Enemy: Cleveland Cavaliers
Coach: Byron Scott
Potential Starting 5: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao
Other Key Players: Daniel Gibson, CJ Miles, Tyler Zeller, Jeremy Pargo, Luke Harangody
Threats: Playmaking guards, Energy on the glass
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-0
If you don’t recognize the picture above, you should probably pause your reading of this preview for a second, and watch this video. Now that we’re on the same page, the picture depicts Kyrie Irving aged about a half a century under the alias Uncle Drew, schoolin’ some cats on the bball court. Similar to the video, Cleveland Cavalier fans may want to do some fast-forwarding of their own. Maybe not quite half a century, but a couple years wouldn’t hurt. For as long as the young stud, Irving lies in their future plans, the Cavs can see a light at the end of the post-Lebron James tunnel. Well they’ve got three more seasons to convince him that it’s worth sticking around on his end, as well. For now, the Cavs are in the phase of drafting young guys to piece together a core to move forward with. This stage is crucial, as the guys that they select to develop alongside Kyrie must either be solid fits alongside the star point guard, or cultivated as assets towards a trade for something to fit that bill. Though it obviously goes without saying, the Cavs cannot afford to swing and miss in the draft. Last year, they had the 4th pick as well as Kyrie, and it was used on stretch four, Tristan Thompson. Hindsight is still not clear enough to dictate whether or not this was the right move, but time will tell. In this year’s draft the Cavs had another surprise in store for us, reaching a bit to take Dion Waiters with names like Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond on the board. They also maneuvered in the draft to acquire the rights to North Carolina big man, Tyler Zeller. So from here, the core is set boasting Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Zeller. So Cavs fans, you may want to pop in your DVD of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, do the time warp, and hope that it takes them to the future, because despite the potential of said group, there are sure to be some growing pains in the short term.
Heading into this season, Irving will be the lead indicator of what the Cavaliers accomplish on the year. If he can stay healthy and remain on the court, then I could see Byron Scott possibly squeezing 30 wins out of this squad. There are few players in the league that I would rather build a team around than Irving, and it’s not like he is totally alone like he was last year. The addition of Waiters should certainly ease up the pressure on Irving to do it all, and help him out tremendously in the process. Waiters makes for a good fit, because in addition to his competent shooting ability and admirable range, he can be relied upon to handle the ball for short stretches. This is probably why the Cavs jumped on him so early in the draft. It obviously bodes well for them, allowing Irving to rest easy, knowing that the keys to the offense won’t be left in the hands of homerun acquisition Jeremy Pargo to run the show when he comes out of the game. That was a little harsh, but man it was painful watching Pargo dribble the ball into the ground on a nightly basis. Anyways, also part of the perimeter rotation, Daniel Gibson washed away from relevance when the Cavs did, but hasn’t lost his shooting touch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them move him elsewhere for some young project or a draft pick mid-season, as it would make the most sense for both parties. The rest of the perimeter rotation is headed by Alonzo Gee and CJ Miles. Neither of these guys is all that inspiring, especially not in the starting lineup, but they’re competent enough to hold it down until a better long-term option surfaces. For the time being, Omri Casspi is on the roster as well, but it is rumored that the team is working on buying out his deal. Moving on to the post game, the starting lineup will feature Thompson alongside long-time Cavalier, Anderson Varejao. Varejao has been a bit of a liability given the frequency of his injuries and the size of his contract, but you know that when he is able to be on the court he will give you 110 percent every time out. He’s an adept flopper and an active rebounder that really serves as an ideal complementary player in the paint. Which brings us back to Thompson and the necessity that he builds upon what was a strong finish to his rookie campaign. He broke his way into the starting gig towards the end of the season in March, and saw his scoring and rebounding outputs rise. Simultaneously, his block totals dipped in this time, which I would attribute to more discipline on the defensive end, as his foul rate fell as well: a worthwhile tradeoff. Most importantly regarding Thompson will be how well he and Zeller mesh on the court together. The plan is to assemble the two as a tandem in the long run, so development of chemistry with one another will be essential. Thompson’s strengths as an athletic shot-blocking force offset well against Zeller’s defensive inefficiencies, while Zeller’s refined post and midrange game balances out against Thompson’s rawness on the offensive end.
The toughest thing that the Cavaliers have to throw at us is Irving. I like to think of Irving as a souped up version of our own Mike Conley. There’s no doubt that Irving is the more talented player, even at this early juncture, but their skillsets are similar nonetheless. Seeing as we have somewhat of an answer there at least, it’s notable that I do not see anything else that the Cavs possess that we cannot neutralize. Our post game is far superior, and on the wings Rudy Gay is simply more talented than Gee or Miles, and Tony Allen is far from the nicest welcoming party into the league for Waiters. Not to mention, they do not possess much of a bench to speak of, especially to compare with what we have waiting in the wings. The Cavs are the 12th team we play this coming season, and Tony Wroten should have the date circled on his calendar, as he figures to get some of his first garbage time minutes against them. I’m being a bit scathing, but I promise to be even more so against our own guys if we drop a game against them. Irving is an incredible point guard and will surely do his best to keep his team in battle against us, but he cannot do it alone, and the rest of his troops aren’t quite ready for the fight yet.