Alrighty, so we're back after a couple days off to reflect more on how the season went. Lets take another look at what topics we're covering with this review:
- Overall, was the season successful in terms of if progress was made from last season to this season?
- Was there improvement among individual players over the course of the season, either statistically, or in overall play?
- Was there improvement in the coaching?
- How successful was the drafting in bringing in players for both now and in the future?
- How successful were the front office moves (trades/FA pickups) over the course of the season?
- What areas still need to be improved on?
- Does this team have a legitimate centerpiece/superstar?
So far we've covered the first three points, and I believe the conclusions that we've come to were that the Cavs sucked, they continued to suck at a similar rate of suckage as last year, and they have a coach that sucks as much, if not more as the players. Does that cover everything to this point?
Yes, but I'd like to REALLY emphasize how much Mike Brown sucks.
Moving on to our next topic though,: How successful was the draft in bringing in player for both now and the future?
Okay. This is going to be a controversial topic. Anthony Bennett was taken with the number one overall pick in the draft. Matthew Dellavedova was brought on during the summer league. We also snatched up Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix, both barely saw the court.
I'm going to count Deli as a drafted player, even though we technically did not secure him via the 2013 NBA draft.
With that said, this has to be considered a short-term disaster. Bennett submitted the worst season of all-time for a number one pick. Felix and Karasev saw zero minutes despite this team needing outside shooting and general perimeter help most of the year. Deli ended up being the best rookie we had.
When an undrafted kid from Australia, who played back-up point guard most of the year, is your best rookie (and you had the number one overall pick!) you messed up. Anyone who argues that this year's rookie class wasn't a short-term disaster is insane and needs to stop drinking the Kool-Aid immediately.
Long-term? Probably still a disaster.
Bennett doesn't look like he's ever going to make an All-Star game. Given where he was taken, that has to be viewed as an abject failure. Will he be a serviceable starter? I'm not sure. He will improve from where he's currently at (a historically bad season) but how far he can grow has yet to be seen.
Editor's note---IF YOU WANT MORE ON BENNETT THEN READ BRAD'S BREAKDOWN ON HIM HERE.
Deli is a back-up point guard. That's what we have in him. He reminds me a little of Kirk Hinrich. He's scrappy defensively, can somehow produce about 10-15 points on a good night, and lacks in almost every athletic category. He can pilot the offense though, and that's better than most of the other guards on this incarnation of the Cavs.
It's hard to say what we have in Felix and Karasev because we just haven't seen them play.
YAY SHAMELESS SELF-PLUGS. But on a serious note, this was a really shaky draft for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Three actual drafted picks ended in...what?...a combined 4 points, 2 rebounds per game? More than that, they could barely average 15 minutes per game on a team that ended in 33 wins.
I know that the team was all-in for this year, and that it was only in the last eight games or so that they were truly out of the playoff race, but these rooks could honestly not have been THAT bad. This goes back to Brown being a poor developer of talent. Brown's schemes need some baseline of NBA experience in order to be effective (primarily because he runs the "chicken with head cut-off" offensive scheme, along with a not incredibly-intuitive team defensive scheme). Young players need time on the floor to really show growth and development, which suffered mightily from the combination of playoff pressure and lack of coaching.
To be honest, I still have really high hopes for this draft class, although I don't have any faith on true returns in the near future. I think the worst part about this is that there currently isn't enough room on the roster to continue adding youth, unless pieces get moved. Lets look at the depth chart as of right now (with a few assumptions based on what I think will happen in the offseason:
PG > Irving, Delly
SG > Waiters, Jack, Felix
SF > Free Agent, Bennett, Karasev
PF > Tristan
C > Hawes, Varejao, Zeller
There are a couple things that you might see pretty quickly here. First off, that backcourt is jam-packed right, since Waiters and Irving won't be going anywhere (unless Irving declines an extension, or Waiters gets traded), Jack has one of the worst contracts for a backup guard in the NBA, and Delly should be de-facto back-up PG. Second, the forward spots are a huge question mark. Tristan may be a serviceable PF, but needs to show some big development in season 4. There is no starting small forward on the roster, and there are an excess of backups. Third, the center spot is incredibly deep (assuming Hawes is resigned---PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD RESIGN HIM]) if Andy is still on the roster.
Unless pieces are moved in the offseason, this team is not equipped to win now, or develop talent appropriately. Bennett has a shot to be good, but needs to show serious potential very early next season before being labeled a total bust, Karasev needs to see the court (literally, he's been stuck in Canton the entire season), Felix needs to get healthy, and Delly needs to keep being Varejao's mini-me. On a scale of 1-10 for potential of this class, it's currently at a 3, with a possible high of a 7 and low of 2 (the only reason it's not a 1 is because of Delly though).
