When big news breaks in the NBA, the Right Down Euclid staff is here to provide expert analysis on storylines that are debate-filled. In this edition of “Countertop Conversation,” host Trevor Magnotti is joined by Chris Manning and Zak Kolesar in discussing the offensive possibilities and multiple lineups that the Cleveland Cavaliers now have at their disposal after signing center Andrew Bynum on Wednesday. Below, the three debate how Mike Brown’s coaching staff will formulate the offense and give their take on which lineup will give the Wine and Gold the best chance to win with the game winding down.
Trevor Magnotti: The Cavaliers have assembled quite the interesting roster for this upcoming season. The Cavs seemingly have three guards who excel with the ball in their hands, three “shooters” and now four quality post players. They lack a conventional small forward, and their spot-up shooters aren’t exactly Danny Green and Kyle Korver. Also, Mike Brown’s struggles when it comes to creativity on the offensive side of the ball are well documented. However, the Cavs have a dominating center who, if healthy, is a terror on offense, the team should be really strong on the offensive glass this year, and their guards are all talented distributors and scorers. The team also brought in assistants Igor Kokoskov, who worked under Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry with the Phoenix Suns, and Bernie Bickerstaff, a coach well known for his high-caliber offenses with the late-80s Sonics. Together, these tools have me thinking that this is going to be a fast-paced offense next season, based on the pick-and-roll and suddenly excellent mid-range shooting the team will get from the newcomers. But that might seem incongruous with Mike Brown’s offenses Cavs fans are used to, right?
Chris Manning: It’s interesting to me that, even though the position has been upgraded, small forward still worries me the most. Between Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark, the position will be held down for the year, but beyond that, it’s still up in the air. The other dynamic at play here is that not every piece on the roster is built to run. Sure, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and others are built to push the pace, but I can’t see Andrew Bynum thriving in the open floor. Ideally, I see a blend of a fast break offense and a more traditional half-court set – especially when Bynum is on the floor alongside Tristan Thompson and either C.J. Miles or Sergey Karasev on the wing. In a lineup like the latter, either Irving or Jarrett Jack can run the pick-and-roll with Bynum and have a shooter open if the play breaks down. Offensively, my favorite (potential) five would be Irving, Waiters, Miles/Bennett, Varejao and Bynum. I see that lineup as having both size and the ability to run different sets. The best part of this all is that I could think of five or six more lineups that ooze with potential.
Zak Kolesar: Chris, I can see where you’re coming from when saying that Bynum is not fit to thrive in a fast-paced offense. While in Los Angeles, he played for teams that didn’t push the pace and often ranked in the bottom-half or third in possessions per game. Although Bynum did see his numbers reach a zenith in his lone season with Brown as head coach, it is unfair to judge how well the seven-footer will do in Cleveland’s pick-and-roll due to the players he was surrounded by while on the Lakers. With Derek Fisher at the point, the Los Angeles teams that Bynum played for weren’t anything special from a distribution standpoint. As Trevor pointed out, the offensive specialists brought in to help Brown with offensive strategy after a failed, slow-paced Princeton offense in his second season in LA will key in on Bynum when trying to formulate a winning strategy. When it gets down to the final moments of a game that is when we will see this Cleveland team play its best basketball if all their premier pieces are healthy. Crazy to say after last season, right? Both Bynum and Kyrie thrive in the clutch, and having a dominant presence down low to depend on if the perimeter is well contained will instill the notion in the back of Kyrie’s mind early on in possessions that he has a trusty big to depend on down low. But putting the Bynum signing aside for a minute, I think that Bennett is going to thrive the most out of any new addition in a fast-paced style. His spot-up-and-shoot capabilities allow him to make quick decisions from anywhere on the court, which will be one of our best weapons this season to utilize.
TM: Zak, I totally agree with that. As the Fear the Sword guys mentioned in their podcast yesterday, the Cavs should benefit greatly from Bennett’s abilities as a pick-and-pop guy immediately. In fact, that’s a factor that could be huge for the Cavaliers next season. Their pick-and-pop game is going to be BANANAS. Kyrie, Waiters and Jack can all run the PnR very well, and with Earl Clark, Anthony Bennett, and yes, Tyler Zeller, the Cavaliers have a variety of guys who can set good screens and hit mid-range shots consistently. Jack’s also a stud from mid-range, as is Kyrie. I know they aren’t the most efficient shot on the court, but having as many as five guys who can drop an 18-footer consistently should make up for the fact that this team is likely going to be awful from behind the three-point line this season. I think the ideal Cavs lineups offensively are going to be combinations of two of Irving/Jack/Waiters, Gee or Karasev, one of Clark/Bennett/Zeller, and one of Thompson/Varejao/Bynum. This way, you always have two ball-dominant guards and one PnR threat with a midrange game, a power rebounder and a three-point “threat” at all times. I use quotations there because outside of Irving and Jack, there is not a proven three-point threat on this team. This is probably where I’m most concerned for the Cavs offense.
