The DEFEND Cleveland Show

Cavaliers Season Preview: Part 1

scrimmage

 

As I sat in awe of the awfulness that was Brandon Weeden’s season ending interception on Sunday against the Lions, I, like most Browns fans, was left wondering what to do with myself.  Sure, there are still ten more games left in the season, but Weeden destroyed any hope left of them being pleasantly palpable.   With the end of October fast approaching though it matters not.  The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently outfitted to make a real run at the postseason and should be ready to provide 82 games of high quality sports entertainment.  Though the NBA season has somehow snuck up on even me, Weeden’s interception served to redirect my attention to where it was much more deserved, the Cavaliers.  The question marks on the Cavaliers are of some questions that plague any major league sports franchise, health, not the question mark that so often plague the Browns, questions of talent.

The Cavaliers are stacked with talent.  They will be a better team this season without a doubt.  They should contend for a playoff spot and, if completely healthy, easily obtain one.  There will not be D-League talent gracing the floor of the Q early in games like fans saw early last season.

Donald Sloan, Jeremy Pargo, Luke Walton (whom I love, but still, come on…), the current version of Daniel Gibson, Samardo Samuels, the rookie version of Tyler Zeller, and early CJ Miles…I’m looking at all of you.

With this team expected to be significantly improved, what questions should Cavs fans be asking themselves headed into the season?  Well luckily enough I came up with some of them for you.  This will probably be a two parter, or three parter or four parter or something…just warning you.

 

“Is Mike Brown really some sort of defensive guru?”

 

The Cavaliers were terrible at defense last year.  Some of this was definitely down to effort, but other aspects of it were clearly down to confusion over how they were going to defend certain plays.  Often times two players would rotate into the same spot, sometimes nobody would rotate at all, there seemed to be a system of over helping/gambling on defense in place which left the rest of the floor wide open, and I was left not knowing who was at fault.  Byron Scott publicly was attributed much of the blame for the lackluster defense during his tenure here, but as I wrote a day before he got fired, that seemed a little unfair.  The Cavaliers were one of the youngest teams in the league and young players in the NBA are rarely adept at team defense.  The other factors Scott had going against him is player rotation was constantly in flux and there was little consistency in terms of the players on the court.  Part of this was his fault and part of it was due to injury/trades.  Regardless, consistency and experience alone would have seen for better defense from this team.  Defense takes as much chemistry as offense. Still, I am happy Byron was giving his marching orders so that Mike Brown could make his return.

What I love about Mike Brown is that he has a very strict idea on how he wants his teams to play defense.  Not just an ethos that defense is important, but he has a specific way he wants it played that doesn’t only pertain to effort and a mantra.  That isn’t to say he doesn’t adjust it according to the opponent, but there is a specific foundation that he puts in place and all adjustments are made off of that.  Very specific notions such as “This is how we defend pick n’ rolls”, “This is how we rotate onto outside shooters”, and “This how we rotate inside when faced with dribble penetration”.   He lives, eats, and breathes this stuff.  He started off as a film guy.  He is a coach.  Not a player trying his hand at coaching.  He has done the grunt work of coaching at some point and worked his way up.  He is still learning, but throughout his professional life coaching has always been his thing.  He has a track record in both LA and here in Cleveland in showing that he can transfer that system from team to team.  His challenge now will be to instill that system into a team who has four or five key contributors that have little NBA experience.

A common argument thrown out at Brown is that he doesn’t bring up young players well and that he hasn’t really coached them.  I don’t find the evidence for this argument particularly strong.  Brown wasn’t given too much young talent in his time with the Cavs.  It would seem he got the maximum possible that anyone could have extracted from Daniel Gibson’s career, Anderson Varejao slowly developed into a great player under his guidance, and LeBron has become one of the best defenders in the league.  I am not sure how much credit Brown deserves for these players careers, but it seems misguided to give him none.  Sure, players like Shannon Brown and JJ Hickson have had minor success since leaving Cleveland and didn’t exactly thrive under Brown, but neither of their success has been to the level that anyone here should be lamenting the fact that they left.  I believe that Mike Brown will get this team to play much better defense than that of Byron Scott.  I don’t think that comes as a shock to anybody.  Part of that is unfair because I think the natural progression of Kyrie, Dion, and Tristan under ANY coach would lead to that.  What is the more important claim I’d like to make is that I trust Brown to extract more defensively out of these three players than the majority of coaches in the league could.