Unfortunately, the free agent class did not leave much to be desired either...
TRANSITION ALERT: the free agent class wasn't very good.
The marquee name in that group was Jarrett Jack. He was supposed to provide veteran leadership and be the leader of a revitalized Cavs bench. He brought neither. His shooting numbers dropped considerably from where they were with Golden State in the previous season (field goal percentage dropped .042 percent, to .410 and 3-point percentage dropped .063 to .341), and he seemed to have a negative influence on an already polarized locker room. Jack's win shares were the lowest since his rookie campaign (not counting his 13-game stint in 2010-2011 with Toronto), his effective field goal percentage dropped sharply from the previous two years (2011-2012--.490; 2012-2013--.499; 2013-2014--.455), and his offensive win shares dropped to 0.9, the lowest number of his career.
By the end of the season undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova was effectively the team's best back-up PG. Jack was a minus on defense and seemed to be a minus on offense. He was a net loss and his contract is insane, so get used to seeing him in a Cavs uniform. I'll let you tackle some of the other free agent moves.
That said, there are some other "non-signing" moves I'd like to touch on. Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes.
Both guys were traded to the Cavs by teams attempting to tank (Philly was historically successful, even before dumping Hawes; Chicago much less so); and both had drastically different impacts on the team.
Deng was sullen and withdrawn from the minute he arrived in Cleveland. With Rose down, he was quickly fingered as the centerpiece of a playoff-bound Chicago offense. Instead, he was shipped to Cleveland where he became second-wheel behind Irving (and possibly third-wheel behind Waiters, depending on your stance on that). He then had to watch Joakim Noah reap a mountain of media praise for his unselfish offensive play.
Did his attitude correlate to poor play? Absolutely.
His shooting numbers dipped drastically. He submitted the second worst shooting percentage of his career, a paltry .417 (matched only by his 2011-2012 campaign that saw him shoot .412). And he pitched in his third lowest PPG (14.3). The advanced numbers aren't much better. He had the lowest Win Shares of his career (2.2), the lowest Defensive Win Shares of his career (0.9, his previous low being 1.4), and the second lowest effective field goal percentage of his career, .457.
His contract is up after the season and the smart money says that he walks. If Chicago re-signs him, the Cavs basically traded picks to rent Luol Deng for half of a miserable season.
Then there's Mr. Tyler Zeller 2.0, Spencer Hawes.
As long, rim-averse, white dudes go, Hawes is pretty good. He seemed happy to be in Cleveland he played like it. His PPG rose by 0.5 and his field goal percentage saw a nice uptick to .468 from .451 the previous season. His effective field goal percentage rose to .547 (from .520 the previous year) and he looks workable on rebounding. The guy cannot protect the rim, but we knew that coming in. His job is to space the floor with shooting. He does that. Hawes was a plus, and most Cavs fans I know want him re-signed.
But Chris! You forgot one of the most important assets we acquired in the offseason (read: sarcasm)! The always disappointing Earl Clark!
Overall, Grant had just about as poor a year as you possibly can as a GM, aside from pulling a Kahn and drafting a flawed PG with every first round pick at your disposal. Not only did he blow all the free agent acquisitions, he further used those poor acquisitions to make worse choices.
Here's the rundown of the free agents that Grant brought in: Jack was just another undersized, ball dominant guard that over-performed on a team last year when there was no one left to take shots once Curry left the floor. Clark's best move of the season was out the door on the way to Philly; which led to Hawes coming in. (His worst move by the way was stepping out of bounds on Jan. 5th vs. the Pacers, down 3 with 10 seconds to go). And let's not forget about the failed Bynum experiment that blew up in a manner larger than anyone would have ever thought (probably affected the locker room more than most of us imagined).
Confession time: I really did think that Bynum was worth taking the risk on, and was a great move when Grant managed to reel him in, but hey, I don't have to be held accountable for these things.
Then, Grant had the audacity to trade for a small forward who had consistently performed throughout his 10 year career on a championship level team. FOR SHAME.
Confession time pt. 2: Fine. I liked this one too. Don't hire me as a GM.
I think you did a pretty good job of covering the stats for all of these folks, so I won't go needlessly into details on these, but overall the moves worked in a horrible fashion for the team. Hawes was the move that I think could save David Griffin's career with the Cavs, and is a player I think should fully be brought back for another year. The reason for this though? He works perfectly in Brown's system.
