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Team Preview #13: Cleveland Cavaliers

by Eric Wong AKA Roto Evil

August 21st, 2008


Cleveland finished the regular season with the 4th best record in the Eastern Conference. After beating Washington in Round 1, they pushed the Celtics to their limits before losing in 7 games. LeBron had the #1 PER last season (29.1), but the Cavs were not a very good team for fantasy purposes, as they finished 24th in scoring, 25th in pace factor, 25th in assists, 27th in FG%, and 28th in FT%.


Key Additions: Mo Williams, Tarence Kinsey, JJ Hickson
Key Losses: Delonte West?, Joe Smith, Damon Jones, Devin Brown

Just last week, the Cavs made a huge trade by moving the veterans Smith & Jones for the explosive Mo Williams. Now Cleveland is stuck with his rather sizable contract, but Williams is entering his prime and will give LeBron immediate help (especially on the offensive end). Last month, the Cavs also locked up sharpshooting guard Daniel Gibson to a 5-year deal for nearly $21 million. Both of those moves may signal the end for Delonte West, as West was hoping for a new contract. A 1-year, $2.7 million qualifying offer from Cleveland is still on the table, but so is a 2-year, $10 million offer from Dynamo Moscow. I'm not sure if Russia is ready for this or this, but we may soon find out.

In a much less heralded move that I really like, Cleveland signed SG Tarence Kinsey to a 1-year contract for the league minimum. Kinsey averaged 18.8 ppg in 12 starts for Memphis in '06-07 and has been called a "poor man's Rip Hamilton." The Cavs also added big man JJ Hickson via the draft. He's only 19 years old, but he dominated the Summer League to the tune of 19.4 points, 7.8 boards, and 53.4% FG shooting.


Of course, everything starts with LeBron James. He's been in the Top 3 in minutes per game for the past 4 years (40.4 last season), and that won't change anytime soon. Joining him up front will be a pair of 33-year olds: Ben Wallace at power forward and Zydrunas Ilgauskas at center. They need Big Z's offense, so expect 30-31 minutes once again. Big Ben played 26.3 mpg for Cleveland, but he's no longer the dominant defender that he once was, so I'm projecting that number to fall to around 24 in '08-09. Anderson Varejao will be the first big man off the bench, and he should play a career-high 28+ mpg this season. That leaves about 10-12 minutes for the rookie Hickson to show off his skills.

Mo Williams is the new starting point guard, and I'm projecting him to play 34-36 minutes per game. Shooting guard is the big question mark for this team. I don't think Delonte will return, but if he does, does he start at the two? Wally Szczerbiak played just 22.3 mpg after being traded to the Cavs, but he moved into the starting lineup for the Playoffs and played fairly well. Sasha Pavlovic (23.3 mpg) started 45 of the 51 games he played in the regular season, but I'm not a big fan of his game. He has good size & athleticism and is a decent defender, but he's a terrible finisher and is a streaky shooter at best. Gibson didn't re-sign to ride the pine for 5 years, but he's too small to guard most shooting guards. And don't forget about Kinsey!

My predictions: Delonte will take the money and run to Moscow, where he'll live like a king but his b-ball game will suffer. The Cavs will start the season with Wally World at the two, but he'll only play 20-24 mpg. Gibson will get 28-30 minutes off the bench backing up both guard spots. At first Cleveland will be reluctant to play Boobie and Mo at the same time, but they'll eventually realize that they're most explosive when those two are in the lineup with LeBron. Kinsey will barely get off the bench to start the season, but when someone gets injured, he'll perform admirably. Pavlovic will go from being the starting shooting guard to LeBron's backup, which means that he'll be the big loser in the battle for playing time.

DON'T SLEEP ON: Anderson Varejao

It's tough to recommend a guy who averaged just 4.1 points, 5.2 boards, .1 blocks, and 18.4 minutes in 13 playoff games, but I think Sideshow Anderson will bounceback nicely in '08-09. The Cavs gave more playing time to their veterans in the postseason, but at 25 years old, Varejao is about to enter his prime, unlike the declining Ben Wallace (see below). Joe Smith was also just traded to OKC, and while the Cavs replaced him with a talented rookie, Hickson is still very raw. So all signs point to Varejao playing more minutes in '08-09.

Just how important is the Brazilian to Cleveland's success? Well, in the 48 games that Varejao played in '07-08, the Cavs won 28 and lost 20. In the 28 wins, he averaged 8.2 points, 8.9 boards, and 51.4% FG in 28.7 minutes. In the 20 losses, he averaged just 4.6 points, 7.5 boards, and 37.3% FG in 25.7 minutes. Clearly the Cavs are much better when Varejao plays well, which should happen more often as the guy gets more experience and confidence. You don't need to draft him since no one else will, but if he gets off to a hot start and you need rebounding help, I highly recommend picking him up.

BE CAREFUL OF: Ben Wallace

Despite never averaging double digits in scoring nor shooting over 50% from the line, Wallace used to be so dominant in rebounds, blocks, and steals that he was one of the top fantasy centers in the league. In '01-02, Big Ben combined for a monster 5.2 blocks + steals per game. In '02-03, he pulled down 15.4 boards per contest, which is the highest average in the last 10 years.

Unfortunately, Wallace's production has plummeted recently. After posting a 17+ PER for 5 straight years in Detroit, that number fell to 14.6 in '06-07 and a dismal 12.0 in '07-08. He had even averaged 10+ boards and 2+ blocks per 36 minutes every single year of his career up until last season. And after watching him average a meager 3.2 points, 6.5 boards, .6 steals, 1.1 blocks and 23.4 minutes in 13 playoff games, it looks like Big Ben is no longer fantasy-worthy. He may still be the starter, but Anderson Varejao and JJ Hickson are going to cut into his minutes even more this season. Someone will likely draft him based on his past accomplishments, but I'm advising you not to be that person.


(Where you should draft these guys in an 8-cat Roto league with 12 teams and 14 man rosters)

LeBron: Top 5
Williams: 5th - 6th
Ilgauskas: 7th - 8th
Gibson: 13th - 14th
Varejao: Don't draft (but pickup if you need boards)
Wallace: Don't draft (but pickup if you need blocks)

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