Predicting the 2012-2013 Cavs: The Waiting Game
The Cavaliers started their 2012-2013 season only 82 games and another Draft away from the team all Cleveland fans want them to be again, a playoff team. Considering this countdown began over two years ago, saying we’re only one more year away doesn’t seem so bad, does it? For those who have to have it this year however, when it doesn’t happen all this show can (and will) say is please don’t go through the banal rigors of blaming it on “a terrible GM”, or a “coach who needs to be fired”, or complain they’ve “wasted their #4 overall draft picks”, or even that “Gilbert is more a comic these days, sans anything resembling a good owner…”, or any other left over anger issue fueled commentary you have from LeBron leaving. This year is another year of growth for a young team and patience from its fans, no matter how impatient fans are feeling. With a starting lineup featuring a backcourt that isn’t even old enough to drink, and also a roster that sees 11 of the 15 on it 25 years old or younger, how can you not have patience with these young ones? If you don’t it will be like trying to eat a Thanksgiving turkey before it’s done cooking, except in this case you’ll be the turkey that’s making yourself sick.
Sorry if this forecast is too blunt, but considering this team is still a few players shy of high hopes by featuring a frontcourt which doesn’t have any go to guys on offense and a backcourt of aforementioned 20 year old’s, these Cavs appear to be still jockeying for another Lottery pick after this regular season more so than jockeying their way toward a postseason. They also have no less than four picks in total waiting for them again with next year’s draft and more than their share of future cap space, so waiting doesn’t seem to be too shabby a set course that definitely possesses its own reasons for high hopes.1 What will it take to overachieve and make the playoffs this year? The answer may be too much to even pretend it possible, but just for the exercise, and because they haven’t lost any games yet, let’s go ahead and see how this fantasy could become reality in three steps or less…2
1 – Kyrie Irving finishing in the top 5 of MVP voting.
Given the lack of scoring options this team presents, it’s far more likely Kyrie suffers from a sophomore slump as defenses identify him as the only real scoring threat and set about a lockdown mode which forces this young star’s turnovers to go up and his true shooting to drop from the crazy good 56% of a year ago, down to the low 50’s or high 40’s. However, if Kyrie flourishes beyond his great rookie season from all he gleaned by playing against the US National Team this summer, and from adding strength, and then goes out and drops 26-28 a night adding 2-3 more trips to the line while drastically improving his defensive…then maybe, just maybe, the Cavs have a chance to see enough regular season confetti and streamers fall from the Q’s ceiling to make a lower seed birth to the postseason!
2 – Dion Waiters ends up right at the top of the Rookie Of The Year voting.
I liked the pick of Waiters. Like everyone not in the Cavs Draft Room, I wasn’t expecting it, but all told after the fact, I like it. Reason for my giving it the nod is the ceiling of Dion as a scorer in the league seems to be off the charts higher than anyone else who was available at the #4 pick. In addition, his floor appears to be in the 16-18 a night range. A base level which would have an approval rating even for a pick chosen so high, especially for a team that needs scoring as bad as the Cavs do. Whether Dion can hit this floor of expectations at 20 years old though, is another question altogether.
Either way, we all learned Waiters will now indeed start which coach Scott announced just 24 hours before Game 1 of the season. It’s a decision I was on record for saying Scott wouldn’t make, and a decision I’m on record for saying if by chance Scott did make it, then it would be the wrong decision. What scares me about starting Dion this early is two things. One, the defense between he and Kyrie could represent one of the worst backcourt tandems in the NBA.3 And two, I believe there was some part of this decision which was determined from all the headaches that were well reported at Syracuse when Dion didn’t start there his freshman year. To me, giving him this go indicates that to some degree the Cavs felt to have him come off the bench now at the NBA level, after being a surprise #4 overall pick, that the scrutiny and pressure might lead to turmoil within their young star he might not be able to recover from. Call this reading into it way too much, hell, even say it might happen either way, but seeing some of Dion’s on the court body language during the summer league and in preseason already suggests he might struggle with all the added mental stress the Association brings with it. And what I fear most in his being named starter is what if this experiment fails?4 What happens if he has to be benched? One would think his being benched would be much harder for the young talent to swallow than doing something that’s already been asked of him.
Hopefully this never comes up though, especially if his defense in playing the lanes is as standout as it appears and his man-to-man is better than could be expected, and if offensively he immediately begins to look like a slightly lesser athletic Dwayne Wade but with a better outside shot that most everyone likes to compare him to. If these things happen…the Cavs beat out overrated teams such as the two in New York, and find themselves as one the eight teams in the East who will play more than 82 games this season!
3 – At least one of those first two things occurs, and Tyler Zeller’s play quickly moves him into the starting rotation allowing Andy to go back into the 6th man roll he’s best suited for.
If all goes well then this will eventually happen regardless, but it might take Tyler a year or two to attain this level of play. Which would be normal. It also seems more likely because as it is he looks like a guy who is going to initially struggle at this level, at least until he learns to compensate for how big and fast the NBA is. Yes, he has a very high basketball IQ, can score in multiple ways and runs the court well, and he’s already shown he’ll be good at rebounding and has very good hands, but he’s about to spend 15-20 minutes a night against absolute monsters that move better than him, are stronger than him, jump higher than him, and all in all, will likely make him look smaller than a 7′ man should ever look. Tyler can score around the basket and will certainly be able to regularly find that nice mid-range shot of his open on a team featuring Kyrie and Dion slashing to the hoop, but it’s likely to be his rebounding and ability to run with those good hands of his which pushes him into the starting lineup if it is to happen sooner than later.5 With Tyler, it seems pretty cut and dry really, he’s either going to be that guy who’s already 23 years old, who’s hit his ceiling, who’s not very athletic, who has a short wingspan, and who could end up only being a serviceable backup in the league, or…6 Tyler quickly learns to run with the big dogs and you had better ready that arm of yours for all the high-fives you’re about to give, because the Cavaliers are headed to the playoffs, baby!
…back to this reality though, this team is heading to the Lottery again and adding to its young gifted core that’s certain to truly shine at times this season no matter what. Even if it isn’t much of a fantasy, at least it’s a healthy understanding of this exciting Cavs squad whose play, despite some inevitable ups and downs, should easily keep fans invested all year as well as good and primed for some potentially great seasons that seem to lay but 82 more games away…
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- In the 2013 Draft the Cavs as it stands will have their own 1st and 2nd round picks, a first round pick from Miami or the Lakers (whichever is slotted higher which is also top 10 protected, i.e., unprotected given how good both these teams will be), they also have a shot at getting a third first round draft pick from Sacramento which is top 13 protected (i.e., probably still waiting on this one) and then they own Orlando’s second round pick too [↩]
- This particular fantasy is predicated on there being no significant injuries, nor any gutting of the roster come the trade deadline [↩]
- On a team last year that was one of the worst in the leagues defensively in points allowed and in field goal percentage allowed [↩]
- And it is an experiment, one you can assume Scott would have been otherwise certain in making far sooner than he did had he not been having reservations about it, and not also had a very serviceable CJ Miles who hoped to start waiting in the wings [↩]
- We know Andy is a walking double double, and that’s the nightly range Tyler needs to be in before this can be even considered [↩]
- What’s behind fantasy door #1 happens, or what’s behind fantasy door of fate #2 happens, and… [↩]
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