Predicting Roster Minutes for the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers

Apr 12, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson (13) celebrates a basket with point guard Kyrie Irving (2) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers 2013-14 roster isn’t set in full just yet, Wine and Gold fans have a pretty good picture of what players will be in the every-game rotation during this upcoming campaign. Two of the three draft picks from Cleveland’s 2013 class – Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev – will have spots on the team when the season starts, but the availability of Carrick Felix, who was taken with the third pick in the second round, is still not known. The wing who showed off his defensive talents during Las Vegas Summer League play last week will most likely begin his professional basketball career with the Canton Charge in the D-League, but eventually we will see him suit up and find a nice spot on the bench thanks to his area of expertise. The Cavaliers were a defensive mess last season, so Felix’s duties will be in high demand this season.

As for the free agency period, Cleveland improved their team vastly with each successive move. Bringing in Earl Clark – a small forward/power forward hybrid who doesn’t quite fit at either the three or four – somewhat addresses a need at small forward, but the Cavaliers still lack a starting three who can shoot the ball effectively from the perimeter even with this move. The next move – the signing of veteran backup guard Jarrett Jack – pleased many fans because Cleveland made the decision to pass on choosing their backup to Kyrie for the future in the draft. Instead, they brought in an established guard who can manage the game when Kyrie is resting (15.7 points and 6.7 assists per 36 minutes), shoot the ball from outside at a high percentage clip (40.4 percent from three) and makes the players around him on the court better (assist ratio of 28.5, ranking 36th in the NBA).

But the signing that pushed Cleveland into legitimate playoff discussion was one that many didn’t think the Cavs would pursue due to their recent past with injuries to high-profile players. Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters – the three biggest names on the Cavaliers’ roster last season – all missed some sort of time last season with injuries, as they combined for 101 games missed during the 2012-13 season. As you already know, Bynum didn’t log one game last season, as he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on both knees to remove debris from his joints and will not have played an NBA game in over 500 days once the regular season starts in October. He’s only guaranteed at the least $6 million next season, but the center is confident that he can appear on the court every game wearing the No. 21 next season for the Wine and Gold. This is a bold claim for a player that has only played a full season once in his career, which was his sophomore year in the League. However, a rim-protecting, All-Star big who last stepped on the court averaging almost 20 points and over 10 rebounds is definitely worth the risk. The results could be devastating for Eastern Conference opponents with a rotating frontcourt of Bynum, Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson, but how should all of these minutes be distributed?

Adding the new additions of Bennett, Karasev, Clark, Jack and Bynum with the already-existing core of Irving, Waiters, Gee, Thompson, Varejao, Zeller and possibly C.J. Miles, here is how I think minutes should be distributed among these 12 players last season with what time they saw on the court last season.

Projected Starters:

PG – Kyrie Irving:

2012-13 MPG – 34.7

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 38.0

After averaging just over 28 minutes per game in his rookie campaign, Irving stepped it up six more minutes per game in his second season. This may seem like a giant leap for Irving, but if you look at the leaders among MPG in the NBA last season, Damian Lillard sits tied for second with Kobe Bryant with 38.6 minutes per game. Steph Curry, a point guard that sits atop the League with Kyrie as far as floor general talent goes, averaged 38.2 minutes in his fourth season in the NBA. Irving, if he wants to be a lock for the top five, needs to be able to match the minutes output, but he only averaged 0.4 minutes less than Curry and 1.0 assists per game less than the Golden State phenom. The player who carry most of the weight and want to be considered superstars in this day and age need to be on the court as much as possible. It may make sense to leave him in there a little longer because of the availability to pull a veteran in Jack off the bench in order to aid Kyrie when he is preparing for his time to shine in the fourth quarter. Jack makes the second unit a strong bench compared to last year, so Irving will feel less pressure and can leave the floor later in the first and third quarters and feel secure with the team that Mike Brown is courting.

SG – Dion Waiters

2012-13 MPG – 28.8

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 34.0

Waiters should be matching Irving’s production in his sophomore season, but this could be a bad thing for the former Syracuse sixth man. Waiters ranked third in the NBA in minutes per game among rookies, but he ranked second in the league in shot attempts among rookies (815) and only shot 41.2 percent from the field (27th among rookies). He put up 13.4 shots per game, and this number will only go up since he will be one of the few players able to play shooting guard on the roster. This is why I think Jack will see time at both guard positions. This is a good thing for Waiters, as Jack is a formidable shooter. Waiters needs to become more disciplined, but the didn’t Just look at Dion’s summer league numbers: he averaged 17.3 points per game (13th in the LVSL) but shot 37.3 percent from the field (178th), 60.7 percent from the from the free throw line and 15.4 percent from three. These numbers are horrid and scary, as he averaged 30.0 minutes and shot almost 17 shots in four games. Yet another concerning summer for Waiters. We’ll see if he can handle being disciplined on offense, as he didn’t have as many shooters around him in the regular season as he had in Las Vegas.

