The 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers season is upon us, ladies and gentleman, and we here at More Than A Fan: Cleveland could not be anymore excited. We’re so excited, in fact, that we just had to put a roundtable preview together for all of you to read. We want you to be as ready and excited for what is supposed to be an epic season as we are.
Contributing to this preview with me are fellow MTAF Cavs writers Demetri Inembolidis and Eddy Jansen. If you haven’t done so, make it a point to check out what they write. I know I enjoy reading their work and you will too.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say this was a fun project to work on. There are obviously enormously different aspects of this year’s Cavs team than in the previous four years. This includes everything from LeBron James coming back to the absurdly humungous new scoreboard Owner Dan Gilbert is spoiling us with.
Here, we’ll talk about what to expect from the team as a whole and from the individual players. Also, we’ve added some quick predictions for this upcoming season throughout the NBA including awards and who will be in the Finals.
Without further ado, here’s what we think you should watch for as this Cavs season begins.
What is the Cavs’ biggest strength?
Demetri Inembolidis: The obvious answer is offense. They will have answers for any defense that is thrown at them. They have elite three point shooters, great passers at multiple positions and high basketball IQ guys. A LeBron James/Kevin Love pick-and-roll with Kyrie Irving and any combination of Dion Waiters, Mike Miller or Matthew Dellavedova lurking beyond the three-point line has so many potent options.
It’s going to be a fun year.
Eddy Jansen: The greatest strength is floor spacing. Whenever LeBron, Irving, or Love goes to the rim, they will always draw a double team. Sharpshooters Mike Miller, James Jones, Dion Waiters, and others will see their 3-pt percentages jump through the roof with so many open looks.
Dan Armelli: Transition offense. The Cavs have a great mix of incredible athletes, smart players, and talented passers. These are all needed in order to be a great team in transition. We all talked about it before preseason, and we saw it on the court: Kevin Love is a tremendous outlet passer on the break. Then you include guys like LeBron, Tristan, Dion, etc. who can finish with a thunderous dunk? It’s going to be something for opposing teams to be cognizant of from possession-to-possession, which could lead to even more defensive rebounds for the Cavs.
What is the Cavs’ biggest weakness?
DI: There is another obvious answer here and that is defense. The Cavs will have to be at least average on defense if they want to contend for an NBA championship. That shouldn’t be too difficult given the talent on the squad. The 2009-2010 Cavs team that started Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, JJ Hickson, and Shaquille O’Neal for most games were able to notch the 7th best defense in the NBA.
If they can work out the potential defensive issues, the only thing that can stop them is health.
EJ: The greatest weakness is lack of cohesion. LBJ has played with Miller, Jones, and Varejao, but that is about it. Plus it will take a while for Love and Irving to learn how to play alongside not one, but two more superstars. The Heat started out 9-8 in LeBron’s first year, the Cavs might have a similar fate.
DA: Team defense. This is another thing we’ve seen in the preseason (see: LeBron “setting a pick” on Delly). Blatt said himself, “Defense is the side of the floor where you adapt less and teach more.” These guys are going to have to learn what Blatt expects, when to switch off on picks, and overall communication on the floor. At some point, hopefully this season, the Cavs will be able to play defense with each other and just know where each guy is going to be on the floor. But, at least to start, it’ll be a big work in progress.
Who will have the easiest transition playing with this new Cavs team?
DI: I know that he wasn’t on the team last year but LeBron James is going to go from a team where he had to do everything to one where he has an elite ball-handler to initiate offense. He is coming from a Heat team that required him to be the best rebounder to one that has Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao. LeBron James will be able to play less games and minutes and will be called on to do less when he plays. Being on this team for the foreseeable future should extend the life of his career.
EJ: LeBron. He has been here before. Some nights he will score 25 on talent alone.
DA: Tristan Thompson. I think with the way this team was put together (h/t to David Griffin), it helps Tristan immensely. In the first three years of his career, as a fourth overall pick, he was expected to do a lot in an ample amount of minutes right off the bat. This is especially true considering the amount of time Varejao spent healing from injuries. Thompson was forced into situations he just wasn’t ready for – even though that might actually help him in the end. Now, he just needs to focus on the things he’s good/great at – getting rebounds, playing gritty defense, and cleaning up around the rim. No longer is it important for him – on on this team – to transform into a stretch four.
Who will have the hardest transition?
DI: Dion Waiters will have a difficult time transitioning. He was the 2nd option on offense last year and thinks of himself as a bigger star than he is. In fact, it is up for debate if he even is one. Having said that, Kevin Love will have the hardest transition. He was The Man in Minnesota. He was able to put up gaudy numbers where the offense ran through him and that simply will not be the case as this team is currently constructed.
EJ: I don’t think anyone will have a hard time scoring with the floor spacing they will have. So the P.R. department maybe?
