Despite all of the work put in by other lottery teams this past offseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers are given top billing among the league’s “risers” by Bradford Doolittle of ESPN. Using scoring margin as a basis for determining who made the best moves this offseason, Doolittle gives the Cavaliers a 5.7-point increase of the 2012-13 team which managed to win just 24 games.
With so many quality young players on hand, the Cavaliers would have been poised for improvement even if they had brought back the exact same roster as last season. Instead, Cleveland buoyed its talent with the No. 1 draft pick in Anthony Bennett, one of the top incoming rookie shooters in Sergey Karasev, one of the league’s top reserve guards in Jarrett Jack and the ultimate low-risk, high-reward free agent in Andrew Bynum. Anderson Varejao is due back from injury, and up-and-coming combo forward Earl Clark was signed to further bolster the Cavs’ depth.
Although Cleveland might not have the same realistic shot at a title as some other upgraded teams, such as Houston, Brooklyn and Chicago, the Cavaliers are nevertheless in a strong position to become this season’s most-improved team. In 2012-13, Cleveland finished 22nd in offensive efficiency and 27th on the defensive end. I have the Cavaliers climbing five spots on the offensive end and a whopping 18 spots on defense. Part of that is Varejao’s return; part of it is a projected half-season from Bynum. A whole lot of it is the return of Mike Brown, who coached four straight top-10 defenses in his first Cleveland stint and even got the aging Lakers up to 13th in his only full season in L.A.
Though rife with question marks, Doolittle puts the Cavaliers above the Detroit Pistons who added fringe All-Stars in point guard Brandon Jennings and forward Josh Smith to an already budding roster that includes center Greg Monroe and off-guard Brandon Knight.
This corroborates a recent forecast put out by ESPN which has the Cavaliers as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for 2013-14, pitting them against the Miami Heat in the first round; this, with the caveat that a sixth or seventh seed is attainable in the event that Andrew Bynum can produce at his previous All-Star caliber levels. The Pistons, per ESPN’s forecast, will be on the outside looking in.
In a vacuum, a 5.7-point increase off of last season’s results would have resulted in 17 additional wins for the Cavaliers.
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