Regardless of the fact that I just lambasted Brown for a lack of anything resembling an offensive system, he does actually run one. It's just the most simple system ever. Very few set plays, and it operates almost exclusively out of the high pick-and-roll. This is where Hawes comes in though. Having a big that can set the pick-and-roll while simultaneously forcing the opposing center to float away with his outside shooting threat makes it work. This is why Z was always so successful as the center in the Lebron years. You can also see how Varejao developed into the player he is for this very reason.
In retrospect, I don't think that Grant can entirely be hung out to dry for the free-agent moves he made, but unfortunately, the drafting and the lack of returns killed him (not to mention the fact that other GMs hated dealing with him). In the long-run though, the moves he made have fully allowed this team to fall flat on their face and end up marginally better than they were 4 years ago, which means we're left with Griffin.
The Cavs were such a promising team before this season began. Irving was a godsend, the sun that appeared right after our last star went supernova (and fled to Miami). Waiters was a promising young blue chip that drew comparisons to a poor man's Wade. Bynum was a low-risk steal, a signing that received near-universal praise (from me too, Brad...sigh, from me too).
At this point I feel like I should cry or pour out some liquor for a fallen homie. This team was supposed to be the 6th or 7th seed in the East, minimum. I was debating whether or not we could snatch the THIRD seed (and yes, I anticipated Derrick Rose getting hurt again). Then this happened. The team imploded despite another number one overall pick and key free agent signings.
As we perform the autopsy on this season I think the cause of death is going to be difficult to determine. This corpse is so mangled and bruised that finding exactly what went wrong is going to be damn near impossible. If I had to select a single thing though---Mike Brown.
His coaching was supposed to steady this team, develop the young talent, bring real defense to the squad, and push Irving to the next level. Instead, the chemistry imploded, Irving regressed, and the Cavs became even less of a free agent destination then they were before. No one wants to be here. The weather sucks and now the team looks depressingly bad.
Is there a chance of life for next year?
I think so. Technically this team improved. The defense jumped to the middle of the pack, the offense moved marginally upwards, and they won nine more games than they did last year. That's technical improvement. It's not the jump we wanted or were promised, but it is improvement. Looking forward, there are reasons to be optimistic.
Bennett can not regress. It's a literal impossibility. So. From that logic, we see that he HAS TO IMPROVE. The Irving-Waiters dynamic has very little room to get worse unless a naked locker room fight somehow spills onto the floor prior to a game against Indiana, and everyone chokes on the irony. The team could regress as a whole, but I doubt it.
The Cavs will have a chance to add another blue-chip talent to the roster (come on down Nik Stauskus!) and further fill out their core of young talent. We might also see them move a familiar face (smart money is on one of these four: Irving---only if he turns down the extension, Waiters---if Irving ABSOLUTELY cannot play with him, Zeller---if the front court gets even more crowded through the draft, or Varejao---because he's older than Zeller and will be well past his prime when the rest of the core is peaking.)
This team should make the playoffs next year. They're better than Atlanta. That alone gets you an 8th seed. They might be better than Charlotte. They might be better than a Rose/Deng-less Chicago. They are worse than Washington, Miami and probably Indiana. This Cavs team could pull even with the Raptors next year or the year after, if everything else stands pat.
My guess is that the Cavs improve and snatch a lower seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
...or they implode again and the front office decides to blow the whole thing up. Bring on Joe Dumars! (You'll see me floating down the Cuyahoga with bricks for shoes if that happens.)
I absolutely think that this team improves this next season. If only because the talent on this roster actually had a miserable year and still managed to win 33 games, I do think that Mike Brown knows how to coach a team to play defense. Furthermore, I think that this team hit it's low (very, very low) point in terms of chemistry issues early on this year. If Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Zeller, and Delly are back next year, I think you have a shot of improving drastically, simply by playing better team ball. Add in the possibility of Hawes, Varejao, an improved Bennett, and a rookie contributor (come on, McDermott!), and I think you can easily claim the 8th seed in the East (none of the teams in the 8th through 15th seeds are getting drastically better in a single season).
There is also a possibility that Griffin, or whoever the new GM of the team is, can bring in a blue-chip free-agent. I know that Lebron is a longshot here, but depending on his mentality and belief in development of the team, he could view it as an option. Furthermore, there are several other great free agents that are available, and this team is really only a solid starting small forward away from being a playoff team. Also, the youth is so abundant, you can only hope for growth at this point.
