Ah, ’tis the season to be jolly! Why, you ask? Because the Cavs are in the wondrous Eastern Conference, the conference that refuses to let any team believe they are out of playoff contention at Christmas time! Yes, even you, Milwaukee! But every Christmas, we know that not all NBA players have been good – so let’s visit our Cleveland Cavaliers to see who has been naughty, and who has been nice this year.
So sit back, grab some egg nog, and prepare for a barrage of Christmas references that you could probably have done without!
Irving has been the unquestioned MVP of the Cavaliers thus far, leading them in points (21.1), assists (6.0), and steals (1.08) per game. Although his shooting got off to a bit of a slow start this season, he has rebounded nicely, recently being named Eastern Conference player of the week. Seemingly the only thing hindering Irving’s NBA career will be his health; numerous injuries have kept him from ever playing a full season. A former Rookie of the Year, Three-Point Shootout winner, and NBA All-Star, Irving has been nothing short of a godsend to the Cavaliers since his arrival in 2011, and has stood as a ray of hope for a franchise decimated since the departure of LeBron James.
Off the court, Irving has been wonderful as well. Recently, in the wake of a tragedy that occurred in my home town of Brunswick, Irving has worn a wristband in remembrance of the four students that lost their lives in a car accident, supporting a city in mourning. He has also shown his diversity in skills with his uber-popular Uncle Drew character. As a symbol of hope for Cleveland sports fans, and as a model for how professional athletes, Irving gets an emphatic place on the “nice” list.
VERDICT: Nice. He will get everything on his Christmas list.
Another player that seems to be improving. While Waiters hasn’t improved his scoring (right around where he was last year at 14.7 PPG) Waiters has become more consistent in his performance this year, chiefly in his 3P%, which has gone up by almost a full 10% this season (31% to 40.3%). In addition, Waiters has shown some promising passing-ability as well, while expressing that he “loves making his teammates better.”
Waiters has also been the target of a lot of talk recently, expressing his displeasure at being moved to the bench, confronting his teammates at a players-only meeting, and (reportedly) requesting a trade. However, the media seems to be attacking Waiters from all angles; Waiters refutes rumors that he wants to be traded, and that the confrontation at the meeting became physical. Although the Cavaliers have been actively shopping Waiters, I refuse to let him be incorrectly categorized on the naughty list until more information emerges. JUST LIKE THE POLAR EXPRESS, I WILL BELIEVE IN DION WAITERS!
VERDICT: Nice until proven Naughty.
A look at Thompson tells the story of a player working hard to improve his craft. A very raw, but talented project out of the University of Texas, Thompson was praised for his athletic abilities, his skill level, and overall “polish” was lacking. Since joining the pros, Thompson has switched shooting hands (left to right), and improved his free throw percentage from college (49%) about 20 points (shooting 69% so far this season). In addition, Thompson has become a double-double machine (averaging 11.6 PPG and 9.9 RPG this season), and is apart of a promising frontline for the Cavs with Andrew Bynum. Coming from a weak draft class that has already seen a few disappointments (see Derrick Williams, Jan Vesely, Jimmer Fredette), Thompson has been a pleasant surprise for a guy projected to go in the mid first-round, silencing his doubters (which included me) along the way. A symbol of hard work gets him a spot on the “nice” list.
VERDICT: Nice. Hopefully he’ll find a shiny new contract-extension under the Christmas tree in the future.
You might be wondering when I would give out my first bit of negative feedback. Well, the time has come. Like starting a snowball fight during school, Clark was something that sounded good originally, but really didn’t end up working out.
The only reason Clark is playing at all is because of a strong stretch he put together last year for the Los Angeles Lakers while Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill were all injured. Capitalizing on his success, he signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Cavs. Due to the Cavs, at the time, being weak at the SF position, the signing initially seemed like a good idea. The drafting of Anthony Bennett after the signing has caused a log jam at the SF position, as Clark, Alonzo Gee and even C.J. Miles are all competing for time as well at the position. This has also limited the struggling Bennett from getting extra play time at that position, and a chance to improve. While on the court, Clark has been rather erratic (averaging 5.9 PPG this season) and has seen his play time sharply cut as a result (down to 17.1 MPG). Ultimately, the signing of Clark is looking as disappointing as the face of a child getting clothes on Christmas, especially seeing as he is being paid more than Tristan Thompson this season.
