The roster for the 2013-2014 Cleveland Cavaliers is nearly set in stone, and that roster contains nine players under the age of 25. The Wine and Gold will enter the season as the youngest team in the entire league, with an average age of 23.8 years. The team has a nucleus built around four top-5 draft picks within the last three seasons, including two No. 1 overall selections. One of those top picks, Kyrie Irving, has not disappointed. The development of the other three players, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, are crucial to the team’s success in the near future.
Tristan Thompson, Third Year
Drafted by the Cavs fourth overall in 2011, Thompson has improved steadily since entering the Association. When he was drafted, major question marks surrounded his ability to score consistently due to a lack of fundamentals. Scouts praised his motor, ability to rebound and defend. Thompson showed real growth from his rookie season to his sophomore season. His RPG increased by nearly three, as well as his PPG. I have no doubt that we will continue to see Thompson blossom defensively, but my area of concern with his game is still on the offensive end of things. In order for him to really become an offensive threat, he must improve on his jump shot. Thompson’s overall field goal percentage last season was 49 percent, but he shot a weak 39.3 percent from 10-15 feet. And from the free throw line, Thompson only sunk 59.6 percent of his attempts. If he becomes more of a threat outside the paint, teams will no longer be able to sag off of him while he stands on the perimeter. His athletic ability and length will allow him to have no problem continuing to score in the key, but if he is able to work out the kinks in his jump shot, teams will really have to look out. Fortunately for Wine and Gold fans, Tristan understands the need for improvement and has devoted his summer to getting better from that distance. His trick? Switching shooting hands. The ambidextrous Thompson hopes that by shooting right handed this season he can improve from 10-15 feet and make himself even more of a threat. Time will only tell if the switch will pay off, but the boldness of the move shows his commitment to winning.
Dion Waiters, Second Year
In what came as a shock to many, the Cavaliers selected Waiters fourth overall in the 2012 draft. The shooting guard was selected to be Irving’s backcourt mate. By most standards, Dion’s rookie year would be considered a success. During All-Star weekend, Waiters participated in the Rising Stars game. On the season, he averaged 14.7 points and shot 41 percent from the field. From the three-point line, Waiters shot 31 percent. Offensively, I would like to see Dion improve on his shooting percentage. An easy way for him to go about that would be with a smarter shot selection. Instead of forcing up difficult jump shots, he should look to shoot within the flow of the game next season. By doing this, he will be shooting in more high percentage situations. Dion did not have too much trouble attacking the rim last year, and I look for him to only get better in that regard. If he begins to shoot a better percentage outside of the paint, defenders will have to play him more closely on the perimeter. In turn, this will make getting to the rim easier. On the other side of the court, Waiters needs to improve as well. He has the physical tools to be an above average defender, but he must still develop the will to defend. After playing under Jim Boeheim’s zone at Syracuse for two years, the switch last year to man-to-man coverage was not smooth. I look for Dion to become more comfortable this season defensively. Working with defensive-minded coach Mike Brown will certainly help as well. Taking more well advised shots and committing himself on the other side of the ball will result in a more productive Dion, and as a result, a better Wine and Gold basketball team.
Anthony Bennett, First Year
The selection of Bennett with the first pick in last year’s draft turned heads. Bennett was slated a high lottery pick by most scouts, but not many had predicted him to go first. Nonetheless, Chris Grant selected him. Bennett did not play in the Summer League due to a shoulder operation early in the summer. Bennett should be ready to go by training camp and the start of the season. When he finally does begin basketball activities with the Cavs, he will be counted on to produce. Bennett’s presence on the roster this year gives the team a player capable of being a consistent pick-and-pop type player. With the exception of Tyler Zeller (maybe), Bennett is the only frontcourt player equipped with a midrange jump shot. In college, he shot 38 percent from the three-point line. He will allow the Cavs to stretch the floor more this year, and by doing so, pave the way for Kyrie and Dion to get to the rim easier. Bennett needs to be an efficient rebounder this year. Many are concerned about his height and how that may affect his ability to defend the power forward position as well as rebounding over taller players. Bennett’s wingspan is over seven feet, so I do not look for that to be an area of concern. He just needs to have a consistent effort on the defensive side of the court and productivity will follow.
The Cavs will certainly be an improved team next year. Just how improved depends on the young core. There is no doubt, if healthy, that Kyrie will continue to improve on his already All-Star form. If Thompson can smooth out his jump shot, and if Waiter’s decision-making and defensive efforts improve, the Wine and Gold will certainly be in contention for the sixth or fifth playoff seed. But if newcomer Bennett is able to produce at the level a No. 1 selection should and spread the floor, the Cavs may compete for the fourth playoff spot. The ceiling is high for the 2013-14 Cavaliers, and if the young guns produce, they should have no problem holding the ceiling up.