After Saturday’s game against the Knicks, the Cavs have now played 25 of their 82 regular season games, which is about 30%. Technically the Cavs won’t reach the one-third point of the season until after Wednesday’s game in Boston, but I feel 30% is close enough for my purposes. Twenty five games is a pretty good benchmark to start taking stock in our 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Generally, I’m pretty pleased with where the Cavs are at. I won’t pretend that a 5-20 record is anything but dreadful, but it’s not entirely unexpected either. The schedule, combined with the injuries to Kyrie Irving and Dion, have the Cavs looking a little worse than they actually are.
The schedule gods were not kind to these young Cavs. As of Sunday, the Cavs have played 25 games this year, tying them for second among all NBA teams (Detroit is first with 26 games played, while a number of teams, including Miami, have played just 20). Diving deeper, Cleveland’s longest road trip of the year occurred during the season’s first week (a six gamer that took them to both coasts) and they’ve already had two of their four 4-games-in-5-night stretches (they end this week their third and the final 4-in-5 is in February). Plus, a full 60% of their games (15/25) have been on the road, away from the friendly confines and the fire breathing scoreboard at The Q.
Meanwhile, Cleveland is slogging through this schedule with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, with an average age of 24. In addition, Kyrie Irving has missed eleven games and Dion Waiters has been out for eight, which has robbed the Cavs of their only two players that can create their own shot. And in the four games where neither Kyrie or Dion suited up, the Cavs went 0-4 and lost by an average of 11 points per contest. Things have not been pretty.
Brutal schedule + injuries + young roster = third worst record in the NBA.
Due to the schedule and injuries, the Cavs won’t be contending for a playoff spot this year. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some interesting questions surrounding the Wine & Gold. I’ve participated in (more than) my fair share of Cavalier conversations, both online and off, and there seems to be five dominant subplots that keep coming up.
Anderson Varejao. All-Star? Probably. Should they trade him? Maybe.
Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. Starters of twitter fights, do we trust numbers or our eyeballs?
Kyrie Irving’s defense. We should expect improvement when, exactly?
When are we allowed to get mad at Byron Scott? 1
The rebuild. How’s it going? Do we trust Chris Grant? Should we expect another high lottery pick next June?
(There’s also a sixth thread with regard to Kyrie’s injuries, but that is better discussed in hushed whispers, rather than out loud in the open). 2
Let’s go through these, shall we?
1. Anderson Varejao.
I go back and forth on the “Trade Andy” question, seemingly by the hour. Varejao is far and away the Cavs’ most tradable and desirable asset (if not their only one) and it makes sense to shop him. Even with Andy, the Cavs are a bad team; Andy is busting his butt grabbing 15 boards a night and they’re still losing. Could these minutes be better used with Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller getting acclimated in the NBA? If you’re gonna lose, lose with young guys and get them experience, no? Plus, there’s the question of how effective Varejao will be when Kyrie, Dion and co. are ready to make noise in the playoffs.
I’m not opposed to the idea trading Andy. It all comes down to what they get in return (a haul from OKC? Sure! Derrick Williams and stuff from Minny? Maybe. A late first and Gallinari from Denver? Pass). My biggest fear is that the Cavs trade Varejao for picks and a project and followed by the Cavs take a giant step back. If they’re losing games with an All-Star starting at PF, how are they going to look without any experienced bigs in their rotation? What I don’t want is Kyrie to have his first two years filled with non-noncompetitive losses. Anderson’s hustle and defense can keep the Cavs competitive and he’s a good veteran to have around.
Verdict: Look to trade Andy, but no deal is better than a bad deal.
2. My lying eyes.
I’ll admit that I’ve soured on Tristan Thompson. I’m also very high on Dion Waiters. Then I read these posts and their numbers saying “hey, Tristan’s advanced stats aren’t gawd-awful!” or “Dion is a historically bad shooter” and I reflexively revert to “ok, but just watch the games.”
And I don’t like being That Guy. I’ve read FireJoeMorgan.com. I know. Numbers are useful things ((see, Thompson is part Cleveland’s three best five-man-units!)).
