As the Cleveland Cavaliers season slowly approaches, it’s time to look at how the Wine & Gold currently stack up at every position. This breakdown, the first of six, looks at the shooting guard position.
Position: Shooting Guard
Starter: Dion Waiters
Key Reserve(s): Jarrett Jack, C.J. Miles
Other Players under contract: Sergey Karasev, Jermaine Taylor
As the 2013-2014 season approaches, the shooting guard position for the Cleveland Cavaliers is solidly manned, with the chance to be a team strength due to its depth and upside. Second year guard Dion Waiters has come into camp in excellent shape and seems to be committed to head coach Mike Brown’s demands of focusing on defense and playing off the ball. Free agent signee Jarrett Jack may spend some time at shooting guard season when he plays alongside point guard Kyrie Irving. Swingman C.J. Miles returns to back up the shooting guard and small forward positions. Coming off the best season of his career, Miles is a talented if somewhat streaky scorer who is one of the best outside shooters on the team.
The fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Dion Waiters turned in a solid, if somewhat uneven, rookie season and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team at the end of last season. Waiters has shown an ability to get to the rim which, combined with his passing ability, creates opportunities for his teammates. This offseason, Waiters dedicated himself to improving his conditioning and has come to camp in excellent shape. He has also shown a willingness to work hard on the defensive end, a must for Brown. Despite being on the small side for a shooting guard, Waiters has the strength and athleticism to become an excellent defender. His combination of athleticism and ability to get to the rim have earned Waiters comparisons to Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.
Behind Waiters, the Cavaliers have two solid veterans in Jack and Miles. Jack signed with the Cavaliers after an exceptional season for the Golden State Warriors in which he finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting. Jack offers tremendous shooting and playmaking to go along with strong locker room leadership. Jack may see some time this season at shooting guard alongside Kyrie Irving, although Irving may actually be the off guard in this situation as Jack’s ball handling would allow Irving to work off the ball as a shooting threat. Miles resurrected his career with a solid season off the bench last year for the Cavaliers. A “have ball, will shoot” kind of player, Miles hit a career high 38 pecent from three last year to go along with a solid ability to put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. Finally, rookie Sergey Karasev brings an intriguing blend of skills to the team. An exceptional shooter and passer who has held his own on defense, Karasev seems to be a solid part of the team’s future even if he doesn’t play much this season. However, that future may be at small forward as the 6’7 Russian adds muscle..
Defense, Defense, Defense. While Waiters has potential on the defensive end, and seems to be willing to buy in to Brown’s philosophies, he had a rough year on that end as a rookie. Opposing shooting guards had a 16.4 PER against Waiters and small forwards lit him up for a PER of 18.8. While he showed some potential as an on-ball defender, Waiters was lost as a help defender, and would often lose his own man while following the ball, as Ray Allen will happily tell you. Jack and Miles are not terrible defenders, but both are somewhat inconsistent with their effort on that end. Surprisingly Jack is better guarding shooting guards than small forwards, as his solid size helps him and he is not hindered by his lack of elite quickness. Miles held opposing shooting guards to a miniscule 5.6 PER (14.1 for small forwards) last season, but never seemed to earn the confidence of former coach Byron Scott on that end. While Karasev plays fundamentally sound defense, his lack of quickness hurts him against shooting guards just as much as his lack of strength works against him while guarding small forwards.
Shot selection can also be a problem with this group. Waiters is known for taking off-balance jumpers when he could try for a better shot or pass off to an open teammate. His rookie PER of 13.7 and effective field goal percentage of .451 must improve this season. Unfortunately there has not been a big improvement in Waiters’ shot selection this preseason, although his shooting form has improved. Jack can become a bit trigger happy as well, particularly at the end of games. While he posted solid percentages, it wasn’t uncommon for Golden State fans to see Jack trying to be the hero at the end of games rather than deferring to shooter extraordinaire Stephen Curry. Miles rough start to last season was well documented, and his field percentage stayed under .300 until December as he worked his way out of his slump. Miles has been a streaky player throughout his career and this is unlikely to change this season. Finally, Karasev seems to be very confident in his outside shooting, and he should be. But until he shows he can put the ball on the floor and get inside near the basket, opposing defenders will have no reason to give him any space whatsoever.
Despite some concerns, I feel that shooting guard will emerge as a strength of the Cavaliers this season. Waiters is a highly competitive young man who sees himself as a future star in this league and seems to be willing to work hard to get there. While he may remain a bit of a chucker on offense, his work ethic and athleticism could easily put him in the top half of the league’s shooting guards (admittedly the weakest position in the NBA right now). Jack and Miles are solid veterans who could play minutes off the bench for any team in the league and ensure a minimum drop off when Waiters rests. Finally, Jack, Miles, and Karasev will enable to the Cavaliers to get some much-needed outside shooting from this spot. Don’t be surprised is these men combine with Irving to make one of the best backcourts in the NBA and help the Cavaliers return to contention.