Personally, I have a total man-crush on Gordon Hayward for this team but we'll see how that goes. Much more, there are a ton of trade options available between Andy, a sign-and-trade with Deng, Jack (not really, but maybe someone could get suckered into it), and the possibility of trading one of your younger players for a veteran that is a better fit. The only way that this team regresses next year would be to blow it up or fully depart from the plan that is set forth. Firing Mike Brown is a high risk, high reward scenario, which could lead to very dire circumstances if you choose the wrong coach. Keeping Brown, barring a mutiny on him, would probably result in a slight improvement at worst.
The same principle goes for trading away either Kyrie or Dion. You've seen times where they have been incredibly successful playing with one another, and if they can put it together consistently, they can be one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Blowing it up could bring in a fantastic player through a trade, or could just be another Lebron-esque leave that leaves the team in shambles for the next few years (Note: I know that LeBron is not spelled correctly, but he's a traitor. I'll spell it right when he comes back to the Cavs).
I think Cavs' fans need to disavow themselves of the LeBron notion (I'm going to go ahead and spell it correctly). If the Heat win, he stays in Miami. If the Heat lose, he probably stays in Miami and he sure as hell does not find himself in Cleveland. I would be supremely happy to eat crow on that point, but I doubt I'll have to.
On the other points, I think we're mostly in agreement. Marginal improvement is enough to secure a playoff spot. Despite this team totally collapsing down the stretch and all the off-court distractions, they still sniffed the 8th seed. If they can add 9 more wins to their resume (their jump from last season to this one), they'll probably grab a playoff spot in that meaty Eastern Conference mid-section.
The Central division could get a lot tougher next year though. Rumors are swirling around Carmelo Anthony, the player most likely to headline the impending free agent class. I'm guessing he opts out of New York and finds a strong suitor in Chicago. The Bulls immediately leap to the second spot in the East (if the Heat remain intact). Detroit cannot continue to feature Josh Smith, Greg Monroe AND Andre Drummond. Someone has to go. Pistons fans would probably like a mulligan on the Smith signing but I'm not sure who would take on that contract. He can't play small forward (his propensity for jacking ill-advised 3s sky rockets on the perimeter) and they can't bench the blossoming Drummond. The most likely option for movement is Monroe, a fine post-player offensively with under-the-radar passing skills and a deficient rim protector. He's young, has a favorable contract, and may find himself somewhere else next season. If Detroit can move Smith to the 4, start Drummond at the 5 and snag a decent outside shooter for the 3 spot (PLEASE JESUS NOT STAUSKUS OR MCDERMOTT) then they could be a formidable opponent. The Bucks are a joke but will grab one of the top-3 prospects in the draft (Wiggins, Parker, or Embiid being the most likely), and then promptly ruin that player's career.
The Pacers are imploding but may return to form next year. Who knows what the hell is going on with them.
My point being: the Cavs should make the playoffs next year but the East is getting better, if only in inches. This team needs to make smart moves and trim the fat. Part of the reason Griffin finds himself in the GM seat is his predecessor had a penchant for overvaluing talent. The Cavs cannot make the same mistake in the next two years. Shrewd, heartless moves are the core to championship teams. Boston didn't blink at trading Garnett and Pierce. That team signed a great coach, put its eggs in the Rajon Rondo basket and is focused on developing younger talent. They'll also grab a lottery pick.
The Cavs need to follow a similar blueprint. They're further ahead in the re-development phase. Irving should be a perennial All-Star. Waiters could be a formidable partner in the back court. They have depth and shooting in the front court. Adding a quality small forward to the mix should be enough to make the Cavs a legitimate playoff team.
On the note of Waiters and Irving, this brings us to our last point. The main storyline of this season revolved around the internal conflict of who should be the centerpiece of this team. The result of which pitted the fanbase against one another, putting Irving fans and Waiters fans against one another. While there are some fans that remained loyal to both players, I really believe that at one point in the season, most wavered in their belief that both could remain on the team.
Before we get into picking sides, lets compare the two players (per 36 minutes):
Waiters - 19.3 Pts | 3.4 Rbs | 3.6 Ast | 43.3% FG% | 36.8% 3P% | 14.0 PER
Irving - 21.3 Pts | 3.7 Rbs | 6.2 Ast | 43.0% FG% | 35.8% 3P% | 20.1 PER
So, from a quick look at the stats, there's not a whole lot that separates the two players. Irving does generally put up higher assists, although given the total lack of depth on the team and the fact that Waiters was coming off the bench for most of the year, it can be extrapolated that Waiters may have had more comparable numbers in the starting lineup consistently.
Lets be clear about this though, both players actually have very complementary skill sets. Irving tends to be a much more proficient shooter from the mid-range to the 3-point line, with the ability to drive and finish at the rim when necessary. Waiters is actually more of the opposite, a driving guard with ability to hit outside shots and mid-range jumpers when the shot clock is winding down or when set up appropriately. This leads me to believe that they can play together incredibly well given the desire to actually work with one another.
