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Andrew Bynum + Mike Brown + Sergey Karasev

Cavalier Questions

August 13, 2013
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

The Tribe is in the midst of a playoff chase and the Browns are just kicking off. But during these dog days of the offseason, there’s still a thought-bubble hovering over Cavs fans’ heads – filled with questions about the upcoming season for the Wine and Gold.

Here are a few queries that might be popping up as August rolls on and Training Camp approaches. We’ll have more as the 2013-14 campaign approaches, but here are a few for consideration as the summer subsides …

What will the frontline look like?

Austin Carr frequently states that a team doesn’t really become completely cohesive until all its players are in their correct position. This hasn’t been the case for the Cavs over the past few seasons.

At the end of his rookie season – after missing Training Camp because of the Lockout – Tristan Thompson, a natural power forward, was forced to start almost the entire second half at center following Anderson Varejao’s injury. Last year, Andy was again limited to just 25 games, forcing Tyler Zeller into the starting center role. Thompson made huge strides as a sophomore after moving back to his natural position. But Zeller hit the rookie wall around the All-Star Break and the Wine and Gold faded down the stretch.

This offseason, the Cavaliers added Andrew Bynum to the big man mix. Bynum missed all of last year with Philly, but in his previous six NBA seasons averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per contest. In the season before being dealt to the Sixers, Bynum posted career-highs in points (18.7) and rebounds (11.8) – and was named an All-Star starter for the Western Conference – for then-Lakers coach Mike Brown.

Top overall pick, Anthony Bennett, isn’t a prototypical power forward, but he’s got a big, NBA-ready body that implies he can contribute right away. Earl Clark is a legitimate 6-10, but is considered small forward. Still, it can’t hurt the frontline having a defensive-minded, near-seven-footer guarding the weakside.

Tristan Thompson was one of the league’s most improved players last year and Tyler Zeller looked bigger and more confident at Summer League. We know what Bynum can do and we saw Varejao playing at All-Star levels – leading the NBA in rebounding (and averaging 14.1 ppg) before sustaining a knee injury last year.

So maybe the real questions regarding Cleveland’s bigs this season is: Can Andrew Bynum get healthy and can Anderson Varejao stay healthy?

What kind of impact will Anthony Bennett have as a rookie?

Not to put pressure on the kid, but the last two Cavs taken No. 1 overall were named Rookie of the Year after their first year and made a trip to the All-Star Game after their second.

The Cavaliers don’t need Anthony Bennett to earn any individual awards (although it’d be nice). But after he’s able to rehab his shoulder, the Wine and Gold would love to see him in the rotation. Bennett might have been labeled as a “tweener,” but he wasn’t drafted as a “project.” He has an NBA-ready body and game and he should get some NBA-ready opportunities right from the start. Bennett will be done rehabbing his shoulder in August and will be ready when Training Camp tips off in early October.

Unlike Kyrie Irving, who played just 11 games for Duke in his only college season, Bennett completed a very productive season at UNLV where he averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 boards in 34 contests. But it’s not just the numbers that excited the Cavaliers brain trust enough to take him with the top pick. The rugged 20-year-old passes the eye test, too.

“He was one of those guys, when you walked out of the gym after you saw him play, you kind of went, ‘Wow!’” said GM Chris Grant on the night Bennett was selected. “He does things that you just don’t see other people do.”

Who will be the team’s most improved player?

It’s always entertaining to see who emerges from the offseason with a different twist to their game. Maybe someone hit the weight room extra hard. Maybe they’ve added a new mid-range or long-distance shot to their repertoire. Maybe they just got a different new haircut.

The Cavaliers had as much turnover as any club in the Eastern Conference – and more changes could be on the way. But who will come back a different player in 2013-14.

Last year, Thompson’s numbers were up across the board. And there’s no doubt that the former Longhorn emerged as one of the team’s true leaders through a trying final six weeks of the season. Thompson’s scoring average increased by almost 3.5 points and, more importantly, his field goal and free throw percentage both took big leaps. He finished the campaign with the second-most offensive rebounds in the NBA.

This year’s most improved player might not have the numbers to show for it. With Mike Brown back, there will be a renewed focus on defense. And any number of players can certainly improve defensively. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, for example, have already shown they can post big offensive numbers, but can Coach Brown get them to turn it up on the other end. Tyler Zeller has also shown a pretty good offensive array for an NBA freshman. The new coaching staff will see if he can be a shot-blocker and rim-protector, too.

Who will start at small forward?

The short answer is that it really doesn’t matter. Alonzo Gee has been solid as a starter or coming off the bench. Earl Clark started 36 games for the Lakers last season, but started just one game in his previous three seasons.

Gee has been one of the squad’s most solid performers since signing with the Cavs in 2010. He’s started 142 of the 185 games he’s played for the Wine and Gold – including all 82 last year. Over his last two seasons, Gee’s averaged 10.5 points, shot 41 percent from the floor and was probably the squad’s best and most versatile defender in both seasons – checking a point guard one night and a small forward the next.

Clark is also a willing and seasoned defender, only he has the 6-10 frame to smother an opponent vertically. The former Louisville standout had his best season as a pro last year and was the Lakers’ second-best player down the stretch. He averaged 7.3 points and 5.5 boards per contest and shot 34 percent from beyond the arc

So it truly doesn’t matter who starts at the 3 this season. And there will be plenty of occasions when Gee and Clark are on the floor together. Both players bring a limited offensive skill-set, but they also bring what new coach Mike Brown covets above all – a tenacious defensive mentality.

Will Sergey Karasev be able to contribute as a 19-year-old rookie?

When the clean-shaven 19-year-old Russian swingman came to Cleveland a couple weeks ago, he looked like a 17-year-old Russian swingman.

But the young Russian admitted that day that he needs to add some weight and muscle to his frame. He has all the tools that made him a first-rounder – he can score, rebound and distribute the ball. He was exceptional in the recent World University Games, winning the Gold medal for Russia and averaging 19.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the process. He can play two wing positions and do so with either hand.

Drafted with the 19th overall pick, Karasev comes from good stock. His father – who’s also the coach of the Russian national team – was the starting point guard of the senior men's national team from 1993 to 2003.

Of course, the World University Games and NBA games are a different animal. And he’ll be going against a level of competition like he’s never seen. But despite his age, Karasev has already logged a lot of mileage in a very competitive European league. It’ll take him a while to figure things out. But usually, coaches’ sons figure things out faster than most.

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