By J. Cole
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
After bowing out to the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics in a tight seven-game series, the Cavaliers look to build off that near miss.
Providing LeBron James
with more help was the front office's number one priority this offseason. To that end, they acquired Maurice "Mo" Williams from the Bucks in a six-player, three-team trade. Williams can create his own shot and also knock down the three – two qualities that will help James get more space. Moreover, with the combination of Zydrunas Ilgauskas
coming off of a solid season, Anderson Varejao
's contract issues behind him, and Ben Wallace
having a complete season in Cleveland, the team should be solid defensively. However, with Drew Gooden
now in Chicago, the Cavaliers front needs to step it collectively on the offensive side of things. Extra scoring will have to come from Daniel Gibson
, who was hobbled last season with ankle woes, Wally Szczerbiak
, who took time to adjust after getting traded from Seattle, Sasha Pavlovic
, who was held out of the beginning of last season and Delonte West
, arguably the Cavaliers second best player from last season.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The guarantee: LeBron James
will play 40 minutes per contest, if not more. With Zydrunas Ilgauskas
, being the only true low post scoring threat, expect him to see between 28-30 minutes at center, so long as his back and feet hold up.
After those two, it gets interesting. Delonte West
maintained 31 minutes in the regular season last year, but then stepped up to 35 minutes per contest in the playoffs. Prior to the Maurice Williams
signing, West was another guarantee. With Williams in the fold playing the same position there has been talk of moving West over to the shooting guard spot. Williams averaged almost 37 minutes in Milwaukee last year, but look for a slight reduction – to somewhere around 35. As of now, pencil in West at 25 minutes a contest, playing both guard spots. That still leaves Daniel Gibson
vying for time as well. G
ibson will be coming off of ankle surgery, so 15-18 minutes may be more realistic, especially at the beginning of the season. Sasha Pavlovic
and Wally Szczerbiak
will fight for that elusive guard/forward time slot. Depending on who has the better training camp, the winner will be right at 15-20 minutes per contest, with the loser looking at spot duty somewhere around 10 minutes per game.
The frontcourt isn't quite so crowded. With Ilgauskas getting his minutes, Ben Wallace
and Anderson Varejao
should be at 18-23 minutes with Varejao closer to the 23-minute average, even if he's coming of the bench in the beginning. A potential dark horse is first-round draft pick rookie from N.C. State, 6-9 power forward J.J. Hickson
. Hickson has a shot at getting into the rotation after strong play in the summer leagues. With the injury concerns of the other three, Ilgauskas, Wallace and Varejao, Hickson should have a chance to produce off the bench.
Playing 73 games at 30 minutes per contest, Ilgauskas just missed averaging a double-double last year. He's entering his 11th season, and the Cavaliers really monitor his minutes, to ensure that he maximizes his time on the floor. Shooting 80 percent from the charity stripe and 47 percent from the field makes him a center that can keep you afloat during the year, if you can't manage to get a top one early.
After missing almost half the season from contract holdout and ankle injuries, he looks to play a more pivotal role in the Cavaliers rotation this season. He sat out the Olympics to ensure his body was ready for the long NBA season. Look for Varejao to continue his erratic defensive game, while being productive on the boards. In deeper leagues he is a player that won't necessarily hurt you, but he's not likely to be more than an occasional injury fill-in.
Wallace is likely to start at power forward, but he plays center a great deal as well. Now that Varejao will be healthy, look for Wallace to be in the 18-minute range, making for career lows across the board on the defensive side. With Zydrunas Ilgauskas
as the team's lone post-up threat and the decline of Wallace's defensive and rebounding skills, there's not a lot of upside here.
With James coming off a career season, you might wonder whether he can still get better. But James only shot 71 percent from the foul line and 31 percent from long range. These are the two main areas in which LeBron should improve significantly. If that were to happen, he'd be worthy of the number one overall pick – his scoring, rebounding and assist combination is totally unmatched. Keep in mind that if he doesn't improve at the charity stripe, his below average shooting hurts more than usual because he attempts more than 10 per game.
Szczerbiak can only go up from last season. He shot a miserable 36 percent form the field, a career low. Look for Szczerbiak to rebound from last season's shooting woes, and be closer to that 43 percent from behind the arc he shot in Seattle before the trade. Szczerbiak is a player who will also benefit from Mo Williams slashing ability.
He's the wild card – Pavlovic has loads of potential. The problem is Pavlovic has not turned the corner towards consistency. An entire training camp with a new contract should help him return to that 2006-07 form where he shot 40 percent from behind the arc. He will have to battle Szczerbiak for those minutes however, but give the edge to Pavlovic to have a potential breakout season.
The 19th overall draft pick by the Cavaliers played solidly in the summer league. Hickson is young and athletic at 6-9, the key word being “young”. At only 19 he can't be counted on for much early in the season. After averaging 15-points and eight rebounds at N.C. State, he played himself into the first round. However, with his size and youthfulness he will at least be vying for a rotation spot.
Look for Williams as a great value pick in your drafts. As long as he can stay on the court, Williams should be a solid play at the point guard spot. He should play really well off of LeBron James
, finding space to get to the basket and knocking down the open three. There will be a lot of pressure on Williams, but he has the talent and now the experience to potentially lead the Cavaliers in categories such as steals and assists.
The biggest question mark on the Cavaliers roster. While West won't be at the 35-minute range he played in the playoffs, he should log 25 minutes a contest. Even with Mo Williams now in the fold, West is still too valuable to the team not to have a significant role, but expect his numbers to drop across the board. He'll still be a good source of threes, so he's worth a look late.
Daniel Gibson: G
ibson was among the league leaders in 3-point field goal percentage last season. Even though he was hobbled much of the season he scored 10 points a night. Gibson will continue his touch from behind the arc at 44 percent, but it may take him about three weeks into the season coming off of ankle surgery this summer.
Kinsey is a long athletic guard who averaged almost eight points in the 2006-07 season with Memphis. Last season he was released after 11 games in Memphis, then later signed to play overseas. He's someone who could produce in the right situation, but the Cleveland backcourt is far too crowded.
There really is no real fantasy value here, especially with the talk of Snow taking on more of a player-coach type of role.
Arguably the most talented player not named LeBron James
on the Cavaliers roster. With the injury woes behind him and a new contract, Pavlovic can now focus on being what the Cavaliers thought of him two seasons ago, which is someone who could give them 13-15 points next to James. Shooting 36 and 30 percent from the field and behind the arc, respectively, last year, Pavlovic has a lot to prove. At 6-7, Pavlovic has the ability to cause a lot of matchup problems in the back court and on the wing.
Wallace's age is starting to show a bit more than the Cavaliers would like. Listed at 6-9, but closer to 6-7, Wallace has lost some bounce in his step. What made him indispensable was his defense. Now that he's 34, at 6-7 it's harder for him to be that clog he once was for the Pistons. Look for his rebound and block numbers to be the lowest of his career – he only managed seven rebounds a game in Cleveland after the trade last year. The problem is, if he's not rebounding, how do you justify his minutes?
Article first appeared on 10/1/08