Let's take a look at three different lineups, one with Irving and one with Waiters (both using Jack as control), then the final lineup with Irving and Waiters on the floor together (Deng, Hawes, and Thompson on the floor in all lineups). These are the net differentials per lineup on the floor:
Irving - -.017 eFG% | +1.4 Pts | +4.4 TRb | -5.4 Ast | -3.0 Stl | -2.8 Blk | +1.4 TOV
Waiters - -.076 eFG% | -13.1 Pts | +1.0 TRb | -8.8 Ast | -1.3 Stl | -3.9 Blk | +1.1 TOV
Both - -.020 eFG% | -4.3 Pts | -4.7 TRb | -7.7 Ast | +2.6 Stl | -1.7 Blk | -2.7 TOV
So, you may see that these statistics almost directly contradict my own feelings on the ability for Irving and Waiters to play together, though chemistry may be a major factor here. As an added bonus though here, It does seem that Jack is basically a non-factor, which helps confirm our points on that being a failed acquisition. The one aspect that does improve quite a bit when both players are on the floor is steals and turnovers (which again is a result of not having Jack handle the ball). Clearly, the lineup with Irving at the helm is superior. Does this mean that Waiters should be abandoned? I still don't believe so, although I'll let you speak your point.
Waiters should absolutely not be abandoned.
Unless he should be abandoned.
People tend to fall in love with underdogs and in this situation Waiters is the underdog. He wasn't the number one overall pick or the flashy All-Star. He doesn't star in commercials or draw national headlines. No one is wondering where he'll end up in a few years. His stats are good but not great. He lives in Irving's shadow.
But in Cleveland, there is a groundswell of support growing behind him. His supporters are increasing and with each Irving misstep ("No, I swear I want to be in Cleveland! Guys?...anyone?") his legion increases. But that doesn't make Waiters the answer. I believe in him, I'm one of his supporters, so this is hard to say, but...
If I had to choose between Irving and Waiters, right now, I choose Irving. And you should too, so should every reader. Irving is the superior player. He hasn't proven he can make the playoffs, let alone hoist a Larry O'Brien trophy. But he is an All-Star, and a mostly deserving one at that. He is one of the premier players at the league's deepest position. With the right pieces, he can pilot a playoff team.
Cut Irving out of the equation and hand the team to Waiters, without the proper system (read: coach) and correct supporting cast? This team flounders, they could be Utah Jazz bad. Your boy, Gordon Hayward, went through that this year. Hayward is a great player and one of the more promising complimentary wings in the league (and mostly a free agent!). Prior to this year, there were Jazz fans that lobbied on behalf of the Butler product, arguing that his numbers weren't THAT different from Paul George's. Sure, that argument ignored Hayward's obvious defensive deficiencies and his inferior rebounding and assist numbers, but it was slightly buoyed by a higher 3-point and general field goal percentage.
Then the Jazz gave the team to Hayward. And they were bad. They were nearly historically bad, for the Jazz anyways.
And a similar fate would likely befall Waiters. Right now his development is going well. His PPG is steadily increasing, and so is his field goal and 3-point field goal percentages. He's improving on defense and on offense. He's comfortable taking big shots.
Next year will be telling though. Shooting guards, historically, have taken "the leap" in their third year of play. Kobe Bryant jumped right to the cusp of being a 20 ppg scorer (with a .040 percent jump in field goal percentage). Dwyane Wade took the leap into another stratosphere, registering 27+ppg, and a field goal percentage of nearly 50 percent. Monta Ellis eclipsed the 20 ppg mark and his field goal percentage increased to 53 percent, and his win shares increased to 9.0---the highest of his career to this point.
For comparison's sake, Michael Jordan recorded his highest scoring season ever in his third year. He averaged a bonkers 37.1 ppg on 48 percent field goal shooting. His win shares jumped to 16.9 per basketball-reference.com.
If Waiters is able to similarly increase his number I think we're looking at a 18-20 ppg season with a field goal percentage around 45-47 percent. His win shares will be high.
But that doesn't mean you bet the house on him. If his numbers flat line, and it's possible they do, then you don't want your franchise cinder blocked at his feet. Irving may have already shown his ceiling, but his ceiling is that of an All-Star.
(I still like Waiters more and if the Cavs bet the house on him, I'd support them)
And I think Waiters is a good point to end our season review on. He was one of the few bright spots on the team and a grape that's not too sour to chew on leading into the off-season.
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