The first game of the Cavaliers season that gets played this year without any playoff hopes takes place tonight, April 11th. That's not so bad, right? Despite all the crazy things that happened this season, the team rallied and was able to make things kind of interesting for awhile. Their first game without implications that go beyond hoping young players develop will be in Milwaukee against a team that hasn't had a game that mattered for playoff hopes since November.
The Bucks will have a 25% chance at having their choice of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and probably Jabari Parker. Their super bowl is May 20th at the NBA lottery. The Cavaliers, of course, will be there too. If the season ended today the Cavaliers would have a 1.7% chance of winning the lottery, good for the 9th best odds. Our coverage of the draft will get started soon. There are a number of different routes the Cavaliers can go, and it'll be fun to discuss.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (32-47) at Milwaukee Bucks (14-64)
When: 8:30 pm ET
Where: The Bradley Center -- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
How can I watch: Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
The Cleveland Cavaliers playoff hopes are indeed six underground. But that doesn't mean we haven't been seeing good things of late. So far, the draft class of 2013 has been pretty disastrous. But the classes of 2011 and 2012 have given reason for optimism. Let's take a look.
Kyrie Irving, 1st overall selection in 2011 - According to basketball-reference.com, Kyrie Irving has been an amazing offensive player over his last 48 games. He is shooting 45.1% from the field, 39% from three point range, and 88.5% from the foul line. His turnover rate is down from his first two years in the league, and even accounting for a truly awful November, his WS/48 is higher than either of his first two years in the league. Of late, he has looked a bit better in terms of keeping teammates involved and he clearly has solid chemistry with Spencer Hawes.
Tristan Thompson, 4th overall section in 2011 - Whenever I talk about the young players on the Cavs improving, this is the one I get the most pushback on. I get it. He's not a good player right now. His defense hasn't come along like I would have wanted it to. This doesn't mean he's bad at defense. In fact, I think he's pretty good at it. He's gotten burned by a few stretch fours this year. But he's still a versatile defender who can generally hold his own against big power forwards and a lot of centers; Greg Monroe didn't do much the other night and it had a lot to do with Tristan and Spencer Hawes.
He still has a lot of defensive upside. I'm curious to see what he can do with some continuity under Mike Brown. I've harped on it all year, but guys like Frank Vogel consistently harp on it too: continuity matters, especially on defense.
As for his offense, he's still really limited. But he's getting better at both understanding his limitations, and showing some signs some of those limitations can be improved upon. He's not taking very many shots at all away from the basket anymore. Over his last 33 games, though, he is shooting 74.2% from the free throw line. He has time to set his feet and his stroke is pretty good. Hopefully this summer Thompson can work on his footwork and maybe start to extend his range.
Dion Waiters, 4th overall selection, 2012 - Everyone is enjoying Dion Waiters start to put things together. Over his last 28 games he has averaged 18.1 points a game, shot 45.9% from the field, 37.8% from three point range, and generally played smarter basketball. Though he showed he could do alright and keep the team afloat with Kyrie Irving injured, he has generally played better ball with him healthy. The two appear to have repaired their friendship. It's better for it to work out for the Cavs than the alternative. Waiters is really talented, so the opportunity for a fun partnership is still there.
Tyler Zeller, 17th overall selection, 2012 - I don't even have to cherry pick stats for Zeller. Dude's been great whenever he has received minutes all year. His defense is quietly still pretty bad, but all the weight he put on over the offseason got wiped out when he got sick in training camp. Next year hopefully he comes back stronger.
In the meantime, he totally changed the way he played this year, taking fewer midrange jumpers and focusing on finishing better and more around the rim. All it's led to is an 8.5% jump in his true shooting percentage. His range is good, and perhaps one day he can stretch it out to the three point line. He has a really manageable contract and looks like he can be a productive third big for awhile. The Cavaliers might only need him to be a fourth big. That they were allegedly shopping him hard at the deadline is a bit concerning. He's a pretty valuable piece.
Matthew Dellavedova, undrafted free agent, 2013 - What a fun run for Matthew Dellavedova. Cavalier lineups with him in them have been solid throughout the year. He's shooting 37.2% on the year from distance and doesn't take too many other shots. He doesn't require the ball in his hands. He annoys everyone except his teammates and Cavaliers fans and Mike Brown. His energy level makes him an alright defender, though things get a little rough when he gets put in one on one situations.
Over his last 22 games he is shooting 47.8% from the field, 45.6% from three point range. Those numbers won't hold up but they don't have to. If he can settle in as a 38-39% three point shooter he's going to be a really valuable player. I like him as a third or fourth guard. Now, if he really is a 35-36% three point shooter, things get a bit more tenuous. But I don't know that that's going to happen. Either way, he's been a fun bright spot this year, and the Cavaliers have him under control pretty cheap.
The Milwaukee Bucks ... well, they are awful and I've already written 1000 words. The Cavs should really win if we show up. The Cavs should really show up.
Fear the Sword's Fearless prediction - Cavaliers 111, Bucks 91. Because that would be neat.