By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
Kyrie Irving is already an All-Star and could soon be a superstar, Tristan Thompson has the potential to average a double-double and Andrew Bynum remains the great unknown.
As the Cavaliers emerge from a three-year rebuild, here is the rest of what we know and don’t know about a team that is again eyeing the playoffs.
What we know: Kyrie Irving is a star. By the end of the season, he could be a superstar. He finished third in a recent poll by NBA general managers as the best player around which to build a franchise. He is perhaps the best ballhandler in the league, and if the preseason is any indication, his defense is rapidly improving. That needs to continue if he is to crack the Holy Trinity of NBA point guards. As for his backup, Jarrett Jack is arguably the best reserve point guard in the NBA and no worse than top three. Biggest signing of the summer.
What we don’t know: If Irving can stay healthy. For the Cavs to fulfill expectations, he probably needs to play close to 70 games (minimum) and closer to 75 would be nice. Dating to his one season at Duke, however, Irving has played in 65 percent of his team’s games. He is sensitive about his injury history and can turn prickly whenever it’s referenced, but until he manages to play a full season, questions about his durability will linger.
What we know: Dion Waiters’ role this season has been simplified and clearly defined by coach Mike Brown. He is the shooting guard, period. He isn’t a combo guard and he isn’t a backup point guard. He is the 2 and expected to get out and run in transition. We also know Waiters is at his best when he’s attacking the basket. He shot 49.5 percent within 8 feet of the basket and 35 percent everywhere else.
What we don’t know: Whether he can flourish playing alongside Irving. Waiters has played with the ball in his hands most of his life, and it’s a major transition learning to succeed without it. If he makes the transition this season, the backcourt will be devastating. If he doesn’t, the Cavs could have a problem.
What we know: This is the one position the Cavs have failed to address through the draft during the past three years. They passed on Harrison Barnes and Otto Porter for other draft options, the Omri Casspi trade didn’t work and Alonzo Gee has likely reached his ceiling — which on a championship team is a reserve. Earl Clark hasn’t been too impressive this preseason, but he has good length (6-foot-10) on the perimeter and Brown knows him from their brief time together last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Without question, this is the biggest hole in the starting lineup.
What we don’t know: If the Cavs will get enough defensively out of this position to offset the lack of offensive production. Six of the eight playoff teams from the Eastern Conference last season were led in scoring by a small forward. Brown wants his 3s to defend well enough to avoid needing a double team and wants them to knock down open corner shots when the ball swings to them. But Gee only shot 33 percent from the corners last season, and Clark shot 32 percent.
What we know: If you count Anderson Varejao here (when Andrew Bynum is playing), this is the deepest position on the roster. Tristan Thompson, Varejao and top overall pick Anthony Bennett give the Cavs ridiculous depth. Of course, that’s assuming everyone can stay healthy, and that’s a huge assumption. Thompson is poised to break out. He flourished during the second half of last season and could be one of those rare players to average a double-double. Only eight players accomplished it last season.
What we don’t know: What the Cavs really have in Bennett, and we might not know it for a while. Bennett has never really been coached properly, from his days in Canada to his year at UNLV. He has never been coached the way some other kids at Duke or Indiana or other big schools have been. He’s incredibly raw, and Brown is still teaching him the game. But his tools are evident: He’s thick, long and incredibly athletic with great explosiveness and 3-point range.
What we know: Not long ago, Andrew Bynum was a top-three center in the game, and NBA analysts were declaring him the best center ahead of Dwight Howard. That seems so long ago now after his year away from the game. But Bynum is a massive man with tremendous strength and a nice touch around the basket. He can have a big impact on the game whenever he’s on the floor. Now the Cavs just need to get him on the floor.
What we don’t know: Can Bynum come close to the level he once was? And for how long? There are no guarantees that once he gets on the court he can last a whole season. That’s why the Cavs structured his contract this way. He could play well for two weeks, then his knees could give out without warning. But there’s no denying a healthy Bynum, Thompson, Bennett and Varejao could give the Cavs as good of a frontcourt as any in the NBA.
What we know: With Brown back in charge, the defense will be dramatically improved. We’ve already seen proof of that in the preseason. And as owner Dan Gilbert pointed out when he reintroduced him, Brown’s teams have never missed the playoffs and have always advanced beyond the first round.
What we don’t know: Whether that streak will continue. At least two and probably three playoff spots are wide open in the East. The Cavs, Detroit Pistons and perhaps Washington Wizards have positioned themselves to return to the postseason. In 2007-08, a young Oklahoma City Thunder team built around high draft picks (the blueprint for this Cavs rebuild) won just 23 games. The following season, the Thunder won 50 for one of the most dramatic single-season turnarounds in the league in the past 20 years. Last season, a young Cavs team built around high draft picks won 24 games. This season? We’ll soon find out.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.