The DEFEND Cleveland Show

I Love Basketball, a Cavs Summer League Preview


Look, I’m a basketball nerd.  Just ask my girlfriend.  She just spent the last six minutes politely nodding as I ignored all signs of boredom and proceeded to ramble on about how glorious it was that every game of the NBA Summer League was going to be fully available online for my viewing pleasure thanks to our kind basketball overlords over at the Association.1  Generally I wouldn’t expect the NBA Las Vegas Summer League to interest the average Cleveland fan any more than I expect the average American to care about who has the best butterfly stroke in a year that isn’t divisible evenly by four.  This year is a little different though.

The NBA Summer League has been around since 2004 and the Cavaliers were one of the six teams to compete in it during its inaugural run.  Rosters are generally filled up with rookies and sophomores to the NBA along with D-leaguers, undrafted free agents, and younger NBA nomads hoping to make a team.  It is generally of little importance to most teams fan bases.  Winning doesn’t really mean anything there and usually only one or two players on each team’s roster will get consistent minutes during the regular season.

The Cavalier’s Summer League roster strays from this pattern though.  Whereas the Cavalier’s 2010 Summer League team was being led by such NBA phenoms as JJ Hickson and Daniel Green2,  potentially as many as four starters (at least by seasons end) are going to be representing your Cleveland Cavaliers in Las Vegas headlined by Uncle Drew himself, Kyrie Irving.  Not only that, but the NBA Draft was mere weeks ago and today Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller  will be suiting up in Las Vegas to play some semi-competitive basketball with their new teammates.  While Browns fans have been left to speculate endlessly for months on how Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson will perform this season based on the medias over analysis of their training camps reps3, today Cavs fans will begin to see real evidence that can begin to answer the myriad of questions that started floating around shortly after the Gremlin King of the NBA proclaimed “with the 4th pick in the 2012 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Dion Waiters of Syracuse University”.  So in case you’re like Skip Bayless and are too dumb to figure out this crazy game of basketball by yourself here are a few things to ponder over as the Cavaliers’ Summer League approaches.

Chris Grant is dumber than mock drafts and the fans that read them, duh.

Every year I go through the same pre-draft routine. For two months or so leading up to the draft I devote much of my time to pouring over Youtube highlights, Googling the shit out of the interwebs in order to find NCAA game torrents, and clicking every piece of blue text with even a shred of relevance to the draft.  I put more work into the draft than I did my college thesis.  Then about a week or two before draft night reality sets in and I realize I’m not going to actually be allowed to make the Cavalier’s selection. At this point I resign myself to the fact that I have no control and just hope the Cavs front office doesn’t go to the draft and lay a turd on the podium.

I normally in my head have a pretty well defined “draft big board” and hope it matches the Cavaliers’ own.  Last year I had Jonas Valanciunas #3 on my mental big board and was mildly incensed when the Cavs drafted Tristan with the #4 pick.  Apparently one of the deciding factors in drafting Tristan over the Lithuanian was the uncertainty over when Valanciunas was going to be able to come over.  I didn’t see what the rush was and I still don’t.

By the time Dion Waiters to the Cavs at #4 had started to spread across Cavalier message boards I had already reached my point of saturation with mindless pre-draft speculation.  I read the rumors more so from force of habit than any real interest.  I was really hoping the Cavaliers would trade up to the #2 slot and take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and was unprepared for who I wanted if both Beal and he were off the board at #4.  I actually laughed when Dion Waiters name was called.  Not because the pick itself was laughable, but because all I could think about was how the majority of Cavs fans would react.  I imagined a collective thought bubble radiating over Cleveland with one single thought; “who the fuck is Dion Waiters?”  In a shocking turn of events, instead of leading the unruly mob, the Cleveland sports media actually had to convince fans to put down the torch and pitchforks.  Was the reaction to this first pick justified?  We won’t have a clear enough picture for another year or two, but we can begin to break it down when the Cavs’ Summer League commences.

