My mission over the next few weeks is to figure out how the Cleveland Cavaliers match up with the other teams in their “tier” in the Eastern Conference. This likely will include the Raptors, Hawks, Wizards and Pistons. I’ll look at the lineups, the schemes and the coaches and try to determine just where the Cavs stack up in the Eastern Conference. The Wine and Gold’s opponent today? The Washington Wizards.
Likely Starting Lineups
Cleveland: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Earl Clark/Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Bynum/Anderson Varejao
Washington: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza/Martell Webster/Otto Porter, Nene, Emeka Okafor
The Wizards are a very even matchup for the Cavaliers. They feature an extremely talented young point guard who’s the center of their franchise, a young shooting guard who had an up-and-down rookie season, multiple options at small forward and two talented, but possibly injury-prone, big men. Sounds familiar, no? If everyone stays healthy, this is going to be a really interesting matchup. At the point, John Wall is a much better defensive option than Kyrie Irving, as well as a better distributor. However, Irving is the much better shooter and more efficient scoring option. There really isn’t much of a gap in the Kyrie/Wall debate right now, and it has to be considered a wash until we actually get to see them play again. At shooting guard, Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal offer contrasting styles of offensive play, with Waiters as a better attacker but Beal offering better spot-up ability and consistent outside shooting. Beal’s the better defensive player right now, and it’s not really close, so the Wizards have an advantage here. Small forward also is a Wizard advantage, where their options are all better than what the Cavs can offer at the position. Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza are both better three-point shooters than Earl Clark, Alonzo Gee or Anthony Bennett, and Otto Porter and Ariza can likely shut down anyone they defend on the wing from the Cavs. In the post, the talent levels are very similar between these two teams. The Wizards have the more powerful defensive pairing, but the Cavs, with Andrew Bynum and Tristan Thompson, have what should be a more potent offensive frontcourt. However, the key here is likely going to be a war of attrition between the posts on these teams, as the injury issues are here for everyone involved: Nene’s feet, Okafor’s back, Bynum’s knees, Varejao’s…….everything. It’s likely neither side here will be fully healthy when the two teams play later in the season. However, the Wizards should have a slight edge on the wing, even if the Cavs probably have the best player on the floor right now.
Both teams have decent bench units, although the Cavaliers, if healthy, are much more top-heavy on the bench. If everyone is healthy, the Cavs will be bringing Jarrett Jack, likely Varejao and Bennett as their top bench options. After that, Gee or Clark isn’t a bad ninth-man option. The Wizards can bring two of of Porter/Webster/Ariza off the bench, and Eric Maynor isn’t a bad backup guard option. However, the Wizards really don’t have a quality backup two-guard, and in the frontcourt, the options are Trevor Booker, who took a sizeable step back last year, Kevin Seraphin, who Wiz coach Randy Wittman seems to have a personal vendetta against or Jan Vesely. I feel more comfortable with the Cavs frontcourt bench options right now. And even though the Wizards do have better small forward options off the bench to exacerbate an already huge advantage for Washington, I’m more comfortable with a fully loaded Cavaliers bench.
The Wizards are a great defensive team. Coach Wittman has a very solid defensive system in place hinging on the defensive talent and intuition of Emeka Okafor, as well as the wing defense of Trevor Ariza and now Otto Porter. The Wizards could potentially be even better defensively this season, with Wall and Beal improving and Porter’s addition. They lack a really talented rim protector, but they make up for that by being a really strong rebounding team, allowing opponents to rebound at the 28th worst rate in the league last year. The Cavs will have to do their best to crash the offensive boards because the Wizards gave up 54 percent on tip-ins last season, a surprisingly high scoring rate, per NBAwowy.com. (The Cavs, while surrendering more tip-ins, only allowed 49 percent). The Wizards also like to allow teams to take mid-range jumpers, widely regarded as the worst shot you can take. However, like the Knicks and Heat last season, the Cavs actually look like a team that can do some damage from mid-range. Basically every big on the team can drop a long two consistently, and Jarrett Jack and Kyrie Irving are decent weapons from there as well. Forcing long twos is a good defensive strategy, but when the other team can hit them consistently, that turns out to not be as effective. On the defensive end for the Cavs, things will predicate on not allowing John Wall to get into the lane. Wall is not a good outside shooter, and if he can’t drive, he becomes a much less effective weapon because he can’t score as effectively, and it somewhat limits the offensive capabilities with this team when Wall can’t dish out open looks for Beal, Ariza and Webster on the outside. Another big issue for the Cavs will be the passing abilities of Nene, who is a really smart offensive player who can pass really well from the low post. Luckily, it seems that Tristan Thompson should continue to improve as a defensive player, and Nene is a type of player I can see him having success against as a below-the-rim player. The Wizards should be a better offensive team next year, but their offense does seem to hinge an incredible amount on the abilities of Wall and Nene. The Wizards scored 1.038 points per possession with Wall and Nene on the court last season and 0.955 per possession with both on the bench. That’s a bit of a difference. If those two aren’t playing well, or aren’t healthy, their offense suddenly becomes a lot more predictable, and the Cavs should be able to take advantage.
I think the Wizards will be slightly better than the Cavaliers this season. They can destroy the Cavs on the wing, their post players are talented and they have a really good defense that could frustrate the Cavaliers. At the same time, however, the Wizards offense hinges a lot on John Wall, and if he’s not effective, the Cavaliers could have an easier time with the Wizards defensively. Really, I think a lot of how this matchup would turn out depends on injuries and development of the young guys. If the Cavs’ guards get better defensively under Mike Brown and the frontcourt stays healthy, the Cavs could have a lot of success defensively against the Wizards. If the Wizards are healthy and Wall makes a leap, they’ll destroy the Cavs. With both teams healthy right now, though, the Wizards have a bit of an advantage due their bevy of small forwards and Beal’s production level compared to Dion Waiters. I’m really excited to see how these games will turn out next year, and I’m glad we get two games back-to-back early in the season between these teams, before these teams potentially get banged up.