From time to time, we like to reach out to our other SB Nation sites to get their takes on what is going on in Cleveland sports. So naturally it was time to talk to Conrad, Site Manager at Fear The Sword to talk about the Cavs after the team's 97-80 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night in Canton.
Conrad and I discuss what to do with Dion Waiters, the impact of fresh faces like C.J. Miles and Jon Leuer and Byron Scott's plan as we move through the preseason.
Martin: Obviously you can't jump to many conclusions after just two preseason games (one against an NBA team), but you can see patterns or surprises not noted during Summer League. Game action is game action in some respects. What did you observe in the Cavs' loss to the Bucks on Monday night?
Conrad: Well, I observed a lot of things. Figuring out which of those things actually matter is another issue. The most obvious storylines that people will gravitate towards were the performances of Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles. Miles was great and Waiters was terrible. Obviously that means Miles is an All-Star and that Waiters is a bust. Or at least that's what the casual fan or reactionary media member will want to think. But if Miles plays poorly in the next game and Waiters picks it up big time, then what?
Martin: Then the Cavs are in good shape, I'd say. The two-guard spot was the biggest weakness Cleveland had by far last year. The fact that Miles could come in and play well is promising. It was a low risk, moderate reward signing, and we saw the reward portion of it early on. He's a veteran without being old, he is athletic and rangy on defense, he can run the floor and has already established some chemistry with Kyrie Irving, which is nice.
Miles playing well early is great for Waiters. There is no pressure on Waiters to start, and he can come off the bench to establish his role. He's used to that anyway. The kid needs to learn the plays, get adjusted to NBA speed and continue to improve the little things. With a competent player in front of him, he can do that without drowning in a starting role. I like that. Expectations and prognostications be damned, let's give Waiters a little more time than Summer League without Kyrie and two preseason games.
Byron Scott is saying what he needs to say to light a fire under the kid. Waiters' biggest advantage and disadvantage is his pride. He's a tough kid who wants to do well, so it's about negotiating that middle ground between praise and condemnation -- Scott can do that.
I said on Twitter when Jon Leuer was waived by the Rockets he would be a perfect fit on the Cavs with Antawn Jamison out, and it looks like he can fill some of that offensive void without being a liability on defense. How did you feel about the play of Leuer and the other new faces?
Conrad: Leuer looked real solid. He's a smart player and his skill set lends itself well to what the Cavaliers need. He showed the ability to shoot midrange jumpers on pick and pops, something Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson lack. My only slight concern is his lack of versatility position-wise. If we're to assume that he is in a battle with Samardo Samuels for minutes in the front court, Samardo's ability to play either power forward or center gives him a bit of an edge. Even if Leuer is a better player, Byron Scott may be more comfortable with the combinations that he's able to use when Samardo is playing.
As far as other new faces are concerned, I think it's too early to make any sort of conclusions. Jeremy Pargo looked a bit out of control and made some hasty decisions that led to turnovers. Kelenna Azubuike showed me some surprising mobility but didn't play nearly enough for me to get any idea of whether he's back to the player that he once was. I will admit, however, that I will be somewhat disappointed if he's cut since I'm just now figuring out how to consistently spell his name correctly.
The Cavs have a bunch of intriguing pieces, but now it's a matter of figuring out where they fit in a team setting. They've got a long way to go and Byron has plenty of time to make these decisions. I think the biggest mistake a fan or writer can make is forgetting that Byron sees WAY more of these players than what we see in a preseason game.
Martin: That's a good way to look at it. We're getting the Facebook albums, while he's seeing the day-to-day life. It's easy to pick a particular moment, televised or not, and obsess over it, but preseason as a whole is a series of practices. Games right now are just practices against another set of players. What I'm looking for is improvement in those snapshots, rather than regression, so it's good to have a baseline for what I want to see better. I expect guys like Andy and Kyrie to be on cruise control, but how will Zeller improve? How will Waiters adjust? Who out of the bottom five players looks the hungriest?
It's easy to jump to all kinds of rationalizations just because we are seeing basketball again, but I want to see this team as a cohesive unit ready to play when the season starts. That's the bottom line. My expectations are to be in the lottery, so I just want to see the guys playing hard and getting better. Far too often we see regression over the course of the year when it comes to Cleveland teams, and that's coaching. If we're to judge Byron Scott in year 3, that's my biggest thing to watch for.
Conrad: And Coach Scott said as much after Tuesday night's game. He said they played selfishly and that they can't win when they play like that. He has just about three weeks to hammer home these concepts on both sides of the ball. The front office seems to have done a nice job putting together a team of players with high basketball IQs, so I expect them to pick up the system rather easily.
That said, we may not even see that improvement despite the fact that it may be happening. By that I mean that these young players are obviously going to have their ups and downs as they figure these things out. A guy could have a great week and be playing much better throughout practice, but we never see that. Then if he comes out and has a rough 20 minutes, we assume he learned nothing. Each single game is far too small of a sample size to make any hard and fast conclusions from.
Over the course of an 82-game season, these things generally even out and we get a better sense of how each guy actually performs. We've got to give it time.
Martin: What are your keys moving forward in the preseason? What are you hoping to see? Who makes the final roster?
Conrad: As you said, I want to see progression and improvement. Wins don't matter to me. If we aren't playing Kyrie in the fourth quarter, we clearly weren't even trying to win that game. I'd like to see guys figuring out how to play with one another and playing to their strengths. The most important thing, however, is probably how Byron Scott reacts. If he's pleased with the progress that they've made as a team, then they'll probably be in good shape for the regular season.
As far as a final roster goes, it's too early to tell. I didn't even get to see Donald Sloan, Samardo Samuels, or Omri Casspi play last night. We'll address that when the regular season gets a bit closer.
Thanks again to Conrad, and wander on over to FTS for your daily Cavs fix.