Cleveland Sports Weekly: Depth could buoy Cavaliers in 2013-14



Jim Piascik

Jim Piascik

Jim Piascik is a sports columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow @JimPiascik.

Despite lacking the kind of star power that typically characterizes good teams in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ excellent depth should allow them to make some noise in the upcoming 2013-14 season.

Saying things have not been good for the Cavaliers since LeBron James left is an understatement. In the past three years, the Cavaliers went 64-166, and losing LeBron outlined how poor the team around him was as those left behind formed one of the worst teams in the league.

Things are different now, though. Looking back on the LeBron-era, teams shows how the Cavaliers never really had a great supporting cast around their star. What general manager Chris Grant has done for star point guard Kyrie Irving is the opposite.

Using ESPN’s rankings of the top-500 NBA players, it is clear the Cavaliers have built up some tremendous depth in the middle of their rotation.

Irving is the clear star of the team, while the two players who follow him in the rankings are center Anderson Varejao (ranked No. 62) and power forward Tristan Thompson (No. 99). Varejao and Thompson would be decent third and fourth scoring options on a contender respectively, though the Cavaliers will be looking for more out of them.

Center Andrew Bynum, shooting guard Dion Waiters, point guard Jarrett Jack, and power forward Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, round out the rotation in fine form.

Per ESPN’s rankings, these four players are all capable starters on a contending team. While being a capable starter means they are fourth or fifth options, just having talented players is a good start. That seems simple, but looking at the recent past, that has been a difficult task for the Cavaliers.

The 2012-13 Cavaliers gave Alonzo Gee, Tyler Zeller, and C.J. Miles extensive minutes. Those three are players you want on your bench, just not playing frequently.

The 2011-12 Cavaliers also played Gee regularly along with giving Omri Casspi the fifth-most minutes. None of Cleveland’s new additions are guaranteed to be game-breakers, but simply playing decently will be an upgrade for the Cavaliers.

Of course, part of the problem in recent years is injuries. Varejao has only played 81 games in the past three years, the equivalent of one full season. Irving has missed roughly 25 percent of his games two years into his career. These two are ESPN’s highest-ranked Cavaliers, and both are risks to break down.

Even given their spotty track records, neither come close to Bynum’s injury history. The 25-year-old center missed the entirety of 2012 because of knee injuries. It seems highly unlikely that Bynum will ever be fully healthy – he has played in 62 percent of possible games since 2006 -so relying on the center in 2013-14 is not wise.

But Bynum is a great gamble for the Cavaliers. He is still young and was dominant the last time he stepped on the court. Bynum scored 18.7 points and gathered 11.8 rebounds a game for the 2011-12 Lakers, impressive stats that would help any team.

He is no lock to stay healthy, but with a front court that includes Varejao, Thompson, Bennett, and Zeller, Bynum will not necessarily be needed to haul a heavy load of minutes. If head coach Mike Brown can limit Bynum’s minutes and find some way to keep him healthy, he could benefit the team greatly.

This is not a championship-level team, but no one should expect that. With added depth to make the team better from top to bottom, the 2013-14 Cavaliers are in a position to be competitive and contend for a playoff spot. That is not the ultimate goal, but after the past three years, it is a marked improvement.