It's Cavsmus Eve in Cleveland. Michael Stanley is once again on heavy rotation as dreams of Eastern Conference playoff races overwhelm the masses. But before this season flush with intrigue, story lines, depth and promise tips off for reals on Wednesday night, I needed to file two more official predictions.
Yesterday, I posted my Cavaliers' win total for the 2013-14 campaign along with statistical projections for Andrew Bynum. Today, these predictions include who Cleveland's second-leading scorer will be this year as well as who will eventually lead the team in starts at small forward.
Predicting Cavaliers Second-Leading Scorer: Dion Waiters (17 points per game)
This time last year it seemed like rookie Dion Waiters would be the Cleveland Cavaliers' second-leading scorer by default behind Kyrie Irving. After averaging 14.7 points without much firepower surrounding him besides Irving, he eventually was specifically that. In 2013-14, however, the second-leading scorer race in Cleveland features a collection of legitimate possibilities that extend well beyond the second-year guard from Philadelphia.
After watching Tristan Thompson demonstrate his on-court development during the preseason, I began to seriously consider him as a potential candidate. At the conclusion of last season, I really wouldn't have. The old right-hander now joins Waiters, though, along with Anthony Bennett, Anderson Varejao, Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack as the six players on the Cavs roster capable of posting the second-highest scoring average on the team.
Despite the increased competition, I expect Waiters to assume that role in 2013-14 by averaging 17 points on 45 percent shooting. Here are some of my reasons why:
Waiters' inefficiencies to begin his career overshadowed the improvements he went on to make last season. During 23 combined games in the months of November and December, Waiters posted a monthly field-goal percentage of 36.9 and 34.2 percent, respectively. That's obviously not good, but it shouldn't dismiss the improvements he made from there.
As I illustrated below in a chart for you guys, Waiters went on to shoot at least 41.9 percent or better during each of the four months to follow. Highlighted by a rookie-of-the-month performance in February, he provided enough of a sample size to demonstrate what he is capable of when completely invested from a mental standpoint.
Waiters also provided enough data to reasonably suggest that his post-All-Star break numbers of 16.1 points on 45.8 percent shooting are more indicative of future production than the 14.2 on 39.6 he shot before the break.
Playing alongside an improved Kyrie Irving after a year of NBA experience, equipped now with the support of Jarrett Jack, expect Waiters to improve his scoring average by 2.3 points from a season ago to 17. That jump will be fueled primarily by increasing his field-goal percentage from 41.2 to 45 percent this season specifically.
And in case you're interested, below is how I expect the Cavs top-7 scorers to finish:
1. Kyrie Irving – Projected Average of 24 PPG
2. Dion Waiters – Projected Average of 17 PPG
3. Tristan Thompson
4. Anthony Bennett
5. Andrew Bynum
6. Jarrett Jack
7. Anderson Varejao
From Thompson to Varejao, I expect each player to be bunched up around 10-14 points. Among the Cavs who appeared in at least 59 games last season, five Cavaliers averaged at least 10 points as a reference. Wayne Ellington at 38 games and Mo Speights at 39 made seven players in double figures, while Anderson Varejao at 25 games made eight.
Predicting who leads Cavs in starts at Small Forward: Anthony Bennett (32)
By the time we break for All-Star Weekend two things will have become strikingly clear: the Cavaliers have no clear-cut starter at small forward and Anthony Bennett is too talented to keep on the bench.
1st game of the season a couple days away , too hyped !
— Anthony Bennett (@AnthonyBennett) October 27, 2013
For those reasons, along with Bennett possessing a skill set capable of being a difference-maker in a hybrid small forward role, expect the No. 1 overall pick to emerge as the starter at SF during the second half of the season.
I understand the Cavaliers are saying now that Bennett is a power forward exclusively. I also think that approach is good from an initial development standpoint at the moment; allow AB to focus on only one position, avoid the speculation of filling the team's most obvious need, ease his way into the season, I get all that.
But as he does become more comfortable, and plays himself into NBA shape, the best and most explosive lineup the Cavaliers can put on the floor will eventually require Bennett alongside Tristan Thompson and either Anderson Varejao or Andrew Bynum.
So while Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee may split the first 50 starts, I have Bennett penciled in for February 18 against the Philadelphia 76ers. I also expect him to close out the season by making approximately 32 starts in total as the Cavaliers compete for a playoff berth down the stretch.