The Cleveland Cavaliers' (pre) season kicks off tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks and I know that everyone is excited. For the first time since LeBron James left the town, the team not only has a chance at making the playoffs, but is also expected to do so in some corners.
So while we prepare for the inevitable and probable demise of our favorite team (Twitter tells me the city of Cleveland is cursed or something, so I gotta roll with it), let's take a look at who could potentially lead the Cavaliers in statistical categories this season.
Points per game: Kyrie Irving
We'll start with the easiest one first. If Kyrie doesn't lead the team in scoring this season, either something will have gone horribly wrong or Dion Waiters will have somehow acquired Marshawn Lynch's BEASTMODE skill and become one of the best shooting guards in the league. Since the second option seems fairly unlikely, let's just hope that Kyrie leads the team in points, points-per-game, three-pointers made, and about every scoring category imaginable.
Assists per game: Irving
Again, I would think something will have to have gone horribly wrong for Irving not to lead this team in assists unless the team plans on playing Jarrett Jack 35 minutes per game. With more help around him, I expect Irving's assists per game to leap into the 7-8 area, up from 5.9 last season. Better shooters such as Jack, and more efficient options such as Bynum should help create less of a scoring burden on Irving as he steps into more of a creator role.
Rebounds per game: Tristan Thompson
While the safe choice here would seemingly be Anderson Varejao after last season's pace, I'm going with Thompson for a few reasons. First off, I think we're going to see quite a bit of improvement in his game this season. A lot of the battle Tristan seems to be confidence, and switching hands will probably help foster a more consistent, confident Thompson. Second, I think the Cavs are going to try to reduce the minutes that Varejao plays this season if possible in order to keep him healthy. With Varejao being capable of playing both forward positions well, it would seem like a good idea to make him a do-it-all forward off the bench as long as the Bynum signing goes moderately well. Actually, speaking of Bynum...
Blocks/Blocks per game: Andrew Bynum
Given that the Cavs didn't have a single player average 1 block-per-game last season, I think it's pretty fair to expect Bynum to lead the team in blocks even if he only plays half of the team's games this season. He's averaged about 2 blocks per game over the course of his last two seasons played, and I wouldn't expect that to change too drastically.
It's also worth noting that generally -- and it's entirely possible that this could be a product of having players like James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O'Neal, and Ben Wallace -- Mike Brown-coached Cavs' teams tended to average quite a few more blocked shots than Byron Scott-coached Cavs' teams. The Cavaliers never finished above 28th in the NBA during Scott's time here in the blocked shots category. It may be worth watching to see if it was a personnel issue or a schematic issue as to why the team never averaged more.
Steals per game: Dion Waiters
This was definitely the most difficult category to choose, so I guessed. Waiters was a noted ball-hawk in college, so I'm hoping that Brown is unable to unleash that side of him this season. There is a possibility that Brown may want him to simply focus on learning to play better and more team-oriented help defense early in the season, which Waiters really struggled with at times last season. However, I'll take the guess that he lets Dion continue to gamble a little bit and take chances on errant passes. Other candidates here include Irving, Alonzo Gee, and Varejao if he plays enough minutes.
Player Efficiency Rating: Irving
Varejao's 21.7 PER was good for 16th in the NBA last season, slightly ahead of Irving's 21.5 rating. However, if Thompson improves as I expect him to and if Bynum stays healthy, there may be fewer rebounds to go around, which is partially why Varejao's rate was so high last season. So through potentially no fault of his own, his rate should be expected to drop, opening the door for Irving to take over this stat.
Hockey Assists: Jarrett Jack
Even though I was far from the biggest fan of this signing, one place where Jack will help is with ball-movement. Even though he can sometimes be a ball-stopper and endlessly dribble into the abyss of the defense, Jack seems like as good a guy as any to lead this category.
Kobe Assists: Waiters
For those unfamiliar with the concept of the Kobe assist, I'll direct you to a piece on Grantland by Kirk Goldsberry where he articulates the idea. Now that you've seen it...
Waiting to make sure you've seen the piece...
Is there any chance that someone other than Waiters leads this category?
Charges taken: Tyler Zeller
Given the injury history of the big men on this team, I expect that Zeller will still get minutes this season despite being third on the depth chart at center as we speak. If Zeller sees any sort of real time, this category is his for the taking.
Missed Dunks: Anthony Bennett
Only because he seems like the most likely person to try to thunderously throw down on someone and accidentally miss. I also expect him to thunderously throw down on quite a few people and succeed this season.
Most likely person to lead team in Grand Theft Auto time: Bynum
This isn't a dig at his injury history. It's mostly because Bynum apparently a bad neighbor that plays video games at all hours of the night.
So there you have it. Those are my guesses and I'm sticking to them. I expect at least half of these to be wrong, and for you all to vociferously make me remember it at the end of the season. At the very least, it's nice to have an attitude of brevity after what happened at the end of last season. We should probably just be thankful that I get write the names "Andrew Bynum" and "Jarrett Jack" this season instead of "Luke Walton" and "Donald Sloan."
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