INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Five questions about the Cavaliers as they begin training camp Tuesday:
1. How will Dion Waiters fit?
Waiters was drafted (No. 4 overall) with the idea that he’ll start at shooting guard right away and help replace the loss of Antawn Jamison’s 17.2 points per game. Can Waiters do it? That remains to be seen, and we won’t really know until a week or two after camp. But say this much — the kid isn’t lacking confidence. Nor is he above being humble, as Waiters openly admitted on media day he learned from his lack of conditioning at summer league.
Either way, a quick contribution is vital. With his ability to get to the basket, seemingly at will, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But playing alongside Kyrie Irving, Waiters will get plenty of open looks from the perimeter. He needs to knock ’em down. 2. Is Tristan Thompson an everyday starting power forward?
Thompson called himself part of “the weight-gain club” this summer, and it shows. He’s put on 10-15 pounds, all by design. He also had conversations with Irving at the end of last season about defensive rebounding, and basically, turning into a double-double machine.
Thompson and his friends aren’t worried about his scoring (no Cavs player has put in more work this off-season) or shot-blocking (it’s in his blood), so staying focused on crashing the boards is his top priority. If he does that, and he’s certainly capable, then yes, Thompson will be the long-term solution at the “four.”
3. Who starts at small forward?
Last year, Alonzo Gee held the role at the end and did so admirably. But the spot isn’t quite guaranteed this year, not with the addition of free-agent pickup C.J. Miles. Like Gee, Miles possesses the type of athleticism that makes him a natural for the swing spot. Miles also has more experience (seven years in the league to Gee’s two-and-a-third).
Ideally, the Cavs would like to bring Gee off the bench. But he has the edge in this situation — particularly defensively. Still, Miles is talented and driven enough to at least offer some debate, and when it comes to the Cavs and their history at the position, that can only be considered a good thing.
4. Who will emerge out of nowhere to contribute?
With as young as the Cavs are, this is a great season to find a guy who wasn’t expected to do much coming into the season. Goodness knows, the opportunity will be there and so should the minutes. Potential candidates include everyone from power forward Samardo Samuels to big man Jon Leuer to shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike. Samuels is entering his third season and looks like a new (and much more in shape) individual. He’s had his moments in the past.
Meanwhile, Leuer was obtained off waivers from Milwaukee after one year and a reputation as a long forward (6-foot-10) who can sink perimeter shots. And finally, Azubuike was just coming into his own as an outside shooting threat before being derailed by two knee surgeries since 2009. He said he’s now 100 percent, and if so, he may have the best shot of the aforementioned bunch to be the Cavs’ surprise find. 5. Are the Cavs playoff-bound?
Well, maybe. The starting lineup is likely to feature a second-year point guard (Irving) and power forward (Thompson), a first-year shooting guard (Waiters), and third-year small forward (Alonzo Gee) and a 30-year old wild man of a center (Anderson Varejao).
Top players off the bench are expected to be Miles (who’s 25), center Tyler Zeller (another rookie), guard Daniel Gibson (still only 26) and potentially Samuels (23), Leuer (23) and small forward Omri Casspi (24).
If all goes well, coach Byron Scott and the gang will be competing for the No. 8 spot (or better, if all goes really, really well). One thing the Cavs don’t want to do is use their youth as an excuse. Instead, the goal is to be more like Oklahoma City was a few seasons back — playing a passionate brand of basketball that makes them seem like a college team.
A big key is to keep moving forward and not end up with another top-five draft pick. No one goes from last in the division to the Eastern Conference finals with a snap of the fingers. You have to move up slowly. That is the goal here: To make the type of move up that shows some real promise for the future.