie to serve as the team's defensive backbone is asking too much. The rest of the roster is seriously lacking on the defensive end, including Irving, who (perhaps understandably) often takes it easy on defense to save up for the yeoman's work required of him on offense.
The Cavs currently have one potential superstar, one other legit NBA starter, a very nice role player in Alonzo Gee, a serviceable backup big who's head is already scraping against his ceiling in Tyler Zeller, a couple of promising young unknown's in Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, and a bunch of roster filler. The presence of Irving and Varejao means one more piece could push the Cavs into playoff contention, but that piece either isn't ready yet (Waiters and/or Thompson), or isn't on the roster yet (one of the 12 potential draft picks Cleveland has over the next 3 drafts). In the meantime, it will still be fun to watch Kyrie.