The Cleveland Cavaliers head into this season with the most loaded roster in franchise history. Headlined by the big three of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and with Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and Anderson Varejao to be major contributors, the Cavs have championship aspirations and rightfully so. Throw in the offensive-mind of new head coach David Blatt, and Cav fans have 50 million1 reasons to be excited this season.
Cavs fans should also be excited by another Cavalier (and former Cavalier) heading into this season- rookie Joe Harris out of Virginia. The sweet-shooting guard was selected with the 33rd pick in this year’s draft and brings a variety of skills that could be very helpful this season. The other rookie on the Cavs roster this season2 is center Alex Kirk, out of New Mexico. The 252-pound shot blocker will likely spend majority of his rookie season in Canton but if injuries and poor rim protection hit Cleveland this season, Kirk could be called upon.
We will start out by looking at Harris. Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin always stresses the importance of ‘fit’ and Harris fits into Cleveland’s roster brilliantly. One of Cleveland’s biggest strengths this season will be floor spacing and three-point shooting. With the likes of Irving, Miller, Waiters, James, Love, Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones on the roster, the Cavs posses an array of three-point shooters. Like Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently said in his Cavaliers season preview3, “God help the NBA when (David) Blatt goes ultra-spacy with small-ball lineups like Irving-Waiters-Miller-James-Love.” The Cavs combination of floor spacing and three-point shooting will be deadly this season and throw Harris into the mix and it can only get better.
Harris’ jumpshot is the prettiest you will ever find. His footwork, jump, arc on his shot and release are all textbook. People say that Ray Allen, Stephen Curry or Kobe Bryant have the best looking jumpshot but I would put Harris right in that class. I’m not saying Harris’ jumper is as good as those players named but the prettiness of it and the way it looks is up with the greats.
Not only is Harris’ shot beautiful but the results co-exist with his textbook jumper. In his last season at Virginia, Harris shot 44.1% from the field and 40.0% from behind the arc. Even though Harris’ shooting numbers dropped from the pervious season (46.8% and 42.5% respectively) the numbers he posted last season were still outstanding. Along with the excellent shooting numbers, the way Harris gets his shot attempts off fits right into Blatt’s offensive system.
According to DraftExpress, 31.8% of Harris’ offensive possessions had him coming off screens, which was in the top ten of the entire nation. Harris has an uncanny ability to gather himself quickly and put up the shot, even with a defender in his face while coming off screens. Harris shot 41.8% off screens last season. Shooting of off-ball screens is one of the key aspects of Blatt’s innovate offensive and thankfully, that is one of the best parts of Harris’ game.
As I have already stated, Harris’ shooting numbers were stellar at Virginia, but lets take a closer look at them. In his four seasons at the college level, Harris managed to shoot 40% or higher in three of them (38.0% in 2011/12). This sustained shooting year over year could keep Harris in Cleveland for a while. Harris also posted a 54.7% effective field goal percentage last season and at the NBA Draft Combine, Harris showed off his shooting skill to NBA scouts, by hitting 16 of his 25 spot-up three’s.
Along with his unbelievable shooting ability, Harris is also a capable passer and rebounder. He averaged 3.2 assists last season and is great at finding his teammates while coming off screens. This also shows how good of a decision maker Harris is, as he knows when to pass and when to set up teammates. That attribute should make him fit right into Blatt’s system, which heavily relies on passing and keeping the ball moving. In his four seasons at Virginia, Harris averaged 5.9, 5.1, 5.0 and 4.1 rebounds a game. Even though his rebounding numbers dropped year-to-year, for his size at 6”6, Harris has the ability to pull down rebounds when needed and also has a nice knack of following his own shot.
Despite his offensive skills though, Harris’ weakness comes on the defensive end of the ball, mainly due to his limited athletic abilities. Harris’ lack of length and lateral quickness made it easy for opposing players to score on him in college and that is something that needs to be changed this season. Although if Harris is sharing the floor with players like James, Varejao and Marion, his defensive shortcomings may not be as hurtful as one may think.
