Last Season Record: 61-21 (.744), 1st in East
2010-11 Season Record Projection: 38-44 (.463), 9th in East
The Cavaliers enjoyed their most successful five-year stretch in franchise history from 2005-10, advancing to at least the second-round of the playoffs each season, making their first ever Finals appearance in 2007, and registering back-to-back 60-plus win campaigns in 2009 and 2010.
But without LeBron James, Cleveland fans can expect their basketball team to be as paltry as the woeful Indians or the last-place Browns…right?
Not necessarily. While most people expect the Cavs to have a considerable dropoff (and maybe become one of the worst teams in the league), they still have a considerable amount of talent, athleticism, and youth at most positions.
New coach Byron Scott promises to instill a new offensive system that fans have been clamoring for in recent years—a running, fast-paced, small ball-type of lineup. And he has the personnel to make it work.
In the backcourt, the Cavs will likely employ a tandem of Ramon Sessions and Mo Williams. The two were teammates in Milwaukee in 2008 and developed a strong rapport. While they are both listed at point guard, Williams plays better as an off-guard when he can spot up on the perimeter, threaten defenses with his three-point shot, and use his quick first-step to get past scrambling defenders.
Sessions will be the primary ball-handler and is more adept at creating scoring opportunities for others. While they are smaller than most backcourts, they’re quick, speedy, and can score in bursts.
Inside, Anderson Varejao will move into the starting lineup and take over the center role. He is undersized, but how many teams have dominant inside games that he’ll really struggle to defend one-on-one? Obviously some of the elite teams (like the Lakers, Magic, and Bulls, for example) will have capable scorers, but against the Cavs’ primary competition for a final spot (Sixers, Knicks, Pistons, Nets, Bobcats) it won’t be a major issue.
The real question is who will start at power forward: J.J. Hickson or Antawn Jamison? Jamison is by far a more experienced and complete player, but Hickson’s upside and athleticism will make him the favorite to land the starting spot. He showed improved range on his mid-range jumper in the Vegas summer league and has the potential to thrive in an up-tempo system.
Plus, the Cavs will need a spark off the bench with Varejao as a starter and bringing in a natural, proven scorer like Jamison (who has put up good numbers on mediocre teams in the past) is a good idea.
No one will be expecting much from the Cavs this year, so they could have an opportunity to really catch a lot of opponents off guard with their new system.
Obviously there’s a glaring hole at small forward. Instead of LeBron James, the Cavs will start one of the Jamario Moon-Jawad Williams-Joey Graham combo—to say they might not be able to fill the gap is an understatement.
Moon and Williams are strong defenders but aren’t what the Cavs really need at the 3, which is a dominant scorer. In fact, the Cavs really don’t have any one-on-one scorers at all, meaning there will be a lot of pressure on them to defend, rebound, and get out in transition as often as possible.
In the halfcourt, they’ll struggle to get good looks at the bucket. If Mo Williams and Sessions aren’t creating things off the dribble, they can’t really post up anyone inside.
Also, the opposition will learn to pack the middle and force the Cavs to settle for outside jumpers. Daniel Gibson and Anthony Parker are the two most adequate outside shooters, but they’ll both be coming off the bench. Sessions (6.7 percent), Moon (32.0 percent), and Jawad Williams (32.3 percent) didn’t exactly light it up last season.
This team was built to complement LeBron James. With him gone, each player’s role is either undefined or they’ll be called on to produce much more than in the past. How each player responds will determine how successful Cleveland is in the 2011 season.
Published on: NBA Primetime