Heading into the 2012-13 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are, in a sense, lucky. Unlike a fair amount of NBA teams, they have their lead scoring option set and can rely on that player to sail them through choppy waters.
And without a doubt, Kyrie Irving deserves to be the chief scorer on this team. He can shoot, score off the pick-and-rolls and also shoots a respectable 86.2 percent from the free throw line. He also has proven time and time again that, at the end of the game, with victory in the balance, he can come up big, even on a night where he struggled.
But on the flip side of Irving and his scoring prowess lies arguably one of the biggest question marks for this upcoming season. It is a question Mike Brown and his staff of coaches will solve sooner rather than later and the answer is also likely to change multiple times over the course of 82 games.
That question is this: Who will be the Cavaliers second scoring option?
Think about that for a second…If you are like me, not one definite name comes to mind. And when you finally think of one (for me, it was Andrew Bynum, followed by Dion Waiters), only questions arise. There isn’t a good, solid answer to this. And – God forbid Irving goes down for a long period of time again – we’ll be looking at a similar situation as last season, where the Cavaliers often struggled to function offensively without Irving to pace their scoring efforts.
There are three tiers of players who can make a claim to being the second scoring option. They all have their pluses – and their minuses – but a decision will have to be made sooner rather than later. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look the possible Robin’s to Kyrie’s Batman.
The Top Tier: The Leaders
The Players: Andrew Bynum & Dion Waiters
If consistently healthy and/or 75 percent of his former self, Bynum is the only real option. First off, the pick-and-rolls between him and Irving (with a C.J. Miles-type posted on the wing for insurance) have the potential to be deadly. It’s hard to imagine how you would defend that duo; if you double down on Bynum, you’re leaving Irving wide open for jumpers he’ll probably hit. If you collapse on Irving, you’re essentially giving away two points to Bynum in the paint. And if you defend both adequately, there is still a shooter like Miles or Sergey Karasev on the wing to worry about.
The obvious issue here is the health of Bynum. If he’s not healthy consistently, it’s too risky to invest in him as a second option for the entire season.
That brings me to Waiters, the second year shooting guard out of Syracuse. Looking at his statistics from his rookie year – 41.2 percent shooting per 36 minutes, 31.0 percent from three per 36 minutes, a PER of 13.8, etc. – don’t exactly scream second scoring option. However, there is a case to be made.
There were times last season – like the Miami game in February – where he preformed at a high level. In that Miami game – where Irving was out, mind you – Waiters was 11-of-17 from the field, good for 26 points and a shooting percentage a shade below 65 percent in 31 minutes on the court. Games like that can give General Manager Chris Grant, Brown and his staff hope that Waiters can be a legitimate scoring threat in the NBA.
The downside to Waiters is that he was erratic as a rookie (for example, in March, Waiters shot 50 percent one game and 28.6 the next), and that has continued so far into the preseason this year. Against Orlando, Waiters was 8-of-13 from the field, scoring 21 points in just 25 minutes. But in two other games, against Charlotte and Milwaukee, he was a combined 6-of-18 from the field, good for 17 total points.
Still, one of these two Cavaliers is probably going to be the second option behind Irving. But if it’s not them, it likely will be one of the three from the next group.
The Middle Tier: The Risky Plan Bs
The Players: Anthony Bennett, Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao
This second group is oozing with potential. Bennett could be a destructive pick-and-pop power forward that is a perfect match for Irving in the pick-and-roll game. Plus, you aren’t taking someone with the top pick to ride the bench. Jack, while only averaging 11.0 points per game in his eight NBA seasons, averaged 17.2 in the postseason for Golden State last season. As for Varjeao, when he was healthy a year ago, he thrived in putting pack second-chance shots, which could again work in his favor considering some of the shoot-first lineups (example: Irving, Waiters, Karasev, Bennett and Varejao), I could see the Cavaliers running this season with regularity.
But, again, there are issues that cannot be ignored with all three of these players. For starters, Bennett is going to have to not only be in shape, but also prove he can play defense for Brown. Couple that with competing head-to-head with countryman Tristan Thompson for minutes (who I have a feeling will be a Brown favorite) and he may not see enough floor time to be a real factor. In Jack’s case, his postseason numbers were higher than any he had put up previously and, as a sixth man, may not be on the floor enough to be counted on to score. Plus, relying so heavily on a backup for scoring could result in an Irving-dominant, stagnated first-team offense that is reminiscent of the LeBron James-era Cavaliers teams.
That brings us to Varejao, who may be at the head of this pack. If healthy, he is going to be effective. But he also has more questions heading into the season than anyone not named Bynum. Can he be healthy? Will be play enough to be a force? Was his improved jump shooting last season an anomaly? Is he going to be cast a role player? These are all things we won’t know for a while, which could open the door for the next group of Cavaliers.
The Bottom Tier: The Wild Cards
The Players: Tristan Thompson, C.J. Miles, Sergey Karasev
Unless something goes horribly wrong, I don’t expect any of these players to actually enter the conversation. But considering how last year went and other years played themselves out, wackier things have happened.
For Thompson, he could be a factor if his shooting is much improved and he is consistent enough. From his rookie season to his sophomore campaign, his shooting percentage increased from 43.9 percent per 36 minutes to 48.8 percent per 36. Another jump like that, coupled with good rebounding, could mean he gets major minutes. Still, I think a high number of injuries would have to occur for Thompson to be in this discussion. He’s too raw and others are more fluid than him on offense.
The same goes for Miles. He was often hot last season, but his minutes may be cut by Karasev, Earl Clark and other Cavs on the wing. He also isn’t a great defender, which is only going to hurt him in Brown’s eyes as he figures out his rotation.
As for the Russian rookie, it’s a long shot. He’d have to jump several players and really impress Brown, but in the right situation, I could see him maybe being a key shooter off the bench. Asking more would be far too much at this stage.
In the end, this has to come down to Bynum, Waiters and someone from that middle pack. Early on, I expect Brown and his staff to experiment with different lineups until they find someone they like – and who is healthy – and stick with it. Bynum, for obvious reasons, is going to get his shot first and he’ll probably get multiple chances over the course of 82 games to prove himself. Even at 75 percent of his former self, he’s a force few can handle in the middle. From there, I say test Waiters. While too early to fully write the book on what he can and cannot do, it is time to throw him in with the wolves and see how he responds to having to help carry a team. But if either one fails to handle the load, expect another long season of Cavaliers basketball where it’s the Kyrie Irving show on a nightly basis and we won’t know who his Robin will be.