CM: I think between Irving, Jack, Karasev and Miles, three-point shooting should be better than expected. I think the issues will come when only one of those players is on the floor. I foresee a lot of lineups where Irving (and to an extent, Jack) are the only three-point shooters on the floor. This is going to be a lineup the pick-and-pop game is going to come into play. The biggest issue I see is if/when Bynum is limited. He’s going to be their strongest pick-and-roll player – especially with Irving – that no other player can match. Thompson has a refined game, teams will be content to let Varejao shoot and Bennett is going to have an adjustment period in finishing at the lane. That leads to a point I never thought I would write: Tyler Zeller deserves a fine amount of minutes, somewhere in the 12-17 range. His skillet, at seven foot, is different than any other big on the roster. IF (and it’s a huge IF) Bennett plays any minutes at the three, a lineup of Irving, Waiters, Bennett, Varejao and Zeller could be interesting. Same thing if you interchange Bynum for Zeller. The issue is that so much depends on what Bennett can do. And man, Otto Porter sure would fit that role nicely.
ZK: I love that point about Zeller, and I think we should use his increased knowledge of the Cavs’ offensive system last year as a model of patience for the newcomers this year. Granted, I think since most players on this team already have good background in the PnR, it will make for a better start to the season. Having Zeller in for more minutes than most would have thought he would have seen last season might not have been a bad thing looking forward to this season. Once Zeller figured out positioning on the court and started lurking outside in the PnR, his midrange shooting percentages shot up. Having players who will effectively be able to allow this offense to run with an automatic fluidity deep into our roster makes me extremely confident in our bench offense. This will also open a guy like Miles on the perimeter since we now have multiple players who can contribute from many areas on the floor. I believe he will be one of the most important cogs in the PnR this season, and a lineup of Irving/Waiters/Miles/Varejao/Zeller is something I’m really excited to see next season; a totally different story from last season.
TM: Alright, I think we’ve painted a pretty good picture of what the Cavs’ offense should look like next season. That being said, what lineup finishes games for the Cavaliers this season? It’s fairly obvious that Irving will be finishing things off as the go-to scorer. Bynum will also definitely be utilized if he’s available. The other three spots are a little up in the air to me, however. In one slot, Jarrett Jack makes a lot of sense to me. He’s the best three-point shooter the Cavs will have, hits about 85 percent of his free throws and isn’t afraid to put up a shot in late-game situations. He could be playing the role of Jason Terry for the Cavaliers as a late-game gunner. The other forward spot is an argument between Varejao and Tristan Thompson, and while I think Thompson is a better fit next to Bynum, the fact is that he’s still not a great free throw shooter, and Varejao hits about 76 percent from the line. Let’s avoid late-game hacking and go Varejao. Finally, I think the last spot can change depending on who’s hot, who matchups dictate should play, or game situation. Waiters and Bennett should be there a majority of the time, with Waiters if you need a three or the other team is going small-ball, and Bennett if there’s a bigger small forward opposite of him. Karasev could also be an option if the team clearly needs to heave up a three. I think as the season progresses we will quickly figure out who should be the go-to between Bennett and Waiters, of course. However, right now, I think taking a matchup approach is the best bet for figuring out which should be in the game.
CM: I agree with Trevor here. The Cavaliers have roster dexterity that they haven’t had before, and that’s going to make it fun. That said, Irving is going to be the go-to no matter the lineup. My favorite potential game-ending lineup is this: Irving, Jack, Miles, Varejao and Bynum. Sure, Bynum is going to be a liability on the free throw line, but Varejao and Bynum could control the boards on both sides as the game winds down. Miles might not be the best on-ball defender, but he would provide three-point shooting if a defense collapses on Irving. Jack also provides the Cavaliers with a capable ball handler if Irving gets double-teamed and needs to get the ball off a screen. The only issue here is that the lineup is geared toward the offensive side of the ball. I could see Clark interchanged with Miles when the game turns into a half-court possession. Offensively though, I think the Cavaliers are going to be set at the end of the game – even if Irving is hounded by opposing teams.
ZK: Irving is running the point in these situations; I shouldn’t even be typing this right now. With that said, I’m going to put Jack at the two in late-game situations with the game close. As Trevor mentioned, his three-point shooting is tops on this roster, so having two viable long-range shooters in the same lineup forces teams to spread out their defense instead of focusing on making a certain player panic with the game on the line. Jack is an established NBA player, and that is why I don’t want Dion in a lineup like this just yet. He just isn’t at a level where he can make smart decisions in the closing minutes of a tight match. Dion wants to be able to be this player who can be relied on late in games, but he just needs to be a more disciplined player before I can trust him in close situations. At the three, I honestly don’t know who I want here for certain. I want to have a Bynum and Varejao frontcourt for sure in order to cover all facets of the game, but out of Karasev, Clark and Gee, I’m not sure which way I want to lean with this one. Having another shooter in Karasev would force defenses to spread even more, so even though his defense is not polished yet, having him in the lineup frees up Irving and Jack a little more than they already would be. I just don’t want poor shooters in Gee and Clark on the floor late in the game, even if they may make better defensive mismatches. So I’ll settle with an Irving/Jack/Karasev/Varejao/Bynum lineup to close out games and to end this conversation.