November 24, 2014

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So far, Cavs so difficult to figure out

Through five games, the Cavaliers have been a lot like rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters: There have been flashes of brilliance and moments of ineptness.

Reality can be found somewhere in the middle — and they’ve both been there, too.

The Cavs looked terrific in downing the Los Angeles Clippers 108-101 on the road and pathetic in falling 115-86 at home to Chicago, but a better indicator of their future can probably be found in a rough home win over Washington and tough road losses to Milwaukee and Golden State.

The same holds true for Waiters, who is not nearly as good as he looked while making seven 3-pointers and scoring 28 points against the Clippers, nor as bad as he appeared while going 5-for-15 vs. the Warriors.

Put it all together and what you have is a 2-3 team and an up-and-down, 20-year-old rookie as the Cavs head into the fourth game of a six-game road trip tonight in Phoenix.

There have been a lot of promising signs (Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Anderson Varejao, Kyrie Irving) and some cautionary problems (Waiters, Tristan Thompson, injuries to Zeller and Varejao), but it’s early.

That’s why we advise not getting too high or too low. Instead, let things play out a bit longer before forming any steadfast opinions.

You don’t necessarily have to be as patient as general manager Chris Grant, who is in the third year of a still-no-end-in-sight rebuilding process, but patience is a virtue when it comes to the Cavs right now.

While you’re exercising that patience, also keep in mind the Cavs went 7-9 to start the 2010-11 season. Then came a stretch where they lost 36 out of 37 games, including an NBA-record 26 in a row, en route to finishing 19-63.

Last season, the Cavs were a fairly respectable 16-23 at one point, but a season-ending wrist injury to Varejao and Irving’s shoulder and concussion problems eventually became too much. With a high draft pick not exactly a horrible consolation prize, Cleveland lost 22 of its last 27 games to finish 21-45.

This is not to say a similar slide is coming this season, but it is very important to remember the Cavs front office is not really concerned about succeeding in 2012-13.

That means Varejao trade rumors will once again heat up as the deadline approaches. That means if the team suffers a significant injury or two, Grant is not going to make a hasty acquisition just to keep the Cavs in the hunt for the eighth playoff spot. That, in turn, means a prolonged losing streak at some point is always a possibility.

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Most of all, it means the Cavs are still thinking long term. That means fans should enjoy the great things that happen in the short term and endure the horrible ones, but keep the big picture in mind.

The Waiters game

Waiters has been bad, OK and great so far, which is the way most rookie seasons go.

Thanks to his 28-point outburst against the Clippers, the No. 4 pick is averaging 15.4 points on .446 shooting. Even without that game, however, the 6-foot-4, 221-pounder is averaging 12.3 points on .404 shooting.

Through Wednesday, fellow rookies Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (8.0, .360), Bradley Beal (8.7, .286) and Harrison Barnes (8.8, .486) had not been nearly as successful, so the player Grant and coach Byron Scott loved more than many others looks like a solid pick so far.

Like judging the Cavs, however, it’s way too early to really know if that assessment is correct.

Waiters was billed as a guy who could get to the hole at will but struggled with his jumper coming out of Syracuse. So far the exact opposite has been true, as Waiters is 13-for-25 on 3-pointers and 16-for-40 inside the arc.

More important is the eye test. So far, that has shown that Waiters is a very good player when the ball is in his hands and he’s confident, aggressive and, of course, making shots.

However, he’s also taken a decent amount of bad shots — don’t be fooled by the fact a number of them have gone in — and almost seems to be resting (and doing nothing) when he doesn’t have the ball.

So far, though, there’s been a lot more good than bad.

Taking the fourth

Early results haven’t been nearly as encouraging on 2011 No. 4 pick Thompson, who supposedly worked hard on his shot and low-post moves over the summer.

The 6-9, 245-pound left-hander is averaging 7.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. Of more concern is that he is shooting .394 from the field and .500 at the line.

It’s too early to hit the panic button on the 21-year-old, but if Thompson doesn’t make a significant leap at some point, he could turn out to be one of the many decent but far from great big men who come off the bench in the NBA.

Tip-ins

  • Irving is putting up monster numbers at 22.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 6.2 apg. He’s also shooting .459 from the field, .440 on 3-pointers and .786 at the line. This is nitpicking, but his turnovers (3.6 ppg) are a bit high and he sometimes takes a rest on defense.
  • Varejao, who sat out Wednesday in Golden State due to a sore right knee, has been absolutely sensational while putting up 14.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He’s also shooting .658 from the field and .857 at the line. If the Cavs ever trade the wild-haired Brazilian, they had better get a lot back or they will be creating a big hole in their lineup.
  • Zeller, currently out with a concussion and fractured cheekbone, is averaging a respectable 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. He’s shooting .500 from the field, but only .400 at the line (6-for-15). Fixing the latter may require nothing more than getting healthy and learning to relax, as Zeller shot between .722 and .808 at the line in his four years at North Carolina.
  • Irving did not practice Thursday due to gastroenteritis, but is listed as probable for tonight’s game in Phoenix. Varejao is also probable, while Waiters (bruised right thigh) and swingman C.J. Miles (gastroenteritis) are questionable. Zeller, who is back in Cleveland, is out.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.