Five Things to Watch: Cleveland Cavaliers

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 DanGilbertPresser100515-300x189In 2011, when the Cleveland Cavaliers were awarded the first overall pick at the NBA’s draft lottery, Nick Gilbert – the son of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert – exclaimed on national television, “What’s not to like?!”

Two years after using that first pick on Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers were once again awarded the top overall pick at the this year’s draft lottery.  On that night this past May, ESPN’s Heather Cox repeated Nick Gilbert’s question back to him.

“What’s not to like?” she said.

“Being in the lottery,” he responded. 

After a difficult three seasons in which the Cavaliers went 64-166, they have improved their roster by adding Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark and first round picks Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev.  They have changed coaches.  Their rebuild is ready to move into its next phase.

And if Nick Gilbert is back at the lottery in 2014, this season will have been a disappointment.

Here are the five storylines for the Cavaliers that should be interesting to watch.

1.  How much will Andrew Bynum contribute? The Cavaliers received nearly universal praise for signing Bynum this summer.  With only one year and $6 million of his contract being guaranteed (the total deal could end up being worth $24 million over two years), it was a low-risk, high-reward move.

But nobody really knows what Bynum has left.  Once an All-Star, shaky knees have prevented him from playing an NBA game since the 2012 postseason.  If he can contribute something to this team, he will help form a very formidable frontcourt along with Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Bennett, this year’s first overall pick.

2.  What will Anthony Bennett provide during his rookie season? Bennett was one of the most shocking first overall draft picks ever.  Prior to the actual draft, most mocks showed the Cavaliers using the first pick on either Nerlens Noel or Alex Len, both envisioned as centers.  When David Stern called Bennett’s name, pretty much all of America let out an audible expression of astonishment (including Bill Simmons, who happened to be on live TV at the time).

New coach Mike Brown has indicated that Bennett will play power forward during his rookie season, meaning he will likely back up Thompson.

Cleveland’s first-round picks in each of the two previous drafts (Irving, Thompson, Dion Waiters and Zeller) all were Mike Brown Anderson Varajeoexpected to contribute right away.  Bennett, on the other hand, should not have to bear the undue pressure that often accompanies being the top pick because he isn’t really expected to be a core contributor this season.  However, he will be an X-factor.

3.  Can Mike Brown improve the team’s defense? Under previous coach Byron Scott, the Cavaliers had one of the worst defenses in the NBA.  Last season, they allowed the highest opponent field-goal percentage in the league.

If Bynum and Varejao are healthy, they could go a long way toward changing that between blocking shots and taking charges. But the real key will be Brown’s defense-first approach.  During the 2009-10 campaign, the final season of Brown’s first run in Cleveland, the Cavaliers allowed the third-lowest opponent field-goal percentage in the league.

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