Welcome to the fifty-seventh installment of Right Down Euclid’s “Weekly Roundtable.” This Friday Trevor Magnotti and Dan Pilar sit down and discuss the latest trending topics concerning your Cleveland Cavaliers and the NBA. The combination of rotating RDE duos answer three questions regarding the hometown Wine and Gold and two questions surrounding the league.
Today the discussion revolves around Anderson Varejao’s health, reporting on Tristan Thompson switching shooting hands, possible breakout Cavaliers, team to pull for this season (other than the Cavs) and the chances that the Atlanta Hawks and/or the New York Knicks miss the playoffs.
First Question: How crucial to winning games is Varejao’s health this season?
Trevor Magnotti: Of course it’s crucial. Varejao is the Cavs’ best defensive player, and a pretty good offensive rebounder to boot. He’ll help space the floor on offense and protect the rim on defense, two things the Cavs have to be better at this season. Also, with Andrew Bynum not necessarily a guarantee to play much this season, it’s going to be even more important that Varejao plays a good amount this season. If he can’t, and Bynum doesn’t spend a ton of time on the active roster, then that will leave Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson to play the five, which worked oh so well last season. I think the Cavs can still be better even if Varejao goes down again, but I feel that Varejao is the difference between a playoff appearance and a 33-win season.
Dan Pilar: Considering he averaged 14 and 14 before his season-ending injury, I’m going to say his health will be very important for the team. But not only his stats, his energy is going to be most crucial to the team. He hasn’t been a player the Cavs can rely on due to his injury problems during his career, but we brought in some depth to the frontcourt, so maybe some shorter shifts will help that. I will call this season a success if we can get Varejao and Bynum to play 82 regular season games combined.
Second Question: Lee Jenkins recently wrote about Tristan and the switch to the right hand for shots. How often will we see Thompson shooting outside of 10 feet, will he be able to average a double-double and will we see him shooting free throws like he did in the summer for his country (almost 80 percent)?
TM: I think Thompson’s going to shoot more from deep, mainly because he took a full 99 shots outside 10 feet last year. I’d expect that number to increase due to his new confidence, as well as an increased emphasis on outside shooting that I think we’ll see this season. However, I don’t expect it to be a major part of the offense for TT, because there are so many other valuable mid-range guys on the roster, and Thompson will usually be more effective as a rebounder than shooter. As for his double-double status, I think it’s a possibility, but it depends on the injury status of the centers. If he’s suddenly forced to be the main rebounder and post option again, I could totally see something like 14/11 from Thompson. However, I think somewhere around 14/9 is more likely. Finally, I think free throw shooting will get better for Thompson, but 80 percent in a small sample size seems a little too ambitious. I’d settle for somewhere around 72 percent.
DP: Thompson can train all he want, work on whatever hand he wants, but my only concern with him is how he will play with Varejao. Prior to Varejao going down for the season, Thompson struggled on offense, averaging about eight points per game. When Varejao went down in mid December, the next month Thompson’s numbers skyrocketed to 15 points and 11 rebounds. That’s the Tristan I want. It is still to be determined if he can do it with Varejao in the lineup.
Third Question: Which Cavalier are you expecting to have a breakout season?
TM: I feel like it has to be Thompson, if anyone, right? Thompson seems like the safest bet to take a jump this season, due to his vast improvements last season, as well as the hand change for shooting. I feel that Thompson won’t have a huge improvement again like he did last season, but he should jump from decent two-way player to quality starting NBA power forward. I feel that unless Kyrie Irving becomes an MVP candidate, Thompson is the only real eligible candidate to “break out.” I don’t have confidence in Tyler Zeller to make a big leap, and Dion Waiters isn’t consistent enough to make any sort of real conclusion or prediction about his season. Therefore, I feel you have to go with Thompson.
DP: Kyrie said he wants to be the best player in he league, so I gotta go with him. But there’s always the injury problem he goes through. If he can avoid the “freak” injuries as he described a few of them, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be in the discussion for MVP. Chris Grant has surrounded him with talent, and if they can all stay injury free — which is highly unlikely — this will be a successful team. However, if Mike Brown doesn’t work on Irving’s defense, then he will only be considered a “one-way player” and won’t be in serious consideration for MVP.
Fourth Question: Which team (other than the Cavs, of course) are you rooting for this year that you haven’t in years past?
TM: I generally pull for fast-paced, fun, versatile teams. This past season, outside of the Cavs, I watched a lot of Nuggets, Warriors, Timberwolves, and Knicks. All of these teams were incredibly fun to watch because of fast pace, shooting barrages, flair and off-court antics, and J.R. Smith, respectively. These allegiances change as rosters change, and new teams surface every year. This season, the Timberwolves and Warriors are still high on the list, as both teams actually look like they will be more fun this year. In addition, I’ll be watching three teams with a particularly close eye. The Pelicans made a radical shift this offseason from mediocrity to being somewhat of an enigma on both ends, albeit a fun one because of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Anthony Davis. The Nets are also on the list, because like the Knicks last season, it feels like everyone is counting this team out, even though the roster is stacked. Even if they are a tad old and banged up, this team goes nine deep with quality guys and will have a very interesting look to it. Finally, I feel I have to cheer for the Wizards, if only because the team is so similar to the Cavaliers, and I really enjoy Wizard of Awes, the Wizards FanSided site.
DP: I’ll be silently cheering for the Bulls. I believe Chicago has the best opportunity of taking down the Miami Heat in the playoffs. Indiana came close two consecutive years but couldn’t pull off the upset. With D-Rose coming back, that brings new life into this team that made a surprising run in the playoffs. I suggest all Cavalier fan to do the same.
Fifth Question: More likely to miss the playoffs: Hawks or Knicks?
TM: Neither? Truthfully, the East is so top and bottom heavy that I can’t really see either team missing the playoffs. Outside of the Top 4, the Hawks and Knicks’ biggest competition (CLE, DET, TOR, WAS) all have a ton of variables that will make them bigger question marks than these two teams. I don’t think there’s any way Atlanta misses the playoffs with this unit. They have a hyper-competitive unit centered around Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Paul Millsap, and a new coach who should foster improvement in Mike Budenholzer. So I guess to answer the question, it would have to be the Knicks, because if they have another year of injury circus with J.R., Tyson Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire, I could potentially see this team having major struggles, enough so that teams like Detroit and Washington could surpass them. However, I see that as highly unlikely. Even battered and bruised, Carmelo Anthony can drag this team to a seven seed.
DP: I really don’t expect either team to miss the playoffs, but I’ll go with Atlanta. New York has one of the best players in the league in Carmelo Anthony, and if he doesn’t shrink in the playoffs, they can make a good run with the other talent they have. Even though Atlanta didn’t make a big splash in free agency, they still made some nice offseason moves. Danny Ferry is off to a good start in Atlanta, and in a few years they will be toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
Make sure to check back next week to see what Trevor Magnotti and Zak Kolesar have to debate at the “Weekly Roundtable.”