A lot of the rhetoric coming from the Cavs front office on why they like Waiters is his attitude and his ability to create his own shot.  The desire to get a second perimeter player with the ability to create offense I imagine stemmed directly from this team’s struggle during the LeBron era to score the basketball when it wasn’t being dominated by LeBron.  It’s a good idea in theory, but there’s no real way to predict how it will play out on the court.  Ideally you’d think the Cavs would like to resemble the Spurs and the Ginbolli/Parker backcourt.  Their penetration combined with sublime ball movement made for a thing of beauty throughout the end of the regular season and into the playoffs like it has for years in San Antonio. If this backcourt can even partially replicate that offense this year then we are in pretty good shape.

Kyrie and Dion’s body language with each other when they are on the court together is something to watch closely during the Summer League and throughout the season.  If you watch the Thunder enough you’ll notice that despite the team’s success there are still heated exchanges amongst themselves over who should have the ball at specific crucial moments.  This is by no means inherently bad.  It represents a learning process teams must go to in order to win tough games.  Teams need multiples players who are willing to shoulder the burden of carrying the team for stretches, but these egos still need to learn how to coexist.  It is almost inevitable that if Dion turns out to be any good he and Kyrie will clash on the court at some point.  That’s just the nature of competitive team games.  No such event is likely to occur in the more casual Las Vegas games, but the nature of their on the court dynamic will begin to form. It’s not hard to tell if players like playing with each other and that we will begin to see quickly.  From all accounts they have already embraced playing each other and I’ll enjoy watching it.  The real test will come of course during the regular season when I’m sure the Cavs will have their share of adversity.

The Next Great White American Stiff

I just got done watching two of Andre Drummond’s Summer League games.  At times you wonder if he even knows how to play basketball.  He often doesn’t block out, his reactions are on the whole slow, he falls for almost every pump fake, his free throws commonly fail to make contact with the rim, he attacks the basket with the hesitance of a smaller player, and a lot of times he just seems a spectator out on the court.  Just watch his face and tepid movement.  He is just struggling to keep up mentally with the pace of the game.  This doesn’t mean he is dumb.  It does mean though, basketball is by no means instinctual for him.  He is in a constant mental struggle to keep up.  He lives in a world where people expect someone with his gifts to play basketball and so he does.

There are a few positives in his game.  His athleticism does allow for some impressive blocks and he has a step back jumper that he does with a grace and confidence that is lost in the rest of his game.  Everything else looks clunky and forced and I cannot help but be perplexed as everyone else at how someone with all the physical tools can look so out of place in a basketball game at times.  It is no surprise that he dropped to #9 and I can’t help but wonder if he should have slipped further.

Tyler Zeller was drafted eight spots behind Drummond.  Zeller is 22; Drummonds is 19.  Zeller is actually listed as an inch taller than Drummond though his wingspan doesn’t impress nearly as much.  Drummond clearly has more muscle mass than Zeller’s more slender frame as well.  All of these scouts and GMs seem to think Drummond has oodles of “potential” and Zeller not so much.  It has long been fascinating to me how NBA GMs would rather play the NBA equivalent of the stock market than gain guaranteed small returns on guaranteed bonds.  Sure there is still some degree of speculation that goes into drafting a player like Zeller.  He definitely has the size and skills to play in the NBA, but the consensus seems to be he’ll only be so good.  Mediocrity tends to get coaches and front offices fired.4

Still, Drummond doesn’t even look like a basketball player on the court, but GMs are willing to project his ceiling to Dwight Howard.  Most people seem to think the Pistons got a lot of “value” by picking Drummond since he was perceived to have “slid” to them.  That is good for Detroit’s front office now.  It gives them positive PR to sell to their fans.  The truth is though that there are players who were drafted after Drummond whom I’m pretty sure will have much better NBA careers.  Drummond’s NBA career may not be a complete flop, but he’s not going to be worth even the ninth pick.  In markets where you aren’t going to attract big name free agents, teams can’t afford to miss on high risk prospects like Drummond.

Zeller looks much more at home on a basketball court than Drummond.  He is one of those players Detroit could regret passing on.  Zeller passes the ball pretty well, can run the floor all day, has a few post moves, a decent jumper, and can shoot free throws.  I don’t suspect he’ll be an offensive juggernaut but I have trouble believing he can’t average something like 12-15 points and 8 rebounds on a team with above average guard play.  He lacks the requisite strength required to guard some of the better post up offensive centers in this league, but they are rare enough that it may not be a huge downside.  Is Drummond’s untapped and possibly nonexistent “potential” worth more than the skills that Zeller already possesses?  I don’t think it is, but I don’t make the decisions.  I’m excited to see Zeller play in Vegas because I think he’ll fit in quickly and mold his abilities to fit the team around him.  Something every team needs.

