Stepien Rules Writer Nick Mancini checks in with his fifth of five questions as Cavaliers opening day is upon us...
5. What will Kyrie Irving do as an encore?
I knew Kyrie Irving was going to be good last season, but not that good.
Now, the question is, can he build on that success and become even better. It wasn’t an accident that Irving was in Las Vegas with the U.S. Select Team this summer. It also wasn't an accident when he was called the best player on that court. The best player on a court he shared with the 2012 Olympic team.
The reigning Rookie of the Year will be the center of the Cavaliers universe this season, and I expect him to deliver huge results. He averaged 18 points and 5 assists per game last year and that was with a supporting cast devoid of talent.
With some actual players, not a lot but definitely an upgrade, he should be able to improve on those numbers. An All-Star selection is not out of the question. C.J. Miles, Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters will provide Irving with a level of help he didn't have a season ago. With that first year under his belt, he could quickly become universally accepted as a top-five point guard in the NBA this season.
If there were anything he might need to improve on it would be his durability. But even with that, his injuries seem more fluke than chronic. So, what exactly can we expect from Irving specifically?
Stepien Rules Writer Nick Mancini checks in with his fifth of five questions as Cavaliers opening day is upon us...
As Moneyball has shown, sabermetrics and advanced statistics have become a big part in evaluating athletes, teams and matchups in all sports. So something new for this season is going to be a closer look at how those statistics are calculated, what exactly they mean, and just how our dear Cavs stack up against them.
I will be your guide throughout this process. In the real world, I am an engineer by training, and know a little bit about numbers and what to do with them. I’ve been both a Cavs and basketball fan for some time, and hope to use my skills and this column for the greater good. So let’s do some math.
Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is one of the more commonly quoted sabermetrics. It is the brainchild of John Hollinger, and tries to sum up an NBA player’s overall usefulness in a single number – the higher the better. It’s easy to look at players like Kyrie Irving (PER 21.5 last year) and Donald Sloan (PER 9.0) and tell which is the better player, but what about Tristan Thompson (13.4) and Alonzo Gee (13.2)? Do their similar PERs indicate equality?
What does the similar PER mean for players who play different positions and vastly different styles? Before delving into those questions, let’s take a look at how PER is determined. The short story is that calculating a player’s PER happens in two steps. Step one is calculating an individual PER, which in broad terms consists of the following:
James Harden won't be signing with Cleveland afterall, but Stepien Rules Car Magnets are now available.
Courtesy of the great people over at www.magnetsonthecheap.com, this can now be featured in a prominent location on your vehicle:
Mentioned this last week on our Stepien Rules Facebook Page too, but keep an eye out for a chance to win a free Stepien Rules Car Magnet just in time for the regular season. We will be giving away five magnets (!!!) next week.
Enjoy your Sunday people.
How about a hearty welcome to the world of professional sports fandom for our friends in Oklahoma City. Junior’s sure going to look weird in “The Beard” costume on Wednesday night now. While most of us were watching college football, Sam Presti and Daryl Morey were busy putting the finishing touches on a game changing trade that sent James Harden to Houston.
This must feel awful for OKC fans right now BUT, once the decision was made that they weren’t going to pay him, you could argue their haul for James Harden was comparable to ORL’s for Dwight Howard. They brought in a solid bench scoring option on an expiring deal in Kevin Martin. They added a talented young wing player Jeremy Lamb who was at his best when playing second fiddle at UCONN and looked uncomfortable when asked to be “the man.” They’ll also be in a rare position in the NBA: A title contender with chances to add in the draft as they also squeezed out two first round picks with one being lottery guaranteed.no comments
Stepien Rules Writer Nick Mancini checks in with his fourth of five questions as Cavs training camp continues...
4. How will our top rookies perform in the spotlight?
It is no secret that a few fans were not pleased with the selection of Syracuse guard Dion Waiters with the fourth pick. This was magnified when he arrived in Las Vegas for the Summer League overweight and searching for his shot. Again, fans weren’t happy.
