Cleveland Cavaliers: A 2013-14 NBA Preview

Oct 11, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown talks with point guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the first quarter during game against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.

The Cleveland Cavaliers just might be the ultimate “boom-or-bust” team in the NBA this season. Already, pre-season previews and rankings have been all over the board for head coach Mike Brown 2.0′s club, and I feel as though personally, I could be talked into a Cavs squad that wins 45-50 games and wins a couple games in the playoffs.

Of course, I could almost as easily be talked into a near-repeat of last season’s result, which was a disappointing 24-58 finish and another injury-riddled campaign for budding star Kyrie Irving. As is the case with so many teams across the league, health is vital for the Cavs’ 2013-14 season. This has as much to do with employing brittle players as it does with a lack of depth on the roster, but it feels as though it’s exponentially more important for this version of the Cavs.

Irving is already a star; likely one of the top thirty players in the game. His offensive game is scintillating, and many believe that Irving possess the best handles in the game, dazzling with his dribble whenever the opportunity presents itself. He gets to the rim with relative ease, and his floater/short pull-up game in the painted area is fantastic.

To illustrate this, Irving has actually out-shot LeBron James in the 8-16 foot range, 42.6% to 41.6 %. Of course, James is better at the rim, and Irving can absolutely improve on his ability to finish, shooting just 52.45% at the rim last year (shotchart numbers courtesy of NBA.com/stats). But if getting there is as simple as it seems for him, and his in-between game is already there, he likely just needs to get stronger.

The rest of his offensive game is so aesthetically pleasing that it’s easy to ignore his flaws. In fact, nearly every offensive mark for Irving took a step backwards in from his rookie to sophomore seasons. All of his shooting numbers went down, including his field goal, three-point, and free throw percentages. Of course, this also means that his eFG% and TS% took hits as well.

Surprisingly, this didn’t mean that his assist rate went up.  It dropped from 36.5% to 32.7%, while his usage rate increased from 28.7% to 30.2%. Part of this was due to poor play and lack of talent around him, but the Cavs would still like to see a little more in the way of improvement from Irving.

His defense is okay, but that will also help expose one of the main issues for the 2013-14 Cavs, beyond depth and threat of injury. There isn’t a whole lot in the of wings on this roster, as Cleveland will be adding rookie combo forward and number one overall draft pick Anthony Bennett and fellow first round pick Sergey Karasev.

They’ll join the serviceable Alonzo Gee and underwhelming C.J. Miles on the wings. Not exactly a star-studded stable of players to support Irving, either as spot-up shooters to space the floor or on the defensive end. A lot is riding on Karasev, the no-defense, sharpshooting Russian, as he is really the only unknown quantity that will see heavy minutes on the wing, provided that Bennett stays in the paint more than on the perimeter.

The rest of the roster has a nice look to it. A three-guard rotation of Irving, second-year man Dion Waiters, and free-agent signing Jarrett Jack is pretty good. Waiters will need to greatly improve his efficiency on the offensive end in order to be a valuable piece of an NBA rotation, but Jack should provide needed stability next to/behind Irving in the back court.

The big man rotation of Anderson Varejao, Andrew Bynum, and Tristan Thompson could turn out to be formidable as well, although there could very well be a dozen asterisks attached to this sentence. Everyone knows about Bynum’s knee issues,  but Varejao’s perpetual injury issues cannot be understated after having played in only 81 games out of a possible 230 over the past three seasons.

Varejao’s health is every bit as important to the Cavs as Bynum’s is, and the lack of depth behind this oft-injured duo is one of the biggest issues for the squad. After the intriguing Thompson, Cleveland is down to Tyler Zeller and Earl Clark on the bench, with really nothing else.

The upside of Cleveland’s roster is vast, however. It will be interesting to see how Brown organizes his starting lineup, but if we see a starting lineup that includes healthy versions of Irving, Varejao, and Bynum, it could be a lot of fun. If those players can each manage to somehow log 75+ games, this team would make the playoffs with ease in the Eastern Conference.

Best Case Scenario

This seems so far-fetched that I’d advise Cavaliers’ fans to maybe pump the brakes on this particular visions, but if relative health is bestowed upon Cleveland in the upcoming season, I’d say that 46-49 wins is a real possibility. Only the lack of competent wing play could keep this roster from 50+ wins in the Eastern Conference. If the team is playing well at the midway point, look for the Cavs to add a player on the wing at the deadline.

Worst Case Scenario

Injury Armageddon could very well take hold in Cleveland this year. If Bynum is sidelined for the majority of the year and both Varejao and Irving miss their customary 15-25 games, it could get ugly pretty quickly. The depth simply isn’t there, and the Cavs are very, very young behind some of the veteran starters and the first line of defense.

It’s perfectly reasonable to think that this team could struggle along to 29-32 wins if injuries hit hard, giving them one of the biggest swings in possible outcomes in the league.

Most Likely Outcome

It’s hard to imagine Bynum being terribly effective until the calender hits 2014. Irving and Varejeo will likely miss some games, and players like Waiters and Karasev will have to step up significantly. I think the Cavs will get into the playoffs, if only for the weaknesses of the conference they play in, and the likely improvement from Irving. Let’s go with 42-45 wins and a trip to the playoffs for Cleveland.

Atlantic

Central

Southeast

 Toronto Raptors (22) Cleveland Cavaliers (17) Washington Wizards (19)
 Boston Celtics (24)  Detroit Pistons (18)  Charlotte Bobcats (26)

Philadelphia 76ers (30)

 Milwaukee Bucks (20)  Orlando Magic (27)

Northwest

Pacific

Southwest

 Los Angeles Lakers (23)
 Sacramento Kings (25)

Utah Jazz (29)

Phoenix Suns (28)

 Dallas Mavericks (21)

Topics: Anderson Varejeo, Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving, NBA, Tristan Thompson

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