I knew the Cleveland Cavaliers significantly upgraded their roster long before arriving at Baldwin Wallace for the 2013 installment of the Wine and Gold Scrimmage.What I walked out realizing, however, is just how talented and deep the Cavaliers now are as compared to the last three seasons.
The rosters who previously filled starting lineups with names like Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden and Luke Walton really only featured three or four guys who could've actually earned minutes for another NBA team. According to NBA Future Odds, there are 10 players who could get themselves onto the floor for any number of teams around the league. That's how much better this year's version of the Cavaliers will be and that's without the services of Andrew Bynum.
The newly acquired center was in uniform and on the bench during the W&G scrimmage but obviously didn't play. Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark and Anthony Bennett did play, though, and this is what stuck out the most while watching from my seat along the baseline.
Jarrett Jack is going to make a wide-ranging impact on this team
Jarrett Jack is going to force Kyrie Irving to become a better defender by competing against him on a daily basis.
This much was evident while watching Jack lead a group comprised of C.J. Miles, Earl Clark, Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller against Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varjeao.
Irving's team lead throughout the afternoon, but Jack kept the pressure on by pushing tempo and finding teammates around the rim. After the game, I asked Tyler Zeller–who found himself on the receiving end of four of those assists–about his initial impressions of his new teammate.
"I've been playing with him all week and he's a great leader," Zeller said of Jack. "He's a great point guard and great facility and he can also knock down shots himself from the perimeter. I'm really looking forward to playing with him."
Zeller and every other member of the second unit should be looking forward to playing with Jack. As arguably the best backup point guard in the league, expect Jack to make life easier for that group while also helping them compete on a nightly basis.
The scrimmage did end when Zeller went down but he also said he's okay
Following a Tristan Thompson right-handed free throw during the third quarter, Zeller went down to the floor after what appeared to be a collision with Varejao. When Zeller hit the deck, he looked like he was in serious pain. I was roughly 10 feet away while Zeller was rolling on the ground and really thought he could be out for the season.
Fortunately I'm not a doctor, though, because the second-year big man appears to be fine.
Zeller eventually got up, walked it off and isn't expected to miss any time in camp. But before the action resumed, Mike Brown grabbed the microphone like a total boss and called it a day.
Brown said the floor was slippery, causing Zeller to fall, and he didn't want to risk getting anyone else injured. Nobody in the building blamed him for the decision and the scrimmage ended there with the Cavs in the lead.
Earl Clark looks like a starter at small forward
During the first quarter, Earl Clark–who looks taller than 6'10" up close–used his long frame to get into the passing lane for a steal, finished with emphasis at the rim in traffic and knocked down a shot from the perimeter.
Even though it appears Alonzo Gee would start if the season began tomorrow, I really feel like Clark is coming hard for that spot.
While Gee is a much more physical defender, Clark's length and athleticism provides a unique and potentially valuable dynamic alongside Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Varejao. Obviously it's real early, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I walked out real impressed with the forward by way of Los Angeles.
Anthony Bennett showed enough to remain encouraged
There will be a storyline emerging throughout the preseason that suggests Anthony Bennett is overweight and out of shape, but I really don't think you should be worried about that when you hear it.
Bennett will need some time to build up his endurance and stamina without question. He was noticeably gassed after the first four minutes and I'm not trying to argue otherwise. But Bennett will eventually get there and certainly appeared to be more comfortable as the scrimmage went on.
His first basket was a run-of-the-mill putback that came after misfiring on a couple shots you'd like to see him make.
But after he got the first one to go, Bennett came back later with an explosive finish at the rim directly over a teammate that you really only see from the special type of talents in this league. It was only one moment in a practice-like atmosphere to be sure, but it was all I needed to see from Bennett at this point to remain extremely bullish.
After the game, he answered questions about his weight by saying that he's at 250 pounds, eight pounds more than the 242 he played at last year for UNLV. He also added that he felt comfortable playing at that weight and I for one believe him.
More on Tuesday as the preseason begins for real.
Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images (via Cavs.com)