The Cavaliers lost to the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday to close out their first half of the season despite another rally late in the fourth quarter. Kyrie didn't shoot it awesome in that game, but he did drop ten dimes. Ryan Hollins played almost the whole fourth quarter, Gody got out there a little bit, nobody played particularly good, and the Cavs basically looked gassed. So they lost, fell now to 13-18, and the All Star Break is upon us. While the Cavaliers are technically forty-seven percent of the way through the first half of their season, we're going to round up and call it the halfway point because everybody else does.
That said, below are my thoughts on the current state of all things Cleveland Cavaliers one half of one season through the Kyrie Irving Era.
Cavs record is a little bit better than I expected: The record I predicted on both Joe Lull's 92.3 The Fan Preseason Roundtable show, as well as on these blogwaves, was that the Cavaliers would finish this Lockout shortened season 23-43, which would be good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Currently, the Cavs are on pace for 4 more wins than I predicted (27 actually with a .419 winning percentage thus far) and they are one full game ahead of the 10th place Milwaukee Bucks for 9th place out East. They did a good chunk of this without Anderson Varejao too which nobody expected they could. Although, at the same time, I'd also argue that nobody expected Andy to come out and play like an All Star Center this season either surrounded by so much youth and inexperience, but he did do that too. When exactly Anderson does come back, and what kind of groove he can get himself back into, is going to go a long way to determining where the Cavaliers finish this thing off. Playoffs are possible right now, Cavs are two games out, and I think the opportunity to play meaningful games in that respect during the second half of this season, at least for the early part of that, will be very beneficial for this rebuilding effort moving forward.
Kyrie Irving is having arguably the best rookie season of any Cavaliers rookie ever: I knew Kyrie Irving would be good, we all did. Well, mostly everybody did, but that's not the point. This kid is not just good though, he's special. We thought he'd be a good player, but I'm not sure how many people thought we'd be calling him a superstar 31 games into his rookie season. He is a superstar, I think he's a top-5 PG right now, and at worst he's in the top-8 currently. I've lobbed things out there in response by saying he's the best rookie the Cavaliers have ever had, and I don't mean to do so for effect or to take any sort of shot at the last guy picked number one by these Cavs either. Irving's season so far is simply comparable to LeBron's rookie campaign at worst. Through 31 games in his rookie season, LeBron shot 42% from the floor, 31% from three, 77% from the FT line, and averaged 20.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. Kyrie Irving is shooting 47% from the floor, 41% from three, 85% from the FT line, and averaging 18.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. Kyrie's Cavs have 13 wins so far, and LeBron's had 10 at this same point. Carlos Boozer then was better than anybody Kyrie has around him right now too, but I'll get more into that point later on down the road.
Some of those unquantifiable expectations can kind of be quantified so far: I had hoped for this young group, centered around Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, to show signs of progress as this season went on. I wasn't exactly sure what that would look like heading in, but in hindsight the evidence of such progress is tangible. Kyrie missed his first game winning shot against the Indiana Pacers, a lay-up that went around the rim and down just before popping out. Since then, he's capitalized on approximately five game winning or game clinching shot opportunities. He's become accustomed to going nuts in the 4th quarter, scored 17 points in that final period of the Cavaliers last win, and closed out teams like the Dallas Mavericks in that same fashion as well. More than the shots he has hit though, is his specific willingness to take them. Every time. The proverbial corner jumper by Donyell Marshall isn't an option for Irving. Tristan Thompson has also shown growth as well. He battled through an ankle injury, continues to work on his low-post game, and was one rebound and one put-back away from posting a double-double in consecutive games to close out this past week himself. He needs to work of his free throws, this is for sure, but he continues to be active on both the glass and on the defensive end, and it appears that activity will only continue leading to positive contributions. I had hoped Tristan would play himself into the starting line-up by season's end, and I think he's on his way to doing that.
What the Cavaliers might do at the trade deadline: I opened this season thinking the only veteran who would have any type of trade value on this team to warrant a first round draft pick and/or a young piece to put around the Cavaliers young rookies with respect to this rebuild would be Anderson Varejao. He certainly still has that value, despite his injury, but the way he's played has me thinking it would probably be better to simply keep him around over the length of his contract. He's developed an on-court chemistry with Kyrie and company, and I don't see any reason to really disrupt that right now. If the Cavaliers are looking to move anybody for a first round pick, I think it will be a guy who's played himself into the type of value this season in Ramon Sessions. To his credit, Ramon is having a good season, and he can definitely start for a number of contenders. Maybe not New York anymore, but the Lakers still stand out to me as a team who'd be better by playing him over the PG's they currently have. We'll see what happens there though, but there is also no reason to simply give Sessions away either, he's too solid in the role he's playing to trade him for anything less than a first rounder in my opinion. I'd be certainly open to moving Antawn however, but I'm not sure who'd want him. I think he's best scoring points for a team like the Cavaliers who look to him to both shoot and make the shots he does and doesn't right now. I'm not sure how much his game would help a contender though, so he's probably sticking around I'd guess.
Winning Over Lottery Picks: Rebuilding a winning organization is a delicate dance. While I fully understand that lottery picks and the addition of young talent under contract for the next several years is critical to getting better as an organization, I also believe winning a little bit is critical too. You have to have winning as a goal, you can't just get used to being terrible. Before Chris Paul, the Clippers picked a million guys in the lottery for the one million years before he got there. Maybe the Kandi Man, Michael Olowokandi as one example, actually did suck as bad as his career would indicate. But maybe there is also something to the idea that he was dropped into a culture that accepted sucking, that expected to suck, and he in turn played that way. Maybe not, who knows, but what I do know is I have no problem with winning games at the expense of drafting in the Lottery. If that happens. I just have a funny feeling that playing in the playoffs right now, even if it is a 4-game sweep, would help Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and everybody else develop at a higher rate than not doing so. But actually not even the playoffs, just playing in games that maybe could impact a possible playoff berth could help too, even if they ended up losing those games. Which is why I continue to say that there is really no way we can lose as Cavs fans this season, so long as this team tries to compete every night. Something, by and large, they've done so far. Looking forward to the second half getting underway next week.
I'll Be Down At All Star Weekend For SLAM: Keep up with my on Twitter over the next few days if you don't mind, as I'll be down in Orlando covering this weekend's events for SLAM Online. I'm not exactly sure what all I'll be covering specifically, there's a ton of events, but after I land on Friday I'll be at the NBA Cares event first that afternoon. Tristan is helping Jeremy Lin, Chris Paul, and a bunch of others rebuild some houses, and Kyrie is building a playground for some kids also. This is what these guys do in their spare time, really impressive. I'll have more when I return. Have a good weekend.