My advice for the Wine and Gold faithful at this point: don’t worry, be happy.
Waiters and fellow first-round pick Tyler Zeller will be just fine. But it could take time. As the “Czar” Mike Fratello recently said, between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, we have been a little spoiled when it comes to top picks in recent memory.
I think we have two solid guys, both with some great potential.
Lets start with Waiters...
I’m going to be honest; I have very high expectations for him. Were the Dwyane Wade comparisons a little over-the-top? Probably. But the fact is, he is going to start at the two and with shots to be had in this lineup, expect him to score. I think between 15-18 points a game could be a solid prediction, but I could be completely wrong. I think he is going to be a great compliment to Irving and it is even better these guys are comfortable with each other. There will be times where each will want the ball in their hands, but great players are the ones who know how to adapt their games. This pairing could produce one of the top backcourts in the next few years.
Young and inexpensive. The 2012-2013 Cleveland Cavaliers.
The two words certainly have a negative connotation to them, especially when you’re considering them as a part of a formula to win basketball games, but it’s not all black and white. Nothing is that simple in the modern day NBA when it comes to tearing down a team to truly rebuild it again the right way.
In this young decade Cavs fans have seen both extremes, from the “Don’t take no for an answer, we NEED Antawn Jamison” attitude to well, the last two years. From all-in to ping pong ball watches. As we move closer to the tip off of our 3rd post-decision season we are, in my opinion, smack dab in the middle of the gray area. Basically they’re saying “let’s take the next step” but with players who themselves don’t collectively total the league mandated salary floor.
In a league that you have to spend to compete, the fact that taking a next step is even a discussion speaks to the nice job this organization has done over the last few years re-assembling this roster.
So what’s the next step?
I think the easiest answer would be to make the playoffs but I’m looking at this year a little deeper than that. For example we know what we have. Young talent to develop. A ton of draft picks. Cap space galore. Expiring contracts. Any asset you need to plow ahead in a rebuild we have. The one thing that we don’t have is a buzz. I think that’s the next step. In order to best maximize our assets we have to instill a sense of excitement within the NBA about what the Cavs are building. As we’ve seen, in today’s NBA your organization’s perception not only effects how successful you are in luring free agents but also trade possibilities as well. In the end the players, the key pieces at least, usually hold the cards. We have all the components to make a blockbuster trade and we have all the space to bring in some marquis players but both become infinitely more difficult if the talent sees the Cavs as an ongoing renovation project.
So how do we create this buzz?
To nobody’s surprise it begins and ends with winning more games and developing our biggest asset, Kyrie Irving. In the 2012 NBA nothing draws more interest, besides money, than having a player that other players envision themselves playing with. Kyrie turned everyone’s heads at the Team USA workouts to the point where people are penciling him in for the 2016 Olympics and are debating whether or not this kid is going to be an all star this year. Frankly, that question will be answered by the Cavs as a whole more so than Kyrie Irving individually. There’s little doubt in my mind he has All Star talent but we’ll need to be respectable record-wise for him to get the nod. Obviously Kyrie is going to be our catalyst when it comes to winning but the Cavs are going to need some other things to fall in line as well.
We need Andy and Booby to stay healthy. This is where we see some huge differences from last year. Andy and Booby are this year's “veteran leadership.” Two guys who can still play at a reasonably high level if healthy as opposed to two washed up versions of Anthony Parker and Antwan Jamison. Kyrie is the star but Andy is the glue that holds everything together. Meanwhile Gibson is probably our best perimeter defender and our best 3 point shooter. These two are the last link to the glory days of the franchise. They know what it takes to expect to win every night. They know the pressures of being in the spotlight. Both are high character guys who can help our young core go through that process.
Speaking of young guys, Dion Waiters has to make some strides early. He doesn’t have to do much to improve our year over year numbers from the 2 spot but if Byron Scott can sell him on focusing on taking the ball to the hoop and staying in shape he could be huge for us this year. Towards the end of last year it was so painful to watch a 19-year old have to do everything for an offense. Nobody else was able to get their own shot or create for others. Waiters has that game in him. He could be a huge upgrade from last year and help us win some more ballgames.
