The Cavaliers recently completed their second straight year of some wins and a lot more losses, so it goes without saying that the team has to get a lot better. Focusing on additions and subtractions of personnel is obviously necessary. Losing Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker and Semih Erden will affect the team significantly; the same can be said of adding Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. But Cleveland also has a lot of players from last season's team under contract for 2012-2013, and there is opportunity for improvement from each individual. Let's take a look at where Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Daniel Gibson can get better this summer. The area highlighted for each player isn't the only place the player can get better, but simply one or two things he can focus on.
Kyrie Irving is by far the best player that wears the Wine & Gold. Like, from "New York to LA"-far. Like, he is probably a top 20-25 player in the world, right now, without a real ceiling to speak of. But the thing about players' ceilings, and not having hit them yet, is that it by definition means that the player can still improve. Irving has ridiculous handle, above average shooting, and a great ability to finish at the rim despite his relatively small stature. He has a natural ability to control the pace of a game, and, perhaps most importantly, provides Cavalier fans with a great reason to turn the television every time he plays.
The area I would like to see him improve the most this summer is his defensive intensity. In his rookie year, Kyrie often put his focus on offense, where he was essentially our only efficient scorer. He needs to devote a bit more time to his defense. Byron Scott even said as much. It isn't easy to be a rookie playing a lot more games than he had in quite some time while being asked to consistently create offense for your team. But Kyrie Irving wants to be one of the great point guards to have played in the league, and he has a shot at it. All of the greats pick up their defense as they learn what it takes to win. It seems doubtful that Kyrie won't do the same.
Two factors should make it easier for Irving to develop a defensive edge this season. First, playing with the USA Select team should provide him with great examples of how important defense can be. The intensity of those games, with some of the best players in the world going at it, should make it clear to him what it takes if he wants to be on that level. LeBron, Kobe, Wade all know how to dial up their defense when it matters most. Second, it is becoming clear with the departures of Parker and Jamison that this is going to be Irving's team. He is the leader, even if it is just his second year. No longer is he getting his feet wet. He has to provide an example for the other young Cavaliers. Irving takes his role very seriously, and wants to be one of the best. He has the quickness, size and agility to stay with most point guards in the league; I expect serious improvement.
Tristan Thompson is obviously quite raw still and can improve in a number of areas. A jump shot and improved defensive rebounding would be pretty nice but I am going to go in a different direction for this offseason. With his quickness and athleticism, Tristan should be a quality finisher in the NBA. Right now, he isn't. With a point guard such as Kyrie, who is already quite good in the pick and roll, it would be ideal to pair him with a big who could roll and finish in a little bit of traffic. A lack of strength, and an inability to catch and control the ball led to a lot of missed scoring opportunities around the basket. According to Sebastian Pruiti, Tristan was in the bottom 11% when it came to points per possession on cutting plays. He can get much, much better here.
I won't pretend to be a basketball coach, but the easiest way to drop a pass or fail to control a ball is to not be looking at it when it actually gets to you. I think two things will help Tristan keep his focus and eyes on the ball. One, general enhancements to his strength. If he is stronger, the contact from opposing bigs will have less of an affect on him, and he will know in the instant prior to contact as he catches the ball that he is strong enough to absorb it. Two, is understanding where the defense will be sending help from, and where his man. As he learns defensive rotations and the offensive sets at a higher level, he will understand when a defender is going to transition on to him, and it won't come as a surprise as the ball arrives that he is being bumped in the first place. There are also all kinds of drills you can do to improve your catching.
Daniel Gibson is in a bit of a different boat than Irving and Thompson as far as his career development is concerned. Believe it or not, I think we may see a bit of a renaissance season from Gibson (if the Cavs pick up the last year on his option, of course). If Dion Waiters ends up being a solid combo guard like we seems capable of being, there might be stretches where Waiters can run the point with Gibson on the wing. Gibson can guard the opposing team's point guard, where he morphs from liability to asset, and Waiters should have the strength to stay with shooting guards. Durability has been a serious issue for Gibson, but I am not going to count that as an area he can improve upon. Instead, I just want him to realize that he is (a less good version of) Steve Novak.
What do I mean by that? He needs to only take threes. Maybe some midrange jumpers. Every time a team goads him into driving, he needs to remember that he is Daniel Gibson and can't finish. He should find Waiters, or Irving, and let them figure it out, or he needs to take the three pointer. But stop driving. Just stop. If the Cavs can get 15-20 minutes out of Gibson, generally allowing Irving to rest, while he shoots 42+% from three point range, that won't be so bad.
Slightly better defense out of Kyrie, a bit better cutting out of Tristan, and no driving from Daniel Gibson. Sound good to everyone?