Harris’ shooting, ability to space the floor, decision making and rebounding will all be helpful aspects to the Cavs this season. His game fits Blatt’s system like a glove and despite his defensive shortcomings; Harris could see some useful minutes for the Cavaliers this season. He will most likely also spend some time in Canton but if injuries hit, Harris will be ready to make an immediate impact.
Dec 14, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; New Mexico Lobos center Alex Kirk (53) defends against Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid (21) in the second half at Sprint Center. Kansas won 80-63. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Now lets talk about Kirk, the other rookie on the Cleveland roster this season. Kirk made the team as an undrafted rookie, after beating out Jack Cooley in the Las Vegas Summer League. In the Summer League, Kirk averaged 5.2 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, shot 52% from the field and put up a 66% rate from the charity stripe in 15.4 minutes a game.
Now the first thing people notice when they see Kirk is his size. Standing at 6”11 and weighing in at 252 pounds, Kirk is a monster of a man. Those 252 pounds can be misleading though. At the Draft Combine, Kirk had a body fat percentage of 13.6%, which ranked second (LaQuinton Ross) at the entire combine. Now Kirk has been working on losing his body fat, which is necessary if he plans to play at the pro level but he still has a while to go.
One of, if not the, main reasons Kirk made the roster is due to his shot blocking and rim protecting ability. In DraftExpress’ blocked shots per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Kirk ranked eighth among all prospects at 3.3 blocks. This, along with his 2.7 blocks per game last season with the Lobos, showcases Kirk’s shot blocking ability. His length (7’3. 5” wingspan) and his timing and patience at the rim automatically makes Kirk one of the best rim protectors on the Cavalier roster. The majority of big man minutes this season will be made up by Thompson, Varejao and Love, who are all poor rim-protectors. Neither of them averaged more than a block per game last season and they all allowed opponents to shoot an extremely high percentage at the rim. Thompson gave up a 59.1% at the rim last season, Varejao allowed opponents to shoot 54.2% at the rim and Love gave up a 57.4% clip at the rim. It’s safe to say with Kirk’s length and shot blocking ability, he would provide the Cavs with much better rim protection then any of the those three players.
In other defensive aspects though, Kirk’s size is a disadvantage, as he is a major liability against faster and more athletic big man. Kirk struggled against more athletic big man in college and with big man being even more quicker and athletic in the NBA, Kirk will struggle mightily defending stretch 4’s and 5’s. Kirk’s lack of quickness also hurts him when defending the pick and roll, which will prove costly in the pros.
Kirk’s size would automatically make one assume he is a strong rebounder but that isn’t all true. While Kirk is certainly a solid rebounder, averaging 8.7 boards a game this past season at New Mexico, including 2.3 offensive rebounds a game, his lack of quickness on his feet only allows Kirk to get rebounds in his area. He has very little lift and struggles to get rebounds that players like Thompson and Varejao pull down. Now rebounding will be a major strength of the Cavs this season, so Kirk’s rebounding isn’t all that costly, but with his size many people expect Kirk to be a better rebounder.
Onto the offensive end of the floor now, where Kirk can be a helpful hand. He averaged 16.6 points a game per 40 minutes this past season and can score both inside and out. Big man shooters fit great into Blatt’s system and Kirk fits the bill. With his smooth jumpshot, Kirk has range that extends to the three-point line. His shot selection will need to improve but there in no chance Kirk will be getting as many attempts in Cleveland as he did in New Mexico, so that shouldn’t be a major problem. Kirk is also a solid pick setter and can be effective in the pick and roll and pick and pop game.
With the overload of talent in Cleveland this season, both Harris and Kirk won’t be asked to do much and both of them are sure to spend time in the D-League, fine tuning their games. Although when given the chance, both of these rookies will be able to give the Cavaliers some productive minutes.
1-The last time a Cleveland sporting team won a championship? 50 years ago, when the Browns were champions in 1964.
2-The Cavs also have Stephen Holt on the roster but he is doubtful to make the team.
3-Which is an excellent story from Lowe. Definitely recommend giving it a read.
*Stats are courtesy of DraftExpress and NBA.com