When you hear the Cavaliers want to add more draft picks, you look at Wednesday’s 87-84 win at Washington and understand why.
Byron Scott started a rookie center, a rookie shooting guard, a second-year power forward and a second-year point guard. That would be, in order, Tyler Zeller, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving.
Alonzo Gee started at small forward — and while Gee’s officially in his fourth year, it feels more like his second. So the Cavs are sort of a college All-Star team trying to find its way in the NBA.
The Cavs (7-23) have now captured two in a row on the road for the first time this season. Surprisingly, both wins came without Anderson Varejao, the normal starting center and league’s leading rebounder.
The 30-year-old Varejao is the one Cavalier who makes the starting lineup considerably more experienced. Besides Irving, Varejao is the team’s best passer and his endless energy also translates to 14.1 points per game.
But Varejao missed his fourth consecutive game with a bruised knee, leaving his younger teammates to make do without him.
Granted, the Wizards (3-23) stink. They were also without some of their best players, missing John Wall, Trevor Booker, Trevor Ariza and A.J. Price — all out with injuries.
But as Cleveland fans often say after the Cavs blow it (and they almost did again Wednesday), this isn’t about wins and losses. Not yet. It’s about getting all these young NBA players some pro basketball know-how.
Lately, the Cavs have displayed growth. When constantly talking about a process, well, growing up counts for a lot. That’s not to say the Cavs have arrived. Not even close. But at least now we can see flashes of what their plan is supposed to be about.
It’s supposed to be about youth, hustle, character and learning on the fly. In beating the Wizards (and Milwaukee four days earlier), those are some of the things they displayed. Not always, and not at the level of a playoff-contending team.
But for the Cavs and Scott, it’s something. That’s better than the confusion, and even panic, that seemed to be the story during the previous week. The Cavs had lost six in a row. They looked flat and not nearly motivated enough. They looked almost hopeless.
They’ll certainly have more awful nights. They’re too untried to expect anything else. But as long as they can sprinkle in a few positive strings like the one they’re currently riding … eventually, at least it will make a little sense.
As for explanations on the Cavs’ strong play lately, there really aren’t any.
Irving is just being Irving, finishing with 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds. He’s also playing with a touch of cockiness, parading around with his behind-the-back and crossover dribbles like he can just take over whenever he wants.
There may not be a bigger star-on-the-rise in the entire NBA. So the Cavs and their fans need the kid to strut his stuff.
Then there’s Thompson, who looked to be regressing earlier in the season. Now, he’s playing with much more energy and with more of a purpose. Hustle and rebound, he seems to say, and the scoring will come.
If so, it’s worked out magnificently, as Thompson has tallied a double-double in four consecutive games. Against the Wizards, he scored 15 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.
If Thompson can do these things for an entire career, no one will be complaining that the Cavs took him with the fourth overall pick in 2011.
Meanwhile, Waiters (nine points) and Zeller (six points, seven boards) played with poise and rarely forced a thing in Wednesday’s victory.
Sure, the Cavs almost blew this one — with Irving missing 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute. They held on only when Wizards guard Jordan Crawford missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
So the Cavs are young, and with their horde of draft picks to come, they could get even younger.
But after wins like Wednesday, you can at least begin to comprehend why.