SF – Earl Clark

2012-13 MPG – 23.1

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 27.5

I’m still not 100 percent certain that I want Clark as our starting small forward for the 2013-14 season, but there isn’t much to choose from on this roster. Doesn’t selecting Otto Porter with the No. 1 overall pick seem like a much better idea now that there is somewhat of a logjam in the frontcourt with the signing of Bynum and the likely return of Varejao to the power forward slot? Regardless, this team’s biggest positional hole in the roster was at SF, and I’m still not confident that they made the correct move in signing Clark to fill that need. But I can’t take in another season of Gee getting quality minutes at the three and not being able to produce with what he is given. Clark’s shooting percentages (44.0 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three) are slightly higher than Gee’s, but last year’s starting SF saw more action, thus putting up more attempts. Even though Gee was known last season for being put on the opponent’s best wing player for defensive purposes, I’m slotting Clark here because his frame (6-10, 225 pounds) and work with Brown makes his potential for being the small forward the Cavs can bank on in the meantime much higher than that of Gee’s or Karasev’s.

PF – Tristan Thompson

2012-13 MPG – 31.3

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 31.5

Because of the plethora of power forwards that can be utilized in Cleveland’s rotation this season (Varejao, Bennett and Clark if needed), I don’t think we will see that much of a jump in the number of minutes player by Thompson even though he showed fans that they can now trust his footwork and ambidextrous shooting habits on the offensive side of the glass. This was due to the vast amount of exposure to more physical opponents that Thompson saw because of his ironman status (appeared and started in all 82 games last season after only starting 25 in his rookie year). On close shots, Thompson was blocked 23 percent of the time, and while inside he had 17 percent of his shots blocked according to 82games.com. To put this statistic into perspective, the league average for players having their shots blocked was just above six percent. Thompson, as you know by the previous anecdotes, makes the lineup small, but that was more of a problem when there wasn’t a rim-protecting big man in Bynum on the team. As he continues to get more comfortable with playing with his back to the basket and adding more shots to his arsenal (and learns to hit from the charity stripe), his minutes will increase. But for now, this is a safe amount of time to have Thompson on the court without sacrificing too much on defense.

C – Andrew Bynum

2011-12 MPG – 35.2

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 36.0

No, I am not crazy for wanting a player who sat out all of last season to play more minutes than he did when he last stepped on the court in an NBA jersey. After dipping in his MPG production during the 2010-11 campaign thanks to injury, Bynum shot up almost eight minutes per game the following season to record his highest MPG average in his career. This projection is what I want Bynum at during his 2013-14 peak. He will need to be eased back onto the court because there is still a lot of risk with his knees, but eventually, as a seven-foot, two-blocks-per-game big man, he needs to be on the floor as much as possible for the Cavs who struggled without a rim-protecting big for all of last season. Varejao shouldn’t be forced to play another season at center, as he will be 31 before the season starts and, at this point in his career, would help out the Cavs more if his body wasn’t taking a beating night in and night out. Once Varejao eclipsed the 30 MPG mark in his seventh season, the injury bug hit. I’m not neglecting Bynum’s knee problems, but at age 26 (before the season starts), he still has room to grow as a player and last played in the league at an All-Star level. Returning to this level, which is very possible, would field a pretty solid starting five for the Wine and Gold compared to a season before. If Bynum wants to be on the floor for this team every night during the 2013-14 campaign, then he needs to be doing this as a starter putting up starter minutes on the court.

Bench Unit:

PG – Jarrett Jack

2012-13 MPG – 29.7

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 27.5

Jack will be the first player off the bench, and because he can be utilized at both guard positions, he will still see similar minutes as he did last season as the sixth man on the Warriors. He will only be seeing a slight decline in MPG because of the solid additions to the bench and the increased usage that Brown will have for Irving, Waiters and company. He was a great find for the Cavaliers as a backup to Kyrie, as his three-point shooting (40.4 percent) and ability to convert form the free throw line (84.3 percent) will allow Brown to sit Kyrie confidently after starting the game. Jack also would have ranked second on the Wine and Gold last season in assists per game (5.6), as the three closest players to Irving (5.9 APG) were Varejao (3.4), Luke Walton (3.3) and Shaun Livingston (3.3). Jack is a waaaaaaay better improvement on the bench than Livingston was in the 49 games (7.1 PPG, 3.6 APG and 23.2 MPG) in Wine and Gold.

SG – C.J. Miles

2012-13 MPG – 21.0

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 20.0

On this list, Miles is the only player that still may not return next season, as the Cavs have considered declining his option for the upcoming season. But, nothing has happened yet, so we will still discuss Miles’ role on this team. The things about Miles is that he is a very streaky shooter and isn’t anything special on the defensive side. Remember the Brooklyn game when Miles hit on 8-of-10 from outside the arc, powering a 33-point outburst? Despite Zeller fouling out and leaving Walton as Cleveland’s center, this was the highest point for Miles last season. Remember his 1-of-7 effort from three-point land in the following game against the Sacramento Kings? Probably not, but I think you get the point. He has great shooting form for a team in desperate need of shooters, but his inconsistency is an issue that needs to be done away with this season.

