October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Cleveland Cavaliers
2011-12 Record: 21-45
Point guard Kyrie Irving averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists as a rookie. (Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images)

I don't think the Cavaliers can make the playoffs. If they can win about 30 games and get a good year of development from their young guys, they should be pleased.

Kyrie Irving's play from the beginning of his rookie season to the end was impressive. He improved by leaps and bounds. I had some early looks at him where he was overwhelmed but he still really competed. I was at a game where the Nets beat the crap out of him running Deron Williams off screens. They were almost mocking him. They jumped out to a big lead but Irving scored a bunch in the fourth quarter. He kept going back at them and made it a game [Irving scored 21 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter of Cleveland's 99-96 loss to the Nets on Jan. 27].

I grew an appreciation for what he could do. Late in the season he was more confident running the team, knowing when to step on the gas and when to take over. He knew where people needed to be.

Irving can shoot off the dribble; he can catch and shoot. He doesn't go at an all-out pace. He uses that great burst of speed to get to the basket, but he also has that steady pace where he is always in control. Some guys go at a frenetic pace, so that you know they won't be able to shoot the jump shot. He was always controlled with his dribble. When he turned the corner, he started to read the defense really well off the pick-and-roll. He's not the explosive, try-to-dunk-on-people kind of guy. He's very crafty when he attacks the basket. His defense still has to come along, but offensively he's already a handful as a 20-year-old.

[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Cavaliers this season]

I don't know if their other top-five pick from 2011, Tristan Thompson, is impressing everyone. He's long and big, he challenges shots and he plays hard. He could be a solid NBA player, a P.J. Brown kind of a guy -- consistent, an anchor. He can guard power forwards and centers. Cleveland is going to look for him to control the boards and knock down face-up jump shots consistently. Thompson was picked kind of high because he was a safe bet. He is going to have a long career, but I don't see a real star there.

Alonzo Gee impressed me with his ability to score. But someone is going to put shots up on a bad team. He puts his body on you and creates space a lot like Paul Pierce. And he has a nice touch. But he doesn't have the length or the ability to go by people. Still, he doesn't try to do things that he can't. That's a credit to him. He does what he does well.

I thought Omri Casspi viewed himself as a hired gun after being traded there last season, and he would come in and force shots. Bad shots. He creates too many empty possessions with too many one-on-one kind of moves. His scoring doesn't come in the flow of the offense. He's a black hole. When he gets the ball, everyone stops and he has to make a move and force up a shot.

No. 4 pick Dion Waiters didn't impress me in summer league. The book on him is he has size and he can score, but I don't know if he can do it at this level. They are looking for a running mate for Irving. Everyone is looking for the next James Harden. That is what they are hoping he can become. If he can at least settle in as a rookie and show the potential to be a fit alongside Irving, that will be a big step for Cleveland.

[Ben Golliver: Handicapping the Rookie of the Year race]

Anderson Varajeo is going to be the Tayshaun Prince of the Cavs. He can still contribute, but will he be content to do it on a team that has a long way to go? They can get something for moving him. He's still the same guy: the rebounds, the loose balls, the intangibles. He has never been a guy you run plays for or expect to shoot jump shots. He's a lot like Dennis Rodman.

Tyler Zeller needs to fill out in order to maximize his potential at center. He reminds me a little of [76ers center] Spencer Hawes. Hawes is finally filling out, but it took him five years to do it. I see that kind of a thing happening with Zeller, who was a really efficient scorer at North Carolina. Lot of guys come in with teams that win 20, 25 games and they get beat up mentally and they don't know how to win. The Cavs have to be careful of that with him.

[Chris Mannix: Central Division preview]

Coach Byron Scott has done well teaching this young group how to play. A lot of what they do is making reads and he is teaching them how to make decisions on the run. I appreciate that. I think they will continue with it. Byron is stern but he doesn't overreact to mistakes. He doesn't explode on his players. He has a great demeanor.


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