As the draft arrives this Thursday the Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot of work to do to make their stated goal of making the playoffs. While the Boston Celtics seeming dismantling that begun with the “trade” of Doc Rivers should eliminate one playoff contender the Cavs have many steps to take. The Cavs seem to be set with Kyrie Irving at the point, and look like they plan to move forward with Dion Waiters at the off-guard and Tristan Thompson at the 4. While neither of the last two players are untouchable, they currently comprise the Cavs very young “Big 3.” Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao are the other two players with significant expectations. Without last years injury Varejao would probably be a trade candidate, and may be later in the season. Following a great set of playoff and Finals series what can the Cavaliers do to make it into the NBA’s second season?
Health and Development
The Cavs had significant injuries to Irving, Varejao and Waiters last year. While a playoff position may of been unrealistic the team showed promise the short amount of time those 3 played together. Irving and Varejao specifically have both had injuries that could be considered “freak” injuries. Ankle, knee and back injuries tend to be recurring events and problems for players that come back over and over again. We have seen these with Steph Curry, Greg Oden, Amare Stoudamire. Irving and Varejao have not had these type of injuries. The odds are hopefully in their favor of not having these type of injuries.
Last year’s development by Thompson is an encouraging sign of what could be with the team. If Thompson continues his growth and Waiters and Zeller has even half of the improvement of Thompson, the Cavs will be well on their way to the playoffs. Irving, for all of his amazing skills and statistics, still has development needed as well. Irving’s ball handling, late game heroics and shooting has been off the charts for his age. Irving’s on court priority has to be defense, Mike Brown’s hire should help with this. Irving showed little development over his past 2 years under Byron Scott in this area. A possible playoff team, with healthy consistent teammates, and a defense oriented coach should provide the spark needed. Irving also can improve his assist/turnover rate. This should be assisted (pun intended) by having healthy teammates he is comfortable with on the floor. Many of Irving’s early season passing highlights included Varejao rolling to the rim and snagging a Irving pass with his strong hands and ability to finish. Surrounding Irving with more shooters will also help. Speaking of shooting…
One of the most notable things seen throughout the playoffs was the benefits of having multiple shooters on the floor. This allowed slashers/scorers to have more space, whether in the pick and roll or on isolation plays. Shooters also help balance the floor for players like Thompson and his limited range. As Thompson improves his post passing, shooters will benefit from attention down low as well. A spot up shooter who can roam around the 3 point line, always ready for kick out pass is a perfect fit for this team. While Otto Porter seems to be a well rounded small forward, his spot up jumper is not yet a knock down skill. Porter would benefit the team for sure, but a small forward such as Sergev Karasev who is a pure young shooter could provide exactly what the Cavs need in their starting lineup. The veterans that have been rumored to be traded to Cleveland have different levels of ability from 3 point land. Danny Granger, Paul Pierce and Shawn Marion have historically not been 3 point specialists, but as seen with Jason Kidd veterans tend to grow their range as their athleticism wanes.
Size and Bulk
Last year, especially following the Varejao injury, the Cavs were often bullied by bigger players in the past. Roy Hibbert, Nikola Pekovic and Nikola Vucevic pushed around the Cavs centers: Tyler Zeller, Marreese Speights and Thompson. Pekovic is a restricted free agent and maybe someone the Cavs look to pursue this off-season. In the draft Alex Len and Stephen Adams have the necessary bulk to fight with those players. The other positive about young players is their ability to add bulk and muscle to their frame as they use the training staff and hire nutritionists. This will be the hope if Nerlens Noel is the #1 pick. Noel has a frame that may be able to support significant muscle development. Coming out of high school Dwight Howard weighed 243 pounds. While Noel weighed in just over 200 lbs at the combine, he played 20 or so pounds heavier at Kentucky thus a comparison with Howard is appropriate.
In the End
The Cavs have to make moves this year to make the playoffs as they have stated they want to. If the Cavs can have health, development, add a shooter or 2 as well as some size and bulk they will be on their way. With Irving and Waiters they have the scoring and athleticism, Thompson adds defense and a post player. Varejao’s hustle and veteran presence will have a positive impact on the team, hopefully all year. If the Cavs can add the shooting and/or size and bulk through a veteran the team may be all the better.