By Wade Foley
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been receiving some positive feedback from ESPN lately, which is a welcomed change from the past three seasons. First, ESPN predicted the Cavs to make the playoffs this season as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 39-43. While this writer believes the Cavs will accrue more than 39 wins this season, that’s still quite an improvement over the 24 wins from last season. The Cavs’ record and ability to reach the playoffs this season will also strongly hinge on their injuries, or lack thereof.
Soon after that, ESPN statistical analyst Bradley Doolittle said that the Cavs are the most improved team heading into the new season. He acknowledged that the Cavs would have improved even if they didn’t bring in any new talent due to the young, developing core from last season. He then added that Anthony Bennett, Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and the return of Anderson Varejao would greatly improve the roster and bolster the Cavs bench. He even showed love to “one of the top incoming rookie shooters” and one of my new favorite players, Sergey Karasev.
It’s refreshing to get some positive national attention once again after a rough three years in Cleveland. Fortunately, it shouldn’t stop there with the Cavs set to play nine nationally televised games this season.
On Thursday, however, a lot of Cavs fans were upset with ESPN’s predictions for Rookie of the Year. Their methodology for picking and ranking whom they believe will be the top five candidates for Rookie of the Year was simple. They had a panel of 215 voters vote for their top three candidates, with points determined for each place selection. Bennett did not crack the top five. The top five rookies, in order, were: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Ben McLemore, Cody Zeller and C.J. McCollum.
While it might be shocking to not see the number one overall pick among the top five projected Rookie of the Year candidates, it really should have been expected.
First of all, Bennett is still recovering from a shoulder injury and isn’t expected to participate in full-contact workouts until next week, at the earliest. This shouldn’t affect his rookie season too much, but it will give him a little less time to get back into playing shape and get his weight down by the start of training camp.
Secondly, Bennett is not expected to be thrown into a starting role like several of the players on that list. He will undoubtedly be backing up Tristan Thompson to start the season and this writer would be surprised if that changed throughout the entirety of the season. If Bynum and Varejao can both somehow manage to stay healthy, even remotely healthy, then the Cavs are going to have a crowded frontcourt. There will be five bigs deserving of playing time, and it will be interesting to see how Mike Brown distributes the minutes throughout the season. This should be good for Bennett’s development, as it will allow him to come along at his pace with little pressure on him, but it most likely won’t be winning him any Rookie of the Year votes.
Other players on that list like Oladipo, Burke, Zeller and maybe even McLemore should see more minutes right away; which should equal more touches and an increase in stats. Damian Lillard is a prime example of this from last season. He was thrust into the starting point guard position as a rookie because of Portland’s lack of talented guards. He ended the season tied with Kobe Bryant (behind Luol Deng) for the second most minutes per game in the league at 38.6. This allowed him to immediately make an impact in the NBA and ended up earning him the Rookie of the Year award.
Cavs fans shouldn’t take this prediction as a knock on their power forward, but as the logical choice. It’s mid-August and any prediction right now is at least somewhat futile anyhow. If forced to choose my Rookie of the Year right now, though, Oladipo would be at the top of my list as well. He’s on a rebuilding team in Orlando and should get plenty of opportunity to prove himself this season.
The Rookie of the Year award is far less important compared to what the Cavs are building towards. As long as Bennett continues to grow and improve this season, Cavs fans should be pleased. His main focus should be on transitioning his talented offensive game to the NBA level, improving his defense and constantly working hard to prove he deserved to be chosen number one. If he does all of this, the national recognition will come. As will the adoration from Cavs fans, which is really the most important thing.
Related Stories on Buckeye State Sports: