The Brooklyn Nets (3-2) take on the Cleveland Cavaliers (2-5) tonight at Barclays Center, as the Nets try to extend their winning streak beyond games against the Orlando Magic. Much like the Nets, the Cavaliers are no stranger to upheaval; after losing one #1 overall pick in LeBron James have followed it right up with another, sensational rookie point guard Kyrie Irving.
Joining me to talk tonight’s contest and the team in general is Conrad Kaczmarek, Cavaliers blogger at Fear The Sword and regular phone operator at your local NBA Trollathon. Not many folks have the heart of stone needed to follow this Cavaliers team quite like Conrad does.
Conrad on the Cleveland Cavaliers
Devin: Kyrie Irving had one of the best rookie seasons ever. Do you anticipate him taking another leap this year?
Conrad: I guess you’d have to define what you consider to be another “leap.” I do think he’s going to continue to improve, especially on the defensive end and he will see more minutes in general. Other than defense, there aren’t many major holes in Kyrie Irving’s game, so it’d be hard for him to take a huge leap on offense. He’s going to probably cut down on turnovers, spread the ball around more, and maybe become more efficient. Byron Scott has said that he believes Kyrie could be the 2nd best point guard in the league by the end of the year (after Chris Paul) and I’d tend to agree with that. He’s that good.
Devin: Along with Irving, the Cavs are built around their other two young players — Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. Are you confident that those two can live up to their billing?
Conrad: Again, I guess it depends on what you define as their billing. I don’t think Tristan Thompson will ever be a star, but if he can average a double-double and be a beast on defense and offensive boards, we’ll take that. Basically, I’m hoping that he develops into a more athletic version of Anderson Varejao and that doesn’t seem like an unrealistic expectation. Dion Waiters has shown flashes of brilliance since the regular season started. When they drafted him, the Cavs were looking for that number two guy to take pressure off Kyrie. They don’t want Kyrie to be the only one who can create offense and it seems as though Waiters fills that void. His game is a little rough around the edges but he’s only 20 and can definitely work on those flaws. I’m fairly confident that he can emerge as an effective #2 scoring option.
Devin: The Cavs are 2-5 right now. Is that an accurate portrayal of their talent level now, or should they be better/worse?
That’s a really good question. It’s probably not very accurate of how they have played, just because they have lost two really close games to the Bucks and the Suns. I think Cleveland’s starters can hang with most teams in the NBA (maybe not the super elite, but the majority of teams). The bench, on the other hand, is a dumpster fire. Injuries to Varejao and Tyler Zeller have left the bench even more vulnerable. Byron Scott needs to learn how to balance the bench and starter minutes better.
When you consider the fact that they’ve played so many of their games on the road and have lost a couple of close ones, the 2-5 record is probably underestimating them a little bit. If you want to compare the record to that of the Nets, I’m fairly confident that the Cavs would have been able win two games against the Orlando Magic as well. At this point in the season, I’d say that the two teams (Nets and Cavs) are probably fairly equal despite the difference in records. I expect a pretty close game tonight, even if there isn’t much defense to speak of.
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
Conrad: What’s the deal with Deron Williams? Is he just not as good as he used to be? Is it an effort thing? Injury?
Devin: I’m not sure it’s any of those things. Deron has had a unique stretch of his career over the past two and a half seasons. After a mostly rigid, consistent system with Jerry Sloan’s flex offense in Utah, with mostly the same weapons around him, he’s found himself rapidly adjusting to his surroundings almost on a game-by-game basis. He’s struggled to figure out his new surroundings in both seasons — first because of a lack of talent forcing him into forcing the issue, and second with a sudden influx of it.
Remember, even LeBron James struggled in his first few games with Miami in 2010 — through the first eighteen games he was shooting 44%, under 30% from deep and averaging over 4 turnovers a game. It takes time to develop that sync. I’m confident it’ll get there.
Conrad: What do you think is the likelihood that Avery Johnson gets canned this year if the team underperforms? Is there a situation that would cause you to call for him to be fired during the season?
Devin: I’m hardly a psychic, but I don’t expect Avery’s job to be at risk unless the team truly underperforms with all the talent healthy. Avery, owner Mikhail Prokhorov and GM Billy King all share a vision — remember, they all joined the team in a span of months in 2010 under the unified goal of making the Brooklyn Nets competitive, and have worked together to make this team successful since. I’ve noticed that some fans are very unhappy with Avery at this point, but the fact is that he’s dealing with a brand new team for the third consecutive season that has significant, real weaknesses — the only difference is that this one also has significant talent.
Frankly, I don’t expect Avery to get fired because I don’t expect the team to underperform — they should make the playoffs and compete in a playoff series with anyone (except perhaps Miami, who’s the Emperor Lord of the Eastern Conference).
Conrad: How have the non-big name additions looked this year — Mirza Teletovic, CJ Watson, Reggie Evans, Josh Childress, and yes, even Andray Blatche? How key is it to find productive players for cheap with such an expensive core of starters?
Devin: In random order: C.J. Watson has been phenomenal off the bench, Reggie Evans has done everything we know Reggie Evans can do, Josh Childress & Mirza Teletovic have barely played, and Andray Blatche has had putrid offensive & defensive games but has attacked the glass more than I expected and more than his previous seasons would ever indicate.
All things considered, the bench has been a revelation — maybe not that they’ve looked like the best bench in the league, but these are players who probably would’ve started 20-plus games on last year’s roster. They’re bench players who are meant to be bench players. They play specific, idealistic roles off the bench. It’s a brand new team in ways that go beyond the uniform colors, and to get this kind of markedly “good” bench, at the insanely cheap price it’s come at… It’s not quite precedented in the last half-decade of Nets history.