DA: I hate to say it, but I think it’ll be Dion Waiters. I don’t see many guys on this team having significant struggles; the players fit so well. But Dion is a guy that loves the ball in his hands and taking ill-fated shots. With LeBron, Love, and Kyrie on the floor alongside him, he’ll have to pick and choose his spots. At the same time, I love his alpha-dog mentality, even if he’s the fourth best player on the floor. He’ll need to work on limiting his contested shots, and driving the lane and drawing fouls. Spend some time away from Mid-range Township.
Where will the Cavs rank defensively?
DI: I think that they will be an average defensive team by the time the season is complete. It will be interesting to see how the team performs defensively as every month passes. It’s possible that they are abysmal on defense. The sky is not falling if that happens. They are aware that there are holes in the roster and the front office can and will improve the team using assets that they have accumulated.
EJ: The Cavs have great individual defenders, but several younger players can be liabilities. Assuming LeBron’s tenacious defense rubs off on the less experienced players, the Cavs should be fine on the defensive end of the floor. With Varejao, Love, and Thompson, they should be an excellent rebounding team.
DA: As I said before, there will be some growing pains with this team on the defensive side of the ball. Most of the guys that have thrived on defense are well into their NBA careers; guys like LeBron, Shawn Marion, and Mike Miller. There are also younger vets on this team that have the potential to be good on this side of the floor, but haven’t been consistent: Kyrie, Dion, and Tristan. Optimistically, I think towards the end of the season we’ll see the Cavs start to really click on defense, but throughout the season, they’ll probably be towards the lower middle of the league.
Where will the Cavs rank offensively?
DI: They will be the best offensive team by a wide margin. When you have guys like Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton saying that they have the ability to be a “historically great offensive team,” there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be the best team on that side of the court out of thirty.
EJ: Offensively, you have to double-team three players. That will give five feet of space for any shooter on the floor. They scored nearly 108 points per game in the preseason, look for that to mold into reality in the regular season.
DA: There’s no question this should be one of the top teams in the whole league and tops in the Eastern Conference. On offense, the Cavs aren’t just top-heavy with three All Stars plus Dion and Andy, they’ll have some bench scoring and shooting with Mike Miller, and Shawn Marion. Delly, Joe Harris, and James Jones will also be expected to make a scoring impact at various points in the season. With the amount of championship vets on this team, the Cavs’ basketball IQ and passing is also superior to most teams. The only thing that can stop them from being the best offensive team in the league is how little they’ve all played as a unit.
Which bench player will make the biggest impact?
DI: Whichever center ends up not starting will have the biggest impact. Whether that’s Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao remains to be seen. Both of those guys thrive on playing hard and will benefit greatly from having room to operate. Tristan Thompson will never be mistaken for a star player, but he will put up gaudy numbers whether or not he comes off the bench. The same can be said for Varejao. He is going to be asked to do a lot less this year and hopefully that translates into winning basketball and fewer injuries.
(Editor’s note: This was written before Varejao was named the starter. But the point remains; whoever comes off the bench at center for the Cavs should have a significant impact.)
EJ: Depends… if Dion goes back to the bench, it’s him hands down. Other than that, Double-T or whoever doesn’t start at center.
DA: I’m going to go out on a limb with this one and say Joe Harris. I’ve written before that he’ll probably switch back-and-forth between Cleveland and Canton, but that was before I saw him in preseason. I thought the Cavs would take it slow with his development, but it looks like they’re really confident with this rookie. Harris played in six of the seven preseason games, averaging 18.8 minutes per game, 2.5 rebounds 1.7 assists, and 7.8 points on 37.5% (15-40) shooting, including 36% (9-25) from 3. He’s potentially a great fit for this team, possessing the ability to space the floor, distribute, and be a pest defensively.
I think Marion is the safe choice here, but watch out for Harris.
Which new Cavalier are you most looking forward to watching?
DI: LeBron James. We’ve seen this movie before, but this time it will be a lot more fun. He has matured and embraced Northeast Ohio. He’s the best player in the world and has made it known that his presence in the area is bigger than basketball. Watching him dominate on the court is going to be great, but seeing his newfound enthusiasm for representing the Cavs is going to be an emotionally charged experience.
EJ: I guess I only have two choices… I want to watch Love, you know what LBJ can do, and Kyrie has been here for 4 years now.
DA: Hands down Kevin Love. With him on the Cavs, my two favorite players in the league are now on the team (along with Varejao). Love’s been a favorite of mine at least since 2012 when I put out the fanboy tweet below. Love’s skillset is pretty much made up of all the things I would want if I were an NBA player. He can rebound, pass, and shoot with the best of them at his position. I’ve wanted him on the Cavs for so long and for it to actually happen is astonishing. Hopefully he’ll be in Cleveland for a long time.
What would make this Cavs season a failure?
