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NBA Summer League: Three Cavaliers lessons from Las Vegas

The Cleveland Cavaliers wrapped up their week in Las Vegas with a loss to the Miami Heat. They didn't win the Summer League championship, but the Cavs showed us some important things in their games. Here's what I learned.


Summer League doesn't really matter much. The Cleveland Cavaliers know that, as shown by their decision to sit Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller for their final game in Las Vegas. It's a small sample size and it's not against high quality competition. But that doesn't mean it's useless. There's still a lot that can be learned from Summer League and there's a reason that so many NBA executives and scouts are seen roaming the UNLV campus that week.

I spent the week in Las Vegas and here are three things that I think we can take away from the Cavaliers' Summer League.

Dion Waiters is in a good place.

Waiters didn't have a spectacular Summer League and his numbers certainly aren't anything special. He averaged 17.3 points per game on 37.3% shooting while adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists per night. You might have expected significantly better numbers from the #4 pick entering his 2nd year in the league. And those expectations are probably justified. But as somebody who was there for every game in which he played, sitting courtside, and talking to other writers, I'll say that I don't think those numbers truly reflect how he played. Yes, he took a lot of shots each game. Yes, he didn't make very many jumpers. But Summer League isn't all about results, I think it's much more useful to look at the process (this actually doesn't just go for Summer League, good process should be the goal in most situations).

Watching Waiters play against the marginal competition of Summer League, it appeared that he was always the best player on the floor. He did whatever he wanted and got to all of the spots that he wanted. He pulled up for some bad jumpers (and missed some very good jumpers), but overall I thought he had the right mindset. He was talkative on both ends of the floor and when he decided to get to the basket, that's exactly what he did. Nobody was able to stay in front of him. He struggled finishing around the basket to a certain degree, but in a small sample size that can purely be a result of bad rolls and unlucky bounces. Of course, It's very possible that he's just not a good finisher at the basket and it's something that he needs to work at. After all, he shot 53.8% at the rim in his rookie season If we don't see that number improve this year, then that's certainly worth some concern. My point is that a 4 game sample shouldn't influence your stance on that regardless of what you previously thought. It's a tiny sample size and therefore can be highly influenced by chance.

What I saw was an aggressive, well-conditioned guard who was very conscious of what he needed to execute better. In talking to him after games, he repeatedly brought up the fact that his legs weren't quite underneath him just yet. He says he's been working out 2 or 3 times a day, but that's different from running up and down in an NBA game and shooting jumpers in the flow of action. As the week went on, he seemed to get better in this respect. His shot selection needs to improve, but I don't think the coaches were all that worried about that during Summer League.

I liked Waiters' passing quite a bit. He made intelligent passes, often to wide open shooters. If certain members of the Cavs' Summer League team had hit more of these shots that he created, his assist totals would look much better. He's a really talented passer when he chooses to play that way.

Overall, I think Waiters was fine. He wasn't amazing and he wasn't terrible. There were some things that I liked and some things that I didn't like. But for a 2nd year guard playing as the #1 option in a somewhat bizarre setting, it was solid. He's in shape, focused on getting better (especially on defense), and as explosive as ever. He's been working on his jump shot and hopefully we see that work pay off during the regular season. If not, worry about it then.

Tyler Zeller looks a lot bigger.

On the first day of Summer League, I asked Tyler how much weight he put on. His response: "About 25 pounds." Now, whether or not that number is legitimate isn't all that important. What is important is that Zeller undoubtedly put on some weight and looks a lot stronger. His play was something of a mixed bag as he averaged just over 10 points and 8 rebounds per game, but again, I don't care about Summer League numbers. What I saw was Zeller playing like an actual NBA center with strength and grit. He still got pushed off his spot on occasion, but I thought he was scrapping down low a lot more than we saw last year. The added weight might have slowed him down a touch, but he'll probably adjust as he get used to playing with more muscle on him.

Last season, Zeller was thrown into the fire too early. We knew that he had to put on weight and wasn't suited for the starting center spot on an NBA team. But once Anderson Varejao got hurt, he had no choice. He was going up against starting centers every night and was clearly overwhelmed by the speed and size of NBA bigs. This year, he has more weight to him, what looks to be a grittier mindset, and will be playing against backup bigs. He's always been a skilled player and did what he needed to do this offseason, so I'm cautiously optimistic about Zeller as we enter the 2013-14 season.

The Cavs knew what they were getting in Carrick Felix.

After the first Summer League game, I raved about Felix and got to talk to him in person. He's an extremely likable guy and the way he plays the game is tremendous. He's all about energy, defense, athleticism, and hard work. This is exactly the kind of player that Mike Brown loves and he's going to help transform the culture of the organization. Even if he hardly plays in games this year (I think he will play a decent amount), his relentless effort in practices will help set the tone for the rest of the players.

His jump shot still needs work and he occasionally tries to do too much (creating off the dribble, gambling for steals, etc.), but overall he looks great. He's a guy that lots of people thought the Cavs reached for with the 33rd pick in the draft, but after seeing him play it's clear that the Cavs knew exactly what they were getting.

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