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Cleveland Cavaliers Summer League Wrap-Up

Dion Waiters didn't put up great numbers. But he proved that hardly anybody can stay in front of him.
Dion Waiters didn't put up great numbers. But he proved that hardly anybody can stay in front of him.

I apologize for the lack of content yesterday, as I was flying back home from an awesome week in Las Vegas. The Cavaliers concluded their 5-game schedule in Summer League and I spent countless hours in airports across the country as I made my way back east. My various flights got delayed a number of times, giving me ample time to sit and reflect on the week that was.

Going into the week, I really didn't know what to expect. I was most obviously looking forward to seeing Kyrie Irving shred inferior competition, but he suffered a fractured hand the night before I flew out. Then, the focus naturally turned to the Cavaliers' highest draft pick -- Dion Waiters. He got off to a shaky start and never really put up impressive stats while only playing three games. He kind of slipped during the game against the Suns and banged up his left knee. From what I can tell, he could have played in the final two games, but there's no sense in risking serious injury. After all, he's already on the roster and it was okay to give an opportunity to those players who were fighting for roster spots.

After Waiters, the two highest profile players on the Cavs were Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller. The two big men were both first round draft picks and offer a good deal of promise. Tristan had a so-so rookie campaign but by all accounts has been working relentless this offseason to improve. Zeller was a 4-year senior at UNC and comes into the league considerably more polished than most rookies. It wasn't exactly a surprise when he made an immediate impact in Summer League.

Apart from the high draft picks on Cleveland's roster, I was basically looking for two things: improvement and potential. Improvement out of guys that were previously on the team -- like D.J. Kennedy, Samardo Samuels, Donald Sloan, and Luke Harangody. Potential out of the virtual unknowns -- like Michael Eric, Justin Holiday, Rob Jones, and others.

So what did I learn after a week of 105 degree weather, lots of In N' Out burgers, and a crapload of basketball?

Find out after the jump.

Well, a bunch of things. The first thing isn't Cavaliers related, but rather has to do with the people I met while out there and the company that takes care of this site. I met some ridiculously smart and hilarious people that work with me at SBNation. There are some very significant upgrades coming to Fear The Sword and SBNation in the near future, and I assure you that we're in good hands. The bloggers from other teams are brilliant and you guys should really read their stuff along with mine. If you have questions about players from other teams, let me know and I'm sure we can get the insight of people who watch them on a regular basis. I'm obviously going to forget and leave some people out but here are some of the awesome SBNation bros that I got to hang out with in Vegas -- read their stuff: Seth from Posting and Toasting, LJ and Ian from MavsMoneyball, Matt from Pounding the Rock, Scott from RidiculousUpside, and the entire crew at Liberty Ballers. We're truly lucky to be a part of such a great network with so many resources at our disposal. I'm crazy excited about the future of SBNation and you will be too.

I spent a good portion of the week just hanging out with other people that love the game of basketball. We bounced ideas off one another and I was able to gain access to a wide variety of new perspectives. Somewhere along the way, I managed to find time to watch the Cavs.

Here are the things I do know:

  • Kyrie Irving is awesome at basketball. I know he didn't play this week, but I didn't need to see him dropping 50 points a game against a bunch of borderline NBAers to know that he's freaking awesome.
  • Tristan Thompson improved a lot. Once again, I know that it wasn't against the biggest and best NBA players, but he really looked solid. Last year, Tristan would get the ball and then sort of recklessly flail towards the basket and awkwardly shoot the ball -- a la Antawn Jamison. A year later, he's taking patient, calculated moves towards the rim and scoring effectively. He showed off an array of simple and strong post moves that allowed him to have a greater degree of control over his game. He occasionally utilized pump fakes to create open space and attack the basket. Even if we didn't get a chance to see him use the midrange game that he's been working on (although I don't think that's the most important thing for him right now), he looks way more confident in his skill set. Confidence in a young big man goes a long way.
  • Samardo Samuels worked his ass off, literally. It's been mentioned a number of times in earlier articles, but Samardo Samuels looks freaking great. They say he's down from 260 pounds to 240 pounds, but I think we all know that he wasn't at 260 pounds last season. It looks like he lost about 40 pounds in bad weight and then added 10-15 pounds in pure muscle. He was a doughy 6-8 power forward last year. Now he's pretty chiseled and way more explosive. He can run the floor much better than before and has the bounce to attack the rim and clean up the glass. I'll write more on this later, but Samardo deserves a shot to be a solid rotation player. His contract is not guaranteed, but I hope the Cavs give him his chance.
  • Dion Waiters has a ways to go. Dion only played three games due to the knee soreness that I mentioned earlier, but he didn't play great in any of those games. While some people may want to condemn a guy after three summer league games, I'll be a bit more patient. Yes, his jumper needs some work -- but he was a solid shooter in college. It didn't just break after he got out of Syracuse. Confidence and work with NBA coaching staffs should help fix that. Yes, Byron Scott criticized his conditioning, but that's a lot different than saying "Dion Waiters is fat". He has a stocky frame and that's part of what lets him attack with so much strength. There are critics that want to make it sound like he came into Summer League looking like Eddy Curry. That's not the case. He just needs to get his conditioning up to the level of an NBA shooting guard. You can be in shape and muscular but still not have the endurance to play 40 minutes at the NBA level. He'll get there.