SF – Alonzo Gee

2012-13 MPG – 31.0

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 22.0

When Gee was acquired by the Cavaliers during the 2010-11 season, he averaged 24.3 minutes and shot a solid 46.2 percent from the field on almost six shots per game and shot 34.7 percent from beyond the arc. He also averaged 7.4 points and 3.9 rebounds, but take a look at what he did with almost seven more minutes per game: 10.3 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game and 9.1 shot attempts per game, while shooting 41.0 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from three-point land. Yes, Gee had a lot of defensive duties to tend, even though he is by no means a premier off-the-ball guy in this league, but as stated in previous articles Gee was one of the worst shooters in the league when taking shots from the right wing (33 percent from beyond the arc on said side), which is why I have little faith in both Clark and him in being answers for the Cavs at SF. We need a runner, someone who can be a threat on the perimeter and has the tangibles to defend what is now the most talented position in the league, and Clark nor Gee fit the bill.

SF – Sergey Karasev

2012-13 MPG – 32.2 (with Triumph Moscow)

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 20.0

I was going to predict Gee at 25 minutes per game, but I eventually think at some point this season that Karasev will become our go-to threat off the bench and will eventually overcome Gee as he did to Omri Casspi two seasons ago. I remember wondering why Byron Scott wasn’t inserting the energetic and athletic Gee from the bench into the starting lineup when Casspi was obviously struggling and producing at a lower clip than Gee, but now I know why: Gee is simply an energy boost off the bench and isn’t NBA starting material. Anyways, from what I have seen and heard about the 19-year-old Russian small forward, he is more than ready to step onto the floor for the Wine and Gold. For his country in the World University Games, his team took the gold, as logged 15 points in the championship victory over Australia. In eight games, Karasev averaged 19.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, while averaging 24.9 minutes. This is a player who is just in the preparation stage for The University

PF – Anderson Varejao

2012-13 MPG – 36.0

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 29.0

A steep drop, but let me first explain my reasoning before I get tomatoes thrown at me. Varejao has averaged 32.1, 31.4 and 36.0 minutes respectively over the past three seasons. In these three seasons, he put up extremely good numbers but only played a total of 81 games. In the season prior, when he started seven out of the 76 games he played in, he averaged 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, while shooting 57.2 percent. Isn’t this what we should expect from Varejao this season at this point in his career when we have already talked about trading him or letting him go in free agency in 2015? At least I think so, and he is better suited at his nature position that is power forward anyways. I won’t mind if he’s the starter over Thompson from the start, but I think he has to eventually find a home on the bench if he wants to play a healthy season.

PF – Anthony Bennett

2012-13 MPG – 27.1 (with UNLV)

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 22.0

Hiroki Witt wrote a very convincing article about rookies who averaged less than 20 points in their initial season and players who averaged over 30 minutes in their rookie campaign. The results are just as you would imagine, and he argued in the favor of not letting this happen to Bennnett. Behind two power forwards who will see a lot of time on the court, it is going to be hard to get the No. 1 overall pick playing time with a crowded court (to think we are having this problem with the Cavs!). He should see more playing time than this, but I just think it won’t happen unless one of those guys is traded at some point this season. His spot-up shooting will fit well in the PnR once the time comes for him to show people why he was worth the first pick in the draft.

C – Tyler Zeller

2012-13 MPG – 26.4

Projected 2013-14 MPG – 25.0

Zeller logged 40 minutes at the most last season and played more than 30 minutes in 10 games during a 12-game stretch, and it was a very painful streak to watch. He shot 36.6 percent during that stretch and was dominated by guys like Joakim Noah, DeMarcus Cousins (twice) and even allowed Kosta Koufos to scored 21 points in a fourth-quarter meltdown. I always thought the bench would be Zeller’s home from the start, and he should be there with a much more physical and athletic seven-footer on the squad now. Since he won’t be starting this season, I expect him to see a slight decrease in minutes, especially if the plan is to move Varejao to the four from the get-go.

Topics: Anderson Varejao, Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dion Waiters, Earl Clark, Kyrie Irving, NBA Draft, NBA Free Agency

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  • Heart

    WOW. Anderson Varejao averaging over 30 points in three consecutive seasons? And they say Lebron’s the best player in the world! Anyway, points probably should be changed to minutes, same with the sentence in Bennett’s paragraph :).

    • Zak Kolesar

      Thanks for pointing that out. Training a new editor. Hope you enjoyed the article.

      • Heart

        Loved it. Very insightful and as a Cavs fan, I’m ready to go back to the playoffs :) Roster’s getting better every year!

  • Matt

    You do realize these numbers don’t work out at all right? There is only 240 mins to spread out in a game (48 mins per game times the 5 positions). The way this is set up there would be a total of 332.5 mins. There’s just not enough minutes to spread around like that.

    • Zak Kolesar

      But every player isn’t going to play 82 games this season. As we know, injuries happen.

      • Matt

        I get what you’re saying, but it’s still pretty unrealistic to expect to have 12 players on a team all avg 20 mins or higher.

    • Zak Kolesar

      And I don’t expect all 12 of these guys to be in on a nightly basis.

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