Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Cavaliers
2012-13 Record: 24-58
Coach: Mike Brown (first season in second stint with Cavaliers)
I saw a lot of issues last year that showed how impatient Kyrie Irving was with his teammates. He was like a quarterback who makes a good throw, but when the receiver drops the ball he lets everybody in the stadium know it was the receiver's fault. He knew he was the best player on the team, and he wanted everybody else to know it wasn't his fault that they were losing. He is a very good player. I don't know if he has the ability to raise his teammates' level. But maybe that will change as he gets stronger teammates.
The next stage for him is to understand that he needs all five players to play great. There were times he tried to play the superstar role like Kobe Bryant, where he we would distribute the ball for the first two to three quarters, and then in the fourth quarter it would become his game and his time to take over. He needs to embrace the team game. Irving has to be a committed defender all of the time.
The great point guards make their teammates better, and there is a lot to being a leader. I don't think Irving has been a leader yet, based on what you see on the court. I think of him more along the lines of someone like John Wall, trying to prove that he belongs. These are all things that can improve. With Irving being such a young player, I'm going to give him a pass and say that a lot of people are going to be watching closely this year, when he plays with a team that has better talent. His dynamic with new coach Mike Brown is going to have a big say in how things go.
Anderson Varejao is the Cavs' second-most-important player. He plays unselfishly at both ends of the floor. He is an improved shooter, not a great shooter, but he can move the ball. He's an unbelievable pick-and-roll defender, and he makes up for other people's mistakes because he's in the right place. He's one of those guys you don't like to play against, but you like to have him on your team.
Tristan Thompson looks like he's one of those guys who puts up good numbers on a bad team. But he has gotten better, and I know he works hard. Maybe he benefits this year from playing alongside Varejao and Andrew Bynum, if Bynum overcomes his [right knee] injury. But if you play Thompson respectfully, I don't think he scores, other than garbage points off rebound tip-ins and things like that. If you guard him and say, "I'm going to make you score on me," he has trouble doing that. But he's active and he's a good athlete. He plays with tenacity. He gets his stuff based on athleticism and playing a little bit harder than the guy who's playing against him.
Dion Waiters is a selfish player who was trying to prove he was a scorer as a rookie last season. I never did see him being the kind of guy teammates would want to play with. He has the ability to score on a bad team. He might start, but I see him as a third guard coming off the bench in a combo position. He's thinking score-first, and that's what his mentality is and always will be.
Jarrett Jack was great last year in Golden State. He's a good third guard, and the role he played was good for him. He's willing to pass, but his first thought is to attack in order to score. He shot the ball well last year, but if you play with two great shooters [like Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson], it's easier to get shots. He had more open looks last year than he's probably going to see this year.
I know they want No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett to be the big-bodied guy at small forward like the one they had before [LeBron James]. When Bennett was healthy at the beginning of the season at UNLV, a lot of people thought a lot of him. But I don't know if any other team would have drafted him No. 1.
C.J. Miles is a willing defender, he has good size and he understands team basketball. He could play well for Brown after being up and down last year.
Bynum is the wild card. He could be the magic elixir if he were to stay healthy for 60 games. In that case, they'd be a traditional team, with Varejao and Bynum able to give them a chance against Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and the other teams that have big guys. When Bynum is on his game, he's better than Roy Hibbert. Bynum can affect the game defensively when he wants to. When he's been right, which hasn't been often, he's been an All-Star. But that's one consistent, solid year out of seven. That's not a good ratio. You have to go into the season pretending he isn't there until he proves otherwise. That said, their playoff hopes depend on whether Bynum is playing.
Tyler Zeller will look better if he's able to play with a healthy Bynum and Varejao, two big guys who can help make up for some of his deficiencies. Zeller is a good shooter who knows how to play. If he plays with Bynum, who gets double-teamed, then Zeller will have even more of a chance to shoot face-up jumpers.
Can you play Zeller [defensively] against Ryan Anderson [the Pelicans' perimeter-shooting big man]? Probably. Could you play him against teams that go small at the 4 and force him to guard a driver? No. He can be a nice bench player for 10 years and help at the 4 and 5.
Earl Clark is a stretch-4-type player, but he's not going to provide a lot of production. Alonzo Gee hasn't been bad the last two years. He plays his butt off every game. He's a good defender coming off the bench.
Brown is in a much more powerful position than he was the first time as Cleveland coach, when he was catering to LeBron a lot. The front office brought him back, it knows him and it invested in him. He has a good base defensively. He'll be good with a young team because he's a teacher. I don't know if anybody would copy his game offensively. With his previous teams, a lot of times an offensive possession came down to somebody bailing him out at the end of the shot clock because they'd tried what he wanted to do and it didn't work. But people learn, and maybe he'll come up with new ideas or something he believes in more.