Our other 4th pick

Despite wanting Valanciunas with the fourth pick last year I have to admit to harboring a growing fondness for Tristan Thompson.  It’s hard to pick apart Kyrie at this point; he’s ahead of the curve.  Tyler and Dion get their rookie years as a grace period to get adjusted to the NBA.  With Tristan everyone is hoping he make large strides with his game this season, particularly on the offensive end.  At this juncture I’m convinced that Tristan will have a long NBA career, but how bright that career will end up being is up in the air.  The type of player Tristan becomes will have a large bearing on where exactly this Cavs team ends up in the NBA hierarchy.  His improvement from the free throw stripe as his rookie season went on gave Cavs fans hope that he was willing to put in the work necessary to become a legitimate offensive threat.  Coach Scott has commented that Tristan has been working on his jumper during the off season and I hope it’s true because I don’t think the league is going to continually fall for that beloved pump fake of his.  Tristan is an easy guy to root for and I find myself excited to see what he will bring to the table in the Summer League where I imagine they will try to get him a fair share of touches on the offensive end.  I am left hoping for big things from the young power forward, but not really expecting.

Kyrie, please stop.  I told myself I’d never love again.

Kyrie Irving or Anthony Davis?  It would have been an interesting question had they come out in the same year.  Davis surely would have gone ahead of Irving due to NBA executive’s obsession with size and athleticism.  Davis is impressive enough that it’s hard to blame them, but in this case it’s hard to say what the right choice would be.

The small sample size provided by Kyrie in his freshman season with Duke was not near enough to scare the Cavs or I off of him despite Derrick Williams ability to dunk a basketball in an aesthetically pleasing fashion and perform heroically in the NCAA tournament.  Why?  Kyrie’s handles are just too good.  Allen Iverson good.  Chris Paul good.  Kevin Johnson good.  That oh so unique brand of Cleveland pessimism kept me from believing he’d ever reach the level of those Hall of Famers though.  Instead I was happily spoon fed media reports that pegged him as a long time solid NBA starter, but not a perennial NBA All-Star.5

Now, well now I have no idea what to think.  The man just came off one of the best rookie seasons ever by efficiency and statistical standards.  He then followed it up by grabbing the attention of most of the league’s biggest superstars, including the NBA Finals MVP himself, as he scrimmaged against Team USA during their preparation for the Olympics.  During the same time reports from Yahoo! Sports have Cleveland and Dallas as two of Andrew Bynum’s preferred free agent destinations.  It’s hard not to give Kyrie some piece of credit for that.  I wouldn’t bet on it happening, but just the mere fact that Cleveland can even be spoken about as a desired free agent destination is a miracle on par with that whole water into wine Jesus bit.

That brings us to the Summer League.  Kyrie doesn’t have to play in it.  He could just take a break, but he’s not.  He wants to play in Las Vegas and I’m not sure how to handle that.  I think I’m in love.  He is insanely talented, says and does all the right things, and he wears Wine and Gold to work.6 I don’t know what to do.  I spent all my time since May 13th, 2010 telling myself I’d love the game not the player.  In reality though I’m not sure I can separate the two. Kyrie has a good chance to go down as one of the best Cavalier players ever.  Watch now while you can because if the 90’s Indians and the LeBron era Cavs taught us anything, greatness is anything but consistent in this city; embrace it while it’s here.


-Joseph Mastrantoni

  1. For a meager 15 dollars of course.  The NBA is broke so I look at is a charitable donation. []
  2. There was no 2011 Summer League due to the lockout []
  3. Sports media never saw a straw that they wouldn’t grasp []
  4. Daryl Morey, the Houston Rocket GMs, seems to had the fire of mediocrity lit under him as he plans to sell all the talent they have acquired in an attempt to become the 2012 version of the Orlando Magic. []
  5. Just another lesson on how NBA scouts are just a little too obsessed with athleticism. []
  6. We’ll give him a pass on the whole Miss Hawaii shenanigans. []

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Posted by on Aug 2 2012. Filed under Featured, Hands Down, Man's Down. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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