2013-2014 NBA Preview: Central Division

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Oct 11, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown talks with point guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the first quarter during game against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers (39-43)

Here is another talented team with question marks up and down the roster. First, we have to start with Cleveland’s franchise player, and that is point guard Kyrie Irving.

Irving has made “the leap” in most people’s minds, and that places him among the 15-20 best players in the NBA. For some, he’s considered a top-10 option, but I have to stop short of that, simply because of his inability to stay on the court. Irving hasn’t cracked 60 games played in either of his 2 NBA seasons, and while the injuries haven’t been of the chronic variety, it’s tough to ignore that, especially with his lone college season also being cut short by injury. Absent that, however, there isn’t much to dislike. In 2012-2013, Irving averaged 22.5 points and 5.9 assists per game in less than 35 minutes, and his shooting numbers (45/39/86) place him among the best in the league at the guard spot. His handles are terrific, he’s a great shot maker and creator, and I don’t see an offensive weakness. Defensively, he’s subpar at this stage, but there was some growth in year #2, and with more offensive help on the way, he should be able to shift his focus more toward that end. I absolutely love Irving, and my fingers are crossed that he can play 70-75 games this year.

The Cavs also made three high-profile acquisitions in the off-season, and each are unique in their own way. First, Cleveland inked troubled (but uber-talented) big man Andrew Bynum to a non-guaranteed 2-year deal, and he’s penciled in as the starting center if he ever sees the court. Bynum missed all of last year (Philly is still mourning this) with knee issues, and he’s probably going to miss a chunk of the season this year, but when we last saw him at full strength, the 25-year-old (he’s still that young) averaged 18.7 points (with 56% shooting) and 11.8 rebounds per game in LA. It’s the ultimate risk/reward scenario, and if he “hits”, look out.

Then, the Cavs used the #1 overall draft pick on Anthony Bennett, and that was a surprise to basically everyone. I liked Bennett a lot coming out of UNLV, but no one had him at #1, and there are fit concerns with him, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao. Still, Bennett is a mega-talent and while he’s battling issues (sleep problems and asthma), he could be good right away. Lastly, Cleveland went out and gave former Georgia Tech point guard Jarrett Jack 4 years and $24 million to be Kyrie’s backup and/or running mate. Jack was awesome in Golden State last year and was a legitimate 6th man of the year candidate, but it’s a little bit unclear what they want from him. Jack’s strength is his ability to play with the ball, but the ball will undoubtedly rest in Kyrie’s hands the majority of the time, relegating him to the off-guard spot and battling 2nd-year guard Dion Waiters for minutes. I love Jack, and I think it will work, but it’s something to monitor moving forward.

The incumbent talent is also good, but troubled. Tristan Thompson is now most famous for switching hands at the free throw line (he really did this), but he’s a solid player who is great on the glass. The aforementioned Varejao is one of the best “role” players in the entire league, but he’s another guy who can’t stay on the floor, and they will desperately need his defense, especially if Bynum can’t play. In addition, Waiters was a pick that I didn’t like much out of Syracuse, but he certainly has a skill set as a volume shooter/scorer, and if Irving hits the injury skids again, the Jack/Waiters combination could be functional.

Deep down the bench, the Cavs are blessed with Alonzo Gee (who is secretly good), CJ Miles (ditto), Earl Clark (who was much improved with the Lakers last season), and former lottery pick Tyler Zeller. Gee will certainly be a factor in the rotation as a natural small forward, but the other player with upside is Zeller, who could see buckets of minutes when (not if) Bynum is out of the lineup.

I like Cleveland and I’ve seen many people project them as a “lock” playoff team. It’s certainly not out of the realm to see them finishing as the 5/6 seed in the East if everything goes right, but forgive me for not banking on the oft-injured Bynum to do anything, and there are still concerns about Varejao and Irving that won’t let me make that jump.