VERDICT: Naughty. Perhaps the Cavs overvalued a guy who had one half of a good season, but nobody likes a guy that underperforms after signing a nice contract.
The jury is still out on Bynum, who the Cavs will (presumably) pay a hefty chunk of money for (if they waive him before Jan. 7, only $6 million is guaranteed, else the full $24.79 million for 2 years). When Bynum has been able to play significant minutes, he has shown the ability that made him look so impressive in LA – an imposing post-presence and a capable game-changer. However, the key is “when he’s been able to play significant minutes”; Bynum has played over 25 minutes in a game just three times this year, and has shown signs that he is not quite through the knee issues that cost him all of last season. Bynum has, however, played quite well of late, giving Cavs fans hope that he can regain the form he had in LA.
VERDICT: Gifts don’t matter here. The best thing Bynum can get is a new pair of knees.
We all know how bad things have gotten for Bennett this year. So, rather than getting any gifts this year, Bennett’s going to get a visit from the three NBA ghosts. Am I taking it too far with the references? Probably. Anyway, the ghost of NBA past will remind Bennett of his talent; remind him of the skills that made him the No. 1 overall pick, the talent that piqued the curiosity of so many scouts, and the upside that should remind him to be patient. The ghost of NBA past will show Bennett that he has the ability to be a successful NBA player, but he just needs to put it all together. Now the ghost of NBA present will be the real motivator; he will show Bennett what his critics are saying; that he was never the right pick, that Victor Oladipo should have been taken ahead of him, that he is out of shape and too slow to play the SF position, and even those that say he could be the worst No. 1 overall pick ever. The ghost will also show him the shape he is in right now, and his need to adapt to the NBA game. He will last be visited of the ghost of NBA future, where he is branded as a bust, and is generating income by making the daily “Jumble” for his local paper. Future Bennett reflects on what would have happened if he could have turned his career around earlier, but decides that a quiet life as the worst No. 1 overall pick ever really isn’t that bad.
WHOA. Did I just accidentally create bad Christmas Carol fan-fiction?
Anyway, on a more serious note, I really think Bennett has what it takes to be at least a decent NBA contributor; although in a small sample size, Bennett has played better in his limited minutes as of late. I think the best thing for him to do is to be thrown into the fire; the Cavs aren’t getting much production from the SF position anyway, so why not give him 20–25 minutes a game to let him get experience? With the Eastern Conference being so bad, it wouldn’t be as though the Cavs are throwing away their playoff chances either by playing him.
VERDICT: Christmas intervention via ghosts.
It has not exactly been the homecoming people wanted when they heard Mike Brown came back to Cleveland. I mean, sure, the Cavs are in the playoff hunt, but this is the Eastern Conference we’re talking about. And let’s be honest, the team has its troubles. Dion’s trade rumors, Bennett’s disastrous play, and a quirky rotation that still hasn’t been completely settled out are just a few of the issues that need to be ironed out here. And as a guy that was brought in as a defensively-minded coach, the Cavs rank 19 in the league in points per game allowed (100.8). He’s also shown more fire than in previous years, as evidenced by his uncharacteristic outburst against ref Monty McCutchen in a recent game against the Miami Heat:
Yeah, so I have my suspicions that this isn’t the same Mike Brown that coached the Cavs before.
VERDICT: Santa’s gonna do some good ol’ “he knows when you’re sleeping and awake” tactics on Mr. Brown to determine whether he’s eligible to get any presents at all. But he’s on the naughty list as of right now due to a lack of performance thus far.
Shoot, I didn’t relate that one to a Christmas theme. Uhhh….. Bad Santa maybe?
Well that’s it for me. If you’ve read until here, I want to let you know that it really is greatly appreciated, and I hope you enjoyed it! Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think. Happy holidays everyone!