When news broke on July 6 that the Cleveland Cavaliers had come to an agreement with free agent guard Jarrett Jack on a four-year, $25-million deal, the Wine and Gold faithful, in the blink of an eye, became extremely optimistic of Cleveland’s chances of competing for a spot in the playoffs after an unsure, and somewhat puzzling, first free agency move that was the signing of forward Earl Clark to a two-year, $9 million contract (with a second-year team option). When news broke last Wednesday of Andrew Bynum coming to terms with the Cavs, there are now multiple looks on this team’s roster that the Cavaliers could go with in putting together five well-constructed lineups on the court – something that the team was far away from achieving during the 2012-13 campaign. Granted, this team needs to be healthy for this statement to hold true, but the fact of the matter is that for once in the past three seasons, the possibilities are on the roster for this team to make a return to the postseason after toiling around with a combined record of 64-166 (27.8 percent) from 2010-2013.
However, there are still so many questions at the three even with the signing of Clark, as you will be able to tell from the five Cavalier lineups that I am most looking forward to seeing on the court in specific situations. This is where I had the most trouble in deciding which three or combo guard I would insert in certain situations with no real solid option at the three. Clark is seen as a tweener, and his career shooting percentage (41.4 percent) has me hesitant to insert him in crucial situations despite his size advantage over opposing threes. Alonzo Gee, who Kirk Goldsberry pointed out on Grantlad last week as the worst shooter from the right wing last season (33 percent), is a good off-the-ball defensive asset to have in the game late thanks to his aggressive style of play, but like Clark, his shooting habits are definitely concerning to me. Sergey Karasev, once he becomes more polished and eases into the NBA style of play, might be the most confident insertion at the three once the season gets underway, but I first want to see what type of defensive player he is at this level before I can say this with confidence.
Last week, RDE writer Chris Manning previewed the five lineups that he is most looking forward to seeing on the court this upcoming season, but now I will give my take on who the Cavaliers should have on the floor in particular situations. Those include a starting core, second-half starters, defensive studs, second unit and close-out-the-game guys.
1. Starting Core – Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters/Earl Clark/Tristan Thompson/Andrew Bynum
In regards to Chris’ starting core of Irving/Waiters/Clark/Thompson/Anderson Varejao, this lineup is how the season should start off in my opinion as well taking into account the health of the roster. To change things up just a little bit, I decided to go with an everyone-is-healthy-like-a-video-game approach. That’s why I have Bynum as the starting center and also why I slid Varejao to the bench. At this point in Varejao’s career, I think he is better suited for a bench role due to the nagging injuries that he has faced over the past three seasons, which have limited him to playing one game less than the equivalent of a full season over the past three seasons. Players like Gee and Varejao are the type of energy players that you want coming off the bench. Andy played 39 games off the bench and logged 81 games total during the 2008-09 campaign, averaging 8.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, while shooting 53.6 percent from the field. That following season, he played 69 games off the bench (out of 76 total games logged) and averaged 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, while shooting 57.6 percent from the field. He logged almost 29 minutes per game in both of those seasons and logged over 30 MPG in all three of the following seasons which he got injured in. I don’t want to see this happen to Andy again, so in order for this team to reach its max potential, Bynum needs to be in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Enough about Andy, though. The starting backcourt of Irving and Waiters is a no-brainer decision, Thompson proved that he belongs as a starter on this team last season even though Clark and him leave little to work with on the outside. Clark is my frontrunner for the starting three because I have confidence that Mike Brown will be able to use his frame for a defensive advantage when guarding other small forwards. The Clark/Thompson/Bynum starting lineup doesn’t seem ideal, but it will benefit others who you think should garner starting spots by coming off the bench initially.
2. Second-Half Starters – Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters/C.J. Miles/Anthony Bennett/Tyler Zeller
I know your thoughts already: This lineup is relatively small, especially with Bennett in the mix, and won’t be able to play tough enough defense to anchor down the Wine and Gold for the first seven or so minutes of the third quarter. Cleveland did rank second to last in the league in third quarter margin, having a minus-two point differential in the first 12 minutes of the second half. They also ranked 22nd in the league in third quarter points per game average, as they recorded their lowest quarter average of 23.3 points during the aforementioned time frame. Overall in the second half, the Cavs ranked 19th in average points, logging 47.2 per game. In order for this team to make the playoffs this season, they need to be able to carry momentum into the second half and build on double-digit leads. This needs to be done with efficient scorers on the court who work well in the PnR, because Cavs fans should not have to suffer through sacrificing 20-point leads in a more than embarrassing manner as we saw multiple times last season. Kyrie will lead the charge, and the pick-and-pop game will help to get Bennett and Zeller nice outside looks to make up for the lack of physicality in this lineup. Having Waiters and Miles roam as wings will force defenses to play outside, thus increasing the chances of the Cavs converting on a long rebound instead of having to dig down low in the paint. You might think I’m crazy for having Zeller start the second half, but Varejao and Bynum will have much more value toward the ends of games, as you will see later on in this post.
