The Cavs Backcourt: Questions and Questions

Fresh off a gentleman’s sweep in last year’s Finals, the Cavs retooled their roster and rebooted their style of play with the additions of Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade. With 17 All-Star appearance between the three, 12 by Wade, it would appear that the Cavs can once again stand toe to toe with the defending champs Golden State Warriors.  However, The Cavs traded their consistency for question marks when they replaced their starting backcourt from last season.

The Cavaliers best lineup last season, according to their offensive rating, included the familiar foursome of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving. However, the fifth man included in the group, DeAndre Liggins, just goes to prove that any backcourt involving a player the caliber of Kyrie is set up to be elite no matter who his backcourt mate is.

Whether it be Liggins, Iman Shumpert, or J.R. Smith, the Cavs just needed someone to free up Kyrie defensively, and any added production was icing on the cake. Swap out Kyrie for Isaiah Thomas and J.R. Smith for Dwyane Wade and the dynamic changes completely.

Neglecting that Thomas will be out at least until Christmas with a hip injury, the trade-off from Kyrie to Isaiah is not one to one. There is no precedent for an All-NBA point guard on the best team in the conference being traded to the second-best team in the conference and demoted to the second option.

Brad Stevens got everything he could out of Isaiah, with the five-footer ranking top 10 in the NBA in both usage and PER. If Ty Lue is still the same Ty Lue from last season, then he is going to stick to his guns and primarily use Thomas in isolation situations.

Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers led the NBA in total isolation possessions with 1051 possessions. That is 122 more possessions, nearly a game’s worth of isolation possessions more than the next team, the Los Angeles Clippers. Ty Lue doesn’t mind pounding the rock, but that is the antithesis of what the Boston Celtics did last year ranking second behind the Philadelphia 76ers in total passes made with 325 per game. Without a complete training camp and a preseason to assimilate to this new style of play, I.T. won’t be the King of the Fourth like he was last season in crunch time.

Crunch has been the sound Derrick Rose’s knees make each time he makes one of his violent two-footed leaps towards the basket. It is a continuing theme ever since his season-ending ACL injury in 2012. However, for at least a season with the Knicks, Rose showed flashes of his former self. Playing the most minutes per game (32.5) since his first fateful injury, Rose posted highs in points (18) and field goal percentage (47%), while taking the fewest amount of shots since his rookie season (15.3). Maybe the Cavs saw his efficient play as a precursor to him sharing the court with Lebron, Love, and a traded Kyrie Irving. However, his lack of shooting where it counts should make LeBron scratch his hairline.

The Chicago native Rose was the worst starting point guard regarding three-point percentage, shooting 21% from behind the arc last season. 40 more attempts would have qualified him for the all-time worst shooting season lead by the man that will be guarding Rose opening night, Marcus Smart.

For the Cavs, it’s debatable what is more discouraging: the fact that Rose only took 60 threes playing the point guard position in 2017 or the fact that he made less than a quarter of those that he took. Either way, Rose is a spacing nightmare on a team that if it weren’t for the historic pace of the Houston Rockets, would have led the NBA in three-point attempts in 2016-17.

Who said you had to be a decent three-point shooter to be a great player? Look at Dwyane Wade, 3-time NBA Champion, Finals MVP, and a career 29% from three-point range. Wade can overcome his lack of outside shooting with timely cutting and his nose for offensive rebounds. However, the Cavs will have to devise a plan as to how they will defend on the perimeter with Wade carrying the burdens of both Rose and Thomas on the defensive end.

The Flash D-Wade was a ball-hawking defender that had the speed and athleticism to stay in front of quicker guards and enough strength to hold up bigger small forwards. Father Prime D-Wade has shown a lack of speed that he’ll need defending quicker point guards and lack of effort to get around ball screens.

If defense becomes an issue for the Cavs, then they will be forced to either go back to Smith in the starting lineup or play him over Wade in crunch time which can’t be good for the “Lebron don’t go to LA” campaign in Cleveland. Either way, the Cavs have major concerns that need to be addressed this season if they want to still be in the same class as Golden State.


photo via llananba