Four Cleveland Cavaliers mentioned in SI’s Top 100


The Cleveland Cavaliers have been receiving a lot of off-season accolades after their more than impressive free agency/trading haul. Vegas odds have shot up, power rankings have the Cavaliers featured somewhere in the top five and three of the five starters are expected to be All-Stars. The buzz is real, but will the potential live up in LeBron James’ second term? Another list, however, will be able to preoccupy a little bit of our time before the real action starts.

This past week Sports Illustrated released their list of the Top 100 NBA Players of 2015, and four Cleveland Cavaliers made an appearance on the upcoming season’s rankings.

As you can already imagine, three of the four Cleveland players included in the rankings were featured in the top quarter of NBA players according to SI. On an even more predictable note, two of the players currently on the Cavs roster are featured in SI’s top 10, making the Cavaliers one of the best teams on paper heading into this NBA season. Teams close to the Cleveland Cavaliers in regards to featuring a lot of top 100 talent on their roster include the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat. But the most impressive roster, according to SI’s roster, belongs to Cleveland.

Four of the five Cavalier starters this season are featured on this list, with shooting guard Dion Waiters being the only starting Clevelander excluded. In order of how they appeared on SI’s list, below is where Sports Illustrated ranked four of the five Cleveland starters and what their writers had to say about each player’s potential for this upcoming season.

97. Anderson Varejao – Center

Varejao will benefit a lot from playing alongside Kevin Love, and that is a big reason why he cracks SI’s top 100. As you well know, Varejao has dealt with injuries as of late, but remember the last time Wild Thing was healthy? When LeBron James was in Cleveland. He’s back, and Varejao is excited to get to play by his old pal once again. Here is what Sports Illustrated had to say about Andy:

"LeBron James has singled out Varejao as one of his favorite teammates for obvious reasons: a high-energy, blue-collar big man with impressive rebounding rates and a commitment to defense.Not to mention a professionalism that was on display as the Brazilian big man endured four years of losing, injuries, trade rumors and coaching and front-office changes in Cleveland after James bolted for Miami. Even on a 33-49 team last season, Varejao made his mark in 65 games, his most since 2009-10: Cleveland was significantly better on both sides of the ball when he was on the court (103.5 offensive rating, 102.4 defensive rating) compared to when he was off (99.6 offensive rating, 106.7 defensive rating). The early-season stories will emphasize the importance of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving establishing chemistry, but the Cavaliers’ title hopes hinge just as much on Varejao’s ability to stay on the court. — B.G."

21. Kyrie Irving — Point Guard

It’s only right that Irving comes in one place before Damian Lillard, who many claim to be good, or even better, than Kyrie. According to SI’s rankings, Kyrie is the fifth-best point guard in the league, trailing Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Tony Parker. With teammates surrounding Kyrie in almost every facet, Kyrie has the chance to make a definitive statement and prove LeBron right in deeming him to have the potential to be the best point guard in the NBA this season. Sports Illustrated said the following about Irving:

"How insignificant does Irving’s flat-line 2013-14 season seem in comparison to the promise of the next half-decade of Cavaliers basketball?It wasn’t all bad for Irving, whose his flashy off-the-dribble game and confident approach earned him his second straight All-Star appearance. On that stage, Irving took home MVP honors, a distress flare to the league’s other stars that seemed to be saying, “I’m still the most promising young point guard in this league, someone come save me from this mess.” LeBron James and Kevin Love both arrive on their own terms, but they will certainly make life easier for Irving, who no longer needs to run the entire show on offense. Look for the No. 1 pick in 2011 to feast in the open court and in one-on-one situations when defenses load up on his All-Star teammates. His MVP performance at the FIBA World Cup gave viewers a taste of what he might look like if allowed more time and space, as Irving torched defenders off the dribble and made them pay for giving him too much daylight on the perimeter.Irving’s eagerness to turn over leadership responsibilities to James has been one of the most intriguing developments during a whirlwind summer. Those comments read like an indirect admission of failure last season, and they sounded like they were coming from someone who was ready to adopt a “sponge” approach to playing alongside one of the game’s all-time greats. It won’t take long for Irving to realize that James’ arrival will actually increase the constant pressure and scrutiny on all of his teammates, even as the four-time MVP shoulders the load on the court in ways they have never experienced before. How Irving handles the circus, at 22 and with no postseason experience, will be one of the major factors in determining how quickly James’ Cavaliers can contend for the championship. — B.G."