    I should probably just write a separate post about Waiters and I probably will. So, I'll just quickly outline my other thoughts about him here and you can read them in detail later.

    His defense needs work, but so does every NBA rookie wing player. He's used to the Syracuse zone and gets caught standing around on defense occasionally. That can be fixed pretty quickly. He'll maintain some of those tendencies, but after a full training camp (something we didn't get last year), Coach Scott should be able to get him on the same page and used to playing man-to-man in the NBA. The entire offense was messed up without Kyrie Irving in the game. No offense to Donald Sloan, but Kyrie is an elite playmaker and would make things a lot easier for Dion. Waiters showed his ability to get to the rim with ease, but once he got there several defenders were usually waiting for him. Those guys wouldn't be able to simply hang out and wait for Dion if Kyrie was also on the court. That's the problem that comes with having only one true playmaker on the floor. That's why the Cavs drafted Dion. They wanted another playmaker to put next to Kyrie Irving. When you have two guys that can attack the basket and challenge the defense, it's much harder to stop. I maintain that we can't get a real good idea of what Waiters can do until we see him play several NBA games with Kyrie Irving and Coach Scott's offense. While Waiters looked great in the pick and roll, he basically stood still off the ball. I'll talk more about this in a later piece.
  • Tyler Zeller has unique versatility. It's not everyday that you get a 7-footer who can knock down 18-foot jump shots. That's what Zeller can do. Furthermore, he sprints down the court every time and has surprisingly quick feet on defense. His agility and mobility should help him become an above average big man pick and roll defender. His frame isn't super strong, but he's tall enough and has good enough instincts to be a good defender. The way he runs the floor makes him a weapon in transition. The way he shoots make him a weapon in pick and pop. His soft touch makes him a weapon on the low block. Remember, he's a 4-year senior so he has more polish than most rookies, but that doesn't change my mind about him. Many people thought he would be a solid backup starter for a long time. I think he can be a solid starter center for a long time. He'll probably never be an all-star, but once again, he's just going to get better with Kyrie Irving dishing him the ball.
  • Donald Sloan should be the backup point guard. Based on what I saw last season and this year in Summer League, there's no need to sign Jonny Flynn or Derek Fisher. Donald Sloan is competent enough to play 15 decent minutes while Kyrie gets rest on the bench. He isn't a game-changer in any way, but Sloan is capable of running a pick and roll and can occasionally attack the basket. Keep in mind that Waiters is pretty great running the pick and roll and that Boobie Gibson can still play a few minutes at point guard. All that considered, the Cavs should feel comfortable telling Fisher, Flynn, and any other backup PG free agent to look elsewhere.
  • Justin Holiday should get a training camp invite. Jrue's older brother is a smooth athlete and a good shooter. He didn't put up good numbers in Belgium last year, but looks to have the body and game of an NBA wing. He's fairly long and could be a solid defender. Given the Cavs' situation on the wings and the general lack of talent on the roster, I'd give Holiday another look. It seems like the kid can play.
  • Michael Eric is tall and long. I don't know if he has much of an NBA game, but he's big. He's a good athlete and some NBA people seem to like him. People with his build don't come along everyday, so the Cavs may want to give him another look.
  • Luke Harangody is Luke Harangody. Byron Scott was overheard talking about Luke, telling someone, "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him." I think that pretty much sums it up.

It was an incredibly experience and I can't wait to go back next year. We're just a few months away from NBA training camp and then the start of the preseason. The Cavs are certainly better than they were last year and have some real intriguing pieces throughout the roster. It's an exciting time to be a Cavs fan.

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