"It wasn't really ever announced", Tyler Zeller said, before making his first preseason start against the Indiana Pacers. "It was just something we kind of knew once Coach Scott put me with the first team at practice".
As I stood there listening, while taking Instagram pics of Zeller directly in front of his face, it seemed he knew he was prepared. He was about to not only matchup with his hometown Pacers, but also start against an All-Star center in Roy Hibbert.
Who is huge, by the way, even for an NBA center. But the 17th overall pick from North Carolina stood there confident in his ability. He was prepared, and excited.
It didn't take long for him to impress the heck out of me either once the game was underway. He boxed Hibbert out every time a shot went up as if he was fighting for Zeller Family supremacy in a driveway game of football-style-21 against brothers Luke and Cody.
As a rookie, passed over by half the NBA in June, he was completely unafraid. He was willing to attack Hibbert offensively, along with Indiana's imposing frontline that includes David West. He looked strong enough to bang with just about every other center in the League in the process too. By the end of the night, he finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block in 29 minutes of work.
He collected 5 defensive rebounds as well, an area of the game that Coach Byron Scott calls "his biggest concern for this team". Only Anderson Varejao (6 defensive rebounds) had more. Solid enough stats to be sure, but they only tell half the story.
Tyler Zeller is a baller, you guys. If you're sleeping on that right now it's time you wake up.
Assuming, of course, that he plays the way he did during one preseason game for the rest of the year.
So how much of an impact could Tyler Zeller make this season?
I expect Tyler Zeller to start at center in at least half of the 82-games the Cavaliers play this year. If Varejao ends up being dealt at the deadline, he'll start even more. But regardless of that, Tyler is skilled enough offensively to compliment Andy inside.
He makes the Cavaliers a better passing team when he's out there. Playing him at the center position also makes this team more athletic. I've been saying since I sat watching him in Vegas Summer League that he is the most underrated athlete in this year's rookie class. I still believe that. What has me even more gassed up this morning though, is that it also looks like he's physical enough to hold his own against top-tier centers throughout the NBA.
Just like he did against Roy Hibbert, who finished with 4 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes of work.
Zeller could take a whole lot of pressure off Dion Waiters
Last season, Tristan Thompson was not totally burdened by the inherent pressures typically associated with being a fourth overall selection. He did have some pressure to be sure, but certainly not anything like Dion Waiters has right now.
Who was also picked fourth.
Thompson had Kyrie Irving shouldering 80 percent of those expectations for him based on the fact that he went three picks earlier. He eventually eliminated that pressure for both rookies by how well he inevitably played.
As fans, we looked at last season's draft and figured it was a collective win regardless of how well Tristan played because Kyrie was killing. Thompson demonstrating the skills and abilities that he did were viewed as a bonus.
Zeller could have a similar impact on Waiters this season. To a degree. Or to be more fair, he could at least help shoulder some of that pressure Dion Waiters is trying to carry all by himself right now. If Tyler opens this season playing at a level I think he's capable of - 11.5 points and 7 rebounds on a nightly basis, perhaps - that could go a long way toward making this year's draft look like a collective win too.
Only one game in the preseason, I know. I just feel it's necessary to get this Tyler Zeller Bandwagon running at full-speed right now. Before Zeller's ever played in a real NBA game.
He's left me no other choice.
C.J. Miles was acquired this offseason for two reasons: to offer much needed depth at the shooting guard position while also providing a veteran presence for a young Cavaliers team.
Currently, Miles is competing with Dion Waiters for the starting job at that position. At the same time, he's also trying to help the fourth overall pick transition into life in the NBA.
I asked Miles about the approach he's taking to accomplish both goals.
I was also on-hand as Byron Scott discussed Dion's progress at practice over this past week.
Byron Scott's biggest concern for the 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers is defensive rebounding. I don't necessarily disagree with the importance of rebounding on that end of the floor either. Securing the defensive rebound not only stops the other team from scoring, but it also gives your team the basketball.