7. Kevin Love — Power Forward

The newest All-Star added to the Cavaliers roster is a top 10 talent according to Sports Illustrated. LeBron James wanted Love in Cleveland, so LeBron got what he wished. That did not necessarily happen in the front office during LBJ’s first seven years, but now it seems to be the case. And he seems to have a pretty good idea at what he’s doing. Although a lot of critics point holes in Love’s defense, playing beside LeBron James, arguably the most athletic defender in the game, and you are going to see vast improvements. Also, when you don’t have to focus on offense as much, your defense draws more attention. See what SI had to say about Love:

"To blame Love for what became of the Timberwolves last season is to miss the point entirely. During Love’s time on the floor, Minnesota registered the net rating of a top-10 team. It was when Love sat that the Wolves so often fell to pieces.Love’s credentials as a star really shouldn’t be subject to wild skepticism at this point, and yet he is strangely regarded — by fans and even by some in basketball operations — as if he were unproven. Instead, we find that Love is the only player in the last decade to average 26 and 13, which he has done twice (2013-14; 2010-11). Stretch back through the last 20 years of NBA history and the only other player to do so was Shaquille O’Neal. Just because Love played terrific basketball for a team that barely found its way to national broadcasts doesn’t mean his performance should be disqualified. Good, superstar-level basketball was being played in Minnesota last season, even as Love’s teammates did him a disservice and NBA fans at large focused their attention elsewhere.Neither will be the case next season. Love will encounter entirely new levels of success and attention in Cleveland, likely to the form of lazy, prewritten narratives regarding his “learning how to win.” But Love has been rolling for years now, especially since coming into his own as a shot creator. One doesn’t hit 26.1 points on 18.5 field goal attempts per game without the ability to manufacture offense, which Love does both inside and out. Working the ball into Love in the post yields a solid return via hooks, floaters, and turnaround jumpers. Getting the ball to Love on the move allows him to leverage the threat of a quick shot to create open driving lanes.While wielding that power, Love has no need to dominate the ball. He’ll put up shots and dictate offense, yet nowhere along the way will he grind down his team’s execution by surveying or over-dribbling. Love is a willing, capable passer beyond the breathtaking outlets — the kind of star who trusts the ball to come back to him. As put aptly by Love’s new coach, David Blatt: The ball has energy. Love feeds off that energy without stifling it, fueling team play while taking leadership in production.His feel for the game isn’t quite so natural on the other side of the floor. Love isn’t much of a defender, though he was particularly unfocused over the latter half of last season. With little to play for, Love idled in transition defense and sought box-out position before following through on his defensive responsibilities. He did whatever he could to avoid fouling. It was selfish and lazy. Were Love evaluated under the assumption that behavior would continue, he would not sit in this particular slot. He can do better, though, as we’ve seen through stretches of more disciplined play or even Love’s time with Team USA. He won’t soon be an overwhelming positive to a team defense, but Love has the potential — between mobility and defensive rebounding alone — to someday register as a mild positive. Getting out of Minnesota should set Love back on that track, landing with the Cavaliers should make things that much smoother.— R.M."

1. LeBron James — Forward

With LeBron returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he has a lot of expectations to meet. But he isn’t talking trash this time around. LeBron is not guaranteeing any championships right off the bat; this team will have to work every minute to earn a championship. David Blatt will not let this unit slack off, and neither will James. Sports Illustrated mentioned this about James:

"It should come as no surprise to see James’ name on top of the Top 100 once again. There are, and were, debates to be had about spots 3 through 100, but both James and Durant slid into their respective spots without so much as a whisper.The only truly fair standard for James to compare himself to at this stage of his career is himself. There simply isn’t another player capable of doing as many things as James does offensively, or a player capable of matching his versatility or combination of size, strength, quickness and agility. And there isn’t another player who matches overwhelming physical ability with elite basketball intelligence like James.Proceeding with the James vs. James comparison, 2013-14 was a perfectly respectable season by his standards, but not his best to date. That should be fairly self-evident: he didn’t win a championship, he didn’t win an MVP or a Finals MVP, he had to settle for an All-Defensive Second Team selection and he fell out of the No. 1 spot in PER and Win Shares for the first time in years. To top it off, his Heat took the most lopsided defeat of the “Big Three” era in the Finals against the Spurs.There were certainly victories along the way. He dumped a career-high 61 points on Charlotte, punked Lance Stephenson, and put together a glorious Game 2 in San Antonio. Perhaps most impressive is the ribbon that James tied on his 20s. Get this: the four-time MVP, who turns 30 in December, averaged at least 26 points, six rebounds and six assists in each of the last 10 years. That’s correct: from age 20 through 29, James never once slipped from that threshold. Guess how many other players matched those statistical marks over the last decade? Zero. Guess how many other players matched those marks in the decade before James entered the NBA? Zero. In fact, the last player to hit 26/6/6 for a season was Michael Jordan in 1992.James met with reporters at a Nike event this week, and it appeared obvious from his slimmed-down physique and upbeat demeanor that the prospect of returning to Cleveland has lifted his spirits following his Finals defeat. Younger sidekicks in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving present the possibility of a more fun-loving, up-tempo style of play, and a wide-open Eastern Conference offers the very real prospect of a fifth straight Finals appearance for James. How will James bend his game to his new surroundings and new teammates? How exactly will the Cavaliers’ pecking order shake out? These and many other questions make the Cavaliers the NBA’s headline story as the 2014-15 approaches. For James, sitting at the epicenter of the basketball world –- like occupying the No. 1 spot on a list like this –- must feel like home. — B.G."