I believe in Mike Brown.  Hopefully my faith is rewarded not only this season, but down the road as well.

 

“Are the Cavaliers going to be able to field a relatively consistent rotation?”

 

This question comes down to three specific concerns are over maintaining the health of Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum.  So I’ll dissect all three of them. Let’s start with Uncle Drew.

People are worried whether or not Kyrie is injury prone.  The general consensus amongst media reports seems to be that Irving would have played more last season had the Cavaliers actually been competing for wins and not lottery balls.  Does that completely do away with my concerns with him? No.  He does seem to have hit the weight room though from what I’ve seen in preseason.  Specifically his shoulders seem a little sturdier and one has to remember he is still rather young.  LeBron didn’t come into the league looking as chiseled as he does today.  I suspect Kyrie is slowly learning how to take care of his body and adjusting to the fact that it needs to be suited to survive the rigors of an 82 game season.  Seeing as how none of Kyrie’s injuries seem to be reoccurring injuries with a specific part of his anatomy I’m only slightly worried.  If I take off my Cleveland pessimism glasses for a second I would even say I’m not worried at all.  He should be fine. Please be fine Kyrie.  PLEASE.

Knock on wood…

Watching Anderson Varejao last season was a real treat.  It made the first third or so of the season watchable as the rest of the team tried to figure out how to play basketball.  If Andy can remain healthy this season he could be in for the all-star season that last season’s injury probably robbed him of.  I’ll get more into the specifics of how his play alters what this team can do in later questions, but what is important that Cavs fans understand is that a healthy Varejao is key to the Cavaliers’ success this season.  The added depth at the big positions along with the development of Tristan and Tyler should allow the Cavaliers to limit Andy’s minutes.  The fact that he is getting older and has had some knee problems, including a recent knee surgery, would lead me to believe that limiting him to 20-25 minutes a night would be ideal at this point, especially seeing as how the Cavaliers have players who should be able to fill those minutes.  The Cavs haven’t really commented on how they intend to use Andy this year from a work load perspective, but it is hard to believe that he won’t be one of their best players still and the temptation will always be there for Mike Brown to overuse him.

Obviously I don’t have access to Andy’s medical records, but it would seem smart to manage his minutes closely at this point.  One road block to that idea is Dan Gilbert’s proclamation that the Cavaliers won’t be back to the lottery next season.  This claim from our always outspoken owner has created the expectation amongst the city that it is playoffs or bust this year.  With that being the case, it might be hard to keep Andy off the floor if the Cavaliers feel like playing him 35 minutes a night is their best chance at winning on a nightly basis.  Unfortunately if that is what happens it might be another shortened season from Andy.  Granted giving him less of a load each night isn’t a surefire way to keep him healthy, but San Antonio has shown that it can definitely be an effective way of keeping older players at their peaks throughout the season.  San Antonio though has the luxury of being able to grab a #1 or #2 seed regardless of how much playing time their stars get.  The Cavaliers are not afforded that same luxury.  My eyes will be definitely looking at the minutes played portion of the box score every night.

And now I am going to fulfill my obligation as someone who writes about the Cavs to talk about Andrew Bynum.  I don’t expect Andrew to play much at all this season.  I think he’ll take his six or twelve million dollars and ride off into the NBA sunset.  I’d love to be wrong, but big men with a history of knee problems don’t generally find some fountain of youth.  His cartilage isn’t coming back folks and I don’t think his career is either.  He didn’t play a game of basketball at all last season and still hasn’t been cleared for 5 on 5 practicing.  I’m not sure how anyone could expect anything from him at this point.  Dan Gilbert is gambling at this point and hoping to hit it big.  Luckily the risk if it fails isn’t really there.  Don’t be upset as a Cavs fan if Andrew Bynum never logs one minute in Cleveland.  This team should be quite competitive without him.

 

Read Part 2 by clicking here

Read Part 3 by clicking here

 

-Joe Mastrantoni

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Posted by on Oct 15 2013. 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

2 Comments for “Cavaliers Season Preview: Part 1”

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