DI: Anything short of the Finals will be a disappointment. The Bulls are a formidable opponent and a worthy adversary, but they simply do not have the star talent that the Cavs have. Losing in the conference finals would not be the same as doing so in 2009. That was considered an upset, but hindsight shows that it was LeBron and a lot of role players. The current Cavs team is stacked with star talent and championship-level veterans to come off the bench.
JE: Selfishness… or the San Antonio Spurs
DA: I think there’s a 5% chance that I actually consider it this way at the end of the season. I think the only way this season is a disappointment is if they get bounced in the first round with all of their Big 3 healthy. Losing to what will most likely be the 7th or 8th seed in the East would be pretty deflating. As long as they advance past the first round, this season won’t be a failure, in part because of all the new players on this team. Like LeBron said, Rome wasn’t built in one day. I’m willing to be patient this year.
Will the Cavs win the 2014-15 NBA Championship?
DI: My heart says no, but I also find it hard to not talk myself into the Cavs beating any contending opponent. I think that it will take time for things to gel and that the lack of playoff experience for Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Love will be an issue in late May or June. However, this team is too talented to pick against. I am going on record to predict that the Cavs will win the championship in June.
EJ: Just like year one in Miami, I think they will be in it, but some lucky Western Conference team beats them.
DA: I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think so. That’s not to say they don’t have a chance, because they certainly do. But the overriding theme for me when it comes to the Cavs’ “downfall” or whatever their Achilles heel will be is the lack of chemistry on this team. It’s just hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of a team assembling so many new pieces and going out and winning a championship right off the bat. More often than not, established teams are the one’s that are able to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Demetri Inembolidis: LeBron James. Voter fatigue is gone, Durant will be injured for a decent portion of the year and the “coming home” narrative is too much to ignore.
Eddy Jansen: Kevin Durant.
Dan Armelli: I have no reason to go against LeBron other than to just be different. He’s the best player in the league and has the most help he’s ever had.
Rookie of the Year
DI: Jabari Parker. He’s going to get all of the shots in Milwaukee.
EJ: Jabari Parker.
DA: As much as I want to say Nerlens Noel, the 76ers are just horrendous. So I’ll go with Jabari Parker. He’ll be the number one option for the Bucks and he’s as polished as they come for a rookie.
Most Improved Player
DI: Lance Stephenson is going to have a bigger role in Charlotte. He is going to be scoring at a higher clip and will likely lead the NBA in triple doubles for a second season in a row. The Most Improved Player award is his to lose.
EJ: Dwight Howard.
DA: For whatever reason, Steven Adams was benched for the majority of the season in favor of Kendrick Perkins. Adams will break out this year and show the league what he’s all about. He has the potential to be a solid all-around center.
Coach of the Year
DI: Stan Van Gundy. David Blatt (who will be coaching the Eastern Conference All Star team in February) is a good bet, but Van Gundy will take a miscast roster of knuckleheads and “me-first” guys and turn them into a playoff team. It’s pretty clear that the Pistons were tanking last year to avoid giving up their draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets. If they play hard all year and find organic improvement, the award is Van Gundy’s to lose.
EJ: Doc Rivers.
DA: David Blatt has been well spoken of by his former players and personnel around the NBA. With a plethora of high caliber players to work with, I think he’ll be able to earn the award in his first year in the NBA.
Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding
1. Cavaliers – Any opposers?
2. Bulls – A healthy Rose is a must, or they could slide.
3. Nets – Lionel Hollins will make them much tougher, Deron Williams should be galvanized by the return of Brook Lopez.
4. Heat – Old and not very athletic, but will surprise people. Wade is healthier than most will admit. Bosh will get more touches.
5. Hawks – Were the #3 seed up until January of last season; Horford’s return is huge.
6. Wizards – Still missing a piece or two for a serious run, Pierce’s experience should help though.
7. Hornets – Al Jefferson continues to be the most undervalued player in the league.
8. Raptors – Hard to envision Kyle Lowry having a repeat season from last year while not searching for a new contract.
I think the Wizards will have the better record, but the Atlantic champion Raptors get the higher seed with the Cavs and Bulls already occupying the top spaces for interdivision teams.
Western Conference Playoff Seeding
1. Spurs – Even after all these years, there is still enough gas left in the tank.
2. Clippers – Best rebounding team in the NBA, Paul and Griffin are both MVP candidates.
3. Warriors – Steve Kerr will get the most out of his scorers Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and David Lee.
4. Thunder – Durant’s injury won’t make them slip that far, but they still need help.
5. Mavericks – Still trying to make Dirk’s last few years meaningful; made some nice off-season pickups.
6. Grizzlies – A leaner Marc Gasol gives a tough team a go-to guy offensively.
7. Blazers – Still looking to improve defensively. Lillard will go off after being cut from USA team.
8. Suns – Dragic, Bledsoe, and newcomer Isaiah Thomas make them the most athletic team.
6. Trail Blazers
DI:Cavs beat the Clippers in 6.
EJ: Clippers over Cavaliers.
DA: Spurs over Cavs (hopefully in more than 4).