But man. I watch these games and I see Kyrie get frustrated when Thompson mishandles a pass. I see Thompson get his shot blocked at a crazy rate. I see TT take horrible jumpers and decide to drive from the top of the key and I just cringe. Maybe Thompson looks worse than he really is, but man….
With Dion, it’s the other way. His shooting numbers are horrible at the moment but I love watching him play. I love that he and Kyrie are clearly the most explosive players on the team. That Dion has a bit of moxie and likes taking Big Shots is a huge plus for me. I love that he’ll jaw at an opposing bench or that he’ll wave his arms to get crowd pumped; that’ll have a game where his shot isn’t falling and then have the confidence to make 3-4 plays down the stretch where that’ll win you the game.
Verdict: I hate going against numbers. But I’m all-in on Waiters and out on Tristan.
3. Kyrie’s defense.
While I, myself, am not concerned in the slightest, I can’t blame you if you are a more than bit worried about Kyrie’s extreme lack of D. I’m just not that worried. Even LeBron didn’t play any defense until Mike Brown got him to him three years into his career. It can take awhile before guys can become two way players.
If you want to make the argument that Kyrie’s porous defense helped the Cavs lose Friday’s game against the Bucks, I’ll listen to said argument and nod my head agreement. If you want me to be worried – as in “I’m not sure the Cavs will be able to contend down the road because Kyrie is sieve defensively” – no, thanks. I’ll pass.
Verdict: Irving’s defense sucks but I can’t imagine that it won’t get better going forward.
4. Byron Scott
It’s hard to judge Coach Scott; his Cleveland haven’t exactly been built for winning. This year is no different; the Cavs have a terrible bench (on purpose 3 ), three legit NBA starters (Kyrie, Andy and Dion) and a bunch of young guys. We knew going in that this team wasn’t going to win a ton of games and that has turned out to be the case.
So what’s the criticism? Well, let’s start with his rotations. Take the Pacers game. The Cavs managed to score just 12 points in the third period and with a ten point deficit to start the fourth, Scott trots out a lineup of Donald Sloan, Daniel Gibson, Luke Walton, Samardo Samuels and Tristan Thompson. Not (anywhere close to) the group I’d like to see, but again, the Cavs aren’t exactly flush with options.
Irving, who sat the last three minutes of the third quarter, entered the game with six minutes to go, meaning the Cavs (who finished with 23 points in the entire second half) were without their only scoring option for half of the fourth quarter, nine straight minutes overall. Also, Anderson Varejao didn’t return until there was just over three minutes left in the game. Because of Byron’s rotations, the Cavs were without their only playmaker for nine minutes and their best big man didn’t even play four minutes in the final period. What’s up with that?
So Luke Walton played a season-high 17 minutes during that Pacer game. A season high. He had played just seven minutes of garbage time over the previous seven games but Scott had Luke on the floor for over half of the fourth quarter in Indiana. Meanwhile, Jeremy Pargo, he of the 20 point nights as a starter, only received three minutes against the Pacers and got a DNP-CD against the Bucks. What?
I don’t want to keep harping on the Pacer game (I know it was Kyrie’s first back-to-back and all whatnot), but it is just one example of my issues with Scott. In addition to the weird rotations, I also have complaints about their awful defense at the end of halves (they seem to give up a lot of buzzer beaters, no?) and how they start out flat for roughly 25% of their games.
Verdict: I’m complaining about rotations during a December loss to the Pacers. I am a crazy person.
After the Cavs lost an ugly game to the Timberwolves (without Kyrie and Dion, mind you), 92.3′s Daryl Ruiter tweeted this:
Fair or not #Cavs lottery rebuild looks like so far: Kyrie is injury prone but a star, T. Thompson a bust, Waiters a hit & Zeller is solid
— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) December 8, 2012
I vote ‘not fair’, Daryl 4 .
I don’t mean to single out Ruiter, as he wasn’t the only media member who’s been voicing frustration with about this lengthy rebuild. But I don’t find it a coincidence that he used the term “lottery rebuild” (as if the Cavs have any other choice) or that Dan Gilbert went on a twitter rant about their rebuild the following day.
I hear these complaints about “The OKC Model” and how “it only works if you can get a Kevin Durant” and I shake my head which is why Waiters had better not return until his ankle is 150%. The last thing we need is for him to re-injure it