After all the Thunder were led by a Number one pick out of Texas in Kevin Durant. At the time, Durant was a prolific scorer in the back court and had unlimited range, leading the nation in scoring. Plus he’s 6’10 that added to his lore.
Then came Russell Westbrook out of UCLA. A talented guard who was mostly a scorer in college, but became a point guard in the NBA. Questions abounded whether that would work, and several still remain. However this formula has worked well enough to make the Thunder the reigning Western Conference champs and one of the favorites to win the title this season.
Now there is another team that is on the upswing. It may not look that way on first glance, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are a team that gives nightmares and has the pieces in place already to make a run at their first championship in a few years. The Cavs are currently 5-22, the second worse record in the NBA. Yet this team shows promise of better things to come.
Let’s start with Kyrie Irving. Irving is could already be the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, and one of the top three in the NBA. Irving is a scorer from that position, yet there’s more. He’s showing more initiative in the fourth quarter than LeBron James did in his early years in Cleveland.
Irving currently is averaging 24 points per game while dishing out 6 assists. Because an injury has allowed him to only play 16 games this season he doesn’t qualify to be among the league leaders. However if placed into the mix, Irving would be 6th in the NBA for scoring and 12th in assists. Certainly Irving will improve in the assist department once the Cavs get more prolific in scoring.
Without a doubt, the Cavs have the best center in the East in Anderson Varejao. The 6’10 Brazilian has become a complete center under the tutelage of coach Byron Scott, who literally had to beg and threaten reduced playing time if he didn’t shoot more. Scott’s reasoning was Varejao played so hard and kept so many plays alive he should be rewarded with more opportunities.
As of today, Varejao is averaging a double-double. 14.4 rebounds per game and leading the league, almost 1.5 rebounds more than second place Zach Randolph, and a full 2 boards more than the “best” center in the league Dwight Howard. The bushy-haired Cleveland center also is averaging 14.4 points per game. No other center in the NBA can boast such gaudy stats.
Finally there is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year in Dion Waiters. Waiters was a controversial pick in last year’s draft by General Manager Chris Grant. The Syracuse product never started a game for the Orangemen, yet moved immediately into Scott’s starting five and has not looked back.
Waiters is at 15 points per game, yet is only shooting 38% from the field. Once his shooting and shot selection improve his scoring average could jump 5 points, making the Cavs a team with a dynamic back court in waiters and Irving.
Finally there is backup center Tyler Zeller. The North Carolina product was playing well until breaking his nose and cheekbone in the early part of the season, causing him to mist several 8 games. After regaining his NBA legs once coming back, Zeller has proven to be a legitimate scoring threat and a defensive advantage. To many, with his outside shot coming along, many around the league think Zeller is another Bill Laimbeer. Ironically Laimbeer began his career in Cleveland before being traded to Detroit and becoming a part of the “Nasty Boys” championship clubs.
It takes many units to make a championship club, even a contender. The Cavs were never able to put the parts together with LeBron James and began a one man team. That led to James bolt to Miami and the collapse of the Cavs from a serious title run.
This Cavs front office seems to understand what it needs, and is putting it together. Certainly they need another scorer and more consistent play from the bench. Once this happens the Cavs will become an elite team in the East. The building blocks are there.