The two most fundamental elements for success at any level.
Behind Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson up front, however, along with guys like Alonzo Gee on the perimeter, there are at least a few reasons to believe that the Cavs will be okay in that department. Beyond the necessary size requirements, defensive rebounding in the NBA is more about heart than any other aspect of the game. It's a controllable for any team, to an extent, assuming the desire is there.
My biggest concern is who exactly is going to score once the Cavaliers do collect that rebound. Besides Kyrie Irving, of course.
Last season Antawn Jamison averaged 17.2 points per night as the Cavaliers second leading scorer. He played in 65 of the 66 games. Obviously now he's gone. Anderson Varejao returns as the next leading scorer after that, at 10.8 points. He only appeared in 25 games. Alonzo Gee comes back at 10.6, Tristan Thompson at 8.2, Daniel Gibson at 7.5 and Omri Casspi at 7.1.
None particularly close to averaging 17 points per game in the NBA.
So somebody will need to improve their scoring average by at least six points, as far as I can tell, in order for the Cavaliers to score enough to compete. Unless Dion Waiters or CJ Miles fill the void left by Antawn. Either those options, or about seven guys will need to average at least 10 points to collectively score anywhere near 100 per game. Including Jamison's 17, the Cavs had four players in double-digits last season and they averaged 93 points as a team.
With that in mind, I began to identify who I thought could be the Cavs second leading scorer this season. Included below are the Over/Under Scoring Average Lines I set for the five players who have the best chance of assuming that role. The odds for each of those players to end this season as the Cavs second leading scorer are also below.
Projecting the Cavaliers Second Leading Scorer for the 2012-13 NBA Season:
5.) Anderson Varejao: Andy quickly developed a nice chemistry with Kyrie Irving on the offensive end last season. He didn't play that many games, but Irving did connect with Varejao on dives to the basket and flashes across the lane for scoring plays at the rim while he was out there. Varejao will also have his share of put-back opportunities this season, as I expect he leads the team in offensive rebounding. He's a 7.3 point per game scorer for his career though, who's never averaged more than 10.8. I expect him to be between 10 and 11 again this season, but no more than that.
Over/Under on Points Per Game: 11.3
Second Leading Scorer Odds: 15 to 1
4.) Alonzo Gee: Before you suggest that Alonzo will have more of an opportunity to average over the 10.6 points he did last season, keep in mind that he already played 29 minutes per game last year. Jamison led the Cavs in playing time last season at 33.1 minutes per night. So let's assume that Gee's playing time stays just about the same in whatever role he assumes - maybe he averages 31 minutes per night instead of 29. Like Varejao, I do expect him to be up over 10 points per game again this season. I don't think he averages more than 12.5 though and I expect him more in the just-over-11-range.
Over/Under on Points Per Game: 11.9
Second Leading Scorer Odds: 12 to 1
3.) Tristan Thompson: I realize I outwardly root for Tristan Thompson. I actually root for all the Cavaliers, but his development is especially critical. That said, I'm being unbiased when I suggest that he could have a better than expected season scoring the basketball. Like Anderson, he will create his share of put-back opportunities. He'll also get dunks in transition and catch lobs from Irving in the half-court. Will he be able to find an effective post move? Knock down the 12-foot jump shot? I'm not sure. But he will play more than the 23 minutes per night he averaged last season. In 30 minutes this time around, with the energy level he plays at, I think he scores at least 12 points per game. Seriously. But not more than 14.
Over/Under on Points Per Game: 12.2
Second Leading Scorer Odds: 8 to 1
2.) Dion Waiters: Here's where it gets real interesting. In an honest moment, I'll readily admit that Dion Waiters could average anywhere between 6 and 16 points per game this season. Meaning, I'm honestly not sure right now. I continue to believe he will have enough shot opportunities over the course of the season to be this team's second leading scorer. I also think that his skill-set will translate once he becomes more comfortable with the offense. The best situation for the Cavs would be that Waiters is the second leading scorer, coming in at about 15 per night during his rookie season. I realize people might bet the under right now, and maybe I'll have to move the line accordingly, but I think his potential to get 16 is too real to completely ignore.