3. Defensive Studs – Kyrie Irving/Carrick Felix/Alonzo Gee/Anderson Varejao/Andrew Bynum
For a team that didn’t have many defensive threats on the court last season, general manager Chris Grant sure did do a good job at bringing in players who can change the course of the game without the ball in their hands. After Varejao went down after 25 games, Gee became Cleveland’s shining example of how a player can control the game without having the ball in his hands. Head coach Byron Scott often put Gee on the opposing team’s biggest offensive threat, whether it be Chris Paul or LeBron James. Because of the shorter lineups that Gee appeared with the most, the stats do not show that this team is better defensively with him in the lineup. Now with a supporting cast on his side, other opponents will not be able to roam free while Gee is busy shutting down a team’s premier scorer. I am just imaging how destructive a frontcourt duo of Varejao and Bynum is going to be when crashing the boards. Andy’s energy combined with Bynum’s size will have team’s running off the court. In a per-48 situation at the power forward, Varejao averaged 19.7 rebounds and held opponent’s to 7.7 rebounds per game. In his magical season with the Lakers in 2011-12, Bynum averaged 16.1 rebounds at the center position per 48 minutes per 82games.com. We all know Irving’s defensive struggles, but this is the season where he zones in on becoming a complete franchise piece. I have faith in Brown that this will happen. Playing besides a defensive specimen in Felix – who stands at 6-6 and has a wingspan of 6-9 – will only help Kyrie’s development. On Stepien Rules, Brendan Bowers pointed out that Felix wants to fill a role similar to what Jimmy Butler does for the Chicago Bulls and what Kawhi Leonard does fot the San Antonio Spurs. He was one of the best rebounding wings in the NCAA last season (8.1 boards per game) and was assigned to match up against an opponent’s best wing player (averaged 1.1 blocks per game). The versatile Felix will find a nice home on the Cavs’ roster due to his defense, and I’m looking forward to seeing him come off the bench in close situations, even though he will most likely start his Wine and Gold career with the Canton Charge.
4. Second Unit – Jarrett Jack/C.J. Miles/Alonzo Gee/Anthony Bennett/Tyler Zeller
It’s nice to see how two new additions to Cleveland’s roster fill out the bench so nicely. Jack is a proven distributor, and his outside, long-range shootng paired with the same abillities that C.J. Miles possesses when he is firing on all cylinders cancels out the poor shooting habits of Gee. Gee averaged around 30 minutes as a starter for the Cavaliers last season but only logged just over 10 points per game (PER of 10.56). I’m hoping these days for the Wine and Gold are over, as he found his niche during the 2011-12 campaign coming off the bench as a high-energy, athletic reserve. During this season, while averaging two less minutes, he averaged 10.6 points (0.3 PPG less in 12-13) and 5.1 rebounds (1.2 RPG less in 12-13). Although a lot of the scoring shifted to Waiters once he joined the starting lineup, Gee was an inefficient shooter, hitting 41.0 percent of his shots from the field. He was built for the bench, and, as mentioned in the prior lineup, his ability to defend an opposing team’s best wing also adds value to his bench game. Again, the defensive holes are very noticeable in this lineup, especially with Jack and Miles leading the charge, but this lineup will be able to compete from an offensive standpoint with a majority of the second units in the League. Going back to the pick-and-pop game of the Bennett-Zeller frontcourt, these guys will be testing second-unit defenses to spread the floor due to the wide shot selection from these players. Not having Irving to run the PnR is definitely a downside in trying to make this second unit a fluid bunch, but Jack has the experience as a passer and the veteran leadership to keep things under wrap — as we wanted from our backup to Kyrie — for the 15 or so minutes he will be logging as a reserve.
5. Close-Out-The-Game – Kyrie Irving/Jarrett Jack/Sergey Karasev/Anderson Varejao/Andrew Bynum