Over/Under on Points Per Game: 13.9
Second Leading Scorer Odds: 4 to 1
1.) CJ Miles: I'm about to tell you that a guy who's only averaged double-digits once during a seven-year NBA career will arrive in Cleveland and average 15 points per game for the Cavs this season. Part of the reason is because this team will need somebody to score those points and I'm not sure there's anyone else besides Dion with the potential to actually get that many. It's no knock on Anderson, Tristan or Alonzo either. They will lead the team in rebounding and defensive production while also scoring some themselves. But somebody needs to score at a relatively high level to help this team put enough points on the board to win. Edge goes to CJ Miles right now in that category for me. Even though he averages 8.4 for his career with his best season to date being 12.8.
Over/Under on Points Per Game: 14.5
Second Leading Scorer Odds: 3 to 1
Sixty to one odds that it's somebody from outside this group. Hit me up on Twitter and let me know what you think.
Following along on Twitter last night I realized why the Cavaliers hadn't put any of their preseason games on television yet. Or at least maybe why they hadn't.
The preseason Cavaliers product isn't all that much to get excited about. Collectively, they looked real awful in Philadelphia. The impression that Cavs fans went away with after their first real chance to see what this year's group might look like wasn't awesome.
It is the preseason though. Luke Harangody didn't even play.
Right, deep breath, things will get better.
Just not so much better that you'll be watching a playoff game in Cleveland this season. That's my assesment at this point, subject to change and back-dated editing of course. Unless the stars align and Kyrie Irving can max out (no Pepsi pun intended) on his potential while Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters all do the same.
Chill out on Waiters for right now too.
He didn't look good in his 27 minutes of work last night, I'll grant you that. But he was making his NBA debut, sort of, in his hometown of Philadelphia. If I ever made an NBA team, and then traveled back to Eastlake Middle School for my first preseason game, I'd be mad nervous too.
I imagine Dion Waiters felt at least a little bit of that last night. His Mom was in the house along with who knows how many friends, and all of South Philly had the game locked in on local television.
It's unavoidable for any human to not put extra pressure on themselves in situations like that. Million dollar athletes who are 20 years old included.
That's why you can't just look at Waiters' performance by saying: +/- of -13, 0-5 shooting from three, 2 for 7 overall from the floor - yikes.
He did have 0 turnovers as well, along with 2 steals, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds, for example. Hopefully it was one more step in the preseason learning process. If he goes 2 of 7 consistently during each of his first 35 real games, then I'll be right next to you getting worried.
But he didn't, we're not even close to that point, and it's still all good.
Kyrie Irving had 23 points in 27 minutes. Tristan Thompson finished with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). Tyler Zeller started off pretty well during his 13 minutes of work too, then finished 3 of 6 for 6 points and 2 rebounds.
Not terrible for the young big from North Carolina against a frontline with Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young. Even with Andrew Bynum out, those two guys are pretty solid.
What I am interested to see when things tip off for reals though, is how exactly the Cavaliers will score enough points to win games.
I've already mentioned all the shot attempts that Antawn and AP packed into their respective Gucci Bags as they left the Cavaliers offensive attack from last season forever. Where do those shots now come from? That's the biggest question for this team in the short-term.
I suppose the answer might be that "Masfresco" becomes the Spanish term for "Scoring Machine". C.J. Miles is going to be asked to score a ton of points for this team I think. A ton more than he's used to. As it stands right now, it kinda looks like Miles is going to need to average 15 or 16 points for this team to be competitive.
Unless, of course, Daniel Gibson scoring the 18 points he did last night in Philly is something we'll see with more regularity. Probably going to need to be Miles though.
Or else Luke Walton.
Kidding about Uncle Luke. Trying to keep it light here. No reason for doom and gloom right now, it's only preseason.
Next game isn't until October 23rd. Meanwhile, Byron Scott will be running these guys until their legs fall off.