The signing of Andrew Bynum eliminated one of the questions about the Cleveland Cavaliers 2013-14 roster. The search was over for their starting center, but the search for who will start at small forward is still ongoing. The Cavs have addressed this need already by drafting Sergey Karasev with the 19th pick and by signing Earl Clark to a two-year deal in free agency. These two players will join Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles as the four players capable of playing small forward next season for the Wine and Gold. The only problem is it is a case of quantity over quality. I do not think that, at this point in time, any of these players are NBA caliber starters. I think, at best, they are very sufficient backups.
Alonzo Gee - 6’6”, 219 pounds
Last year Gee was an ironman for the Cavaliers. He, along with power forward Tristan Thompson, were the only players who appeared in all 82 games, and they happened to start all 82 as well. Gee is most likely the favorite going into next season due to the experience he has in Wine and Gold. Last year, he averaged 10.3 points while corralling 3.9 RPG in 31.0 minutes per contest. Offense has never been confused with one of Gee’s strong suits. It is on the defensive side where Gee really contributes. Typically last season, he would be the player to guard the opposition’s best wing player. Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving struggled defensively, which did not help Gee’s cause. But this season, with the hiring of Mike Brown as head coach and bringing in Bynum, I look for the entire defensive unit to improve. And I believe Gee will be instrumental in its improvement.
C.J. Miles - 6’6”, 222 pounds
Miles is more of a two guard than he is a three, but still, we could see him get time there this year. C.J. is more offensively oriented than Gee is. While only averaging 21 minutes, he was still able to average 11.2 points, which translated to 18.2 points per 36 minutes. Whereas with Gee, he only averaged 12.4 points per 36 minutes. His scoring off the bench will still be needed this season. If Miles were to be paired with Dion and Kyrie in the starting lineup, I think the Wine and Gold would be disadvantaged on the defensive end. He is an average defender, but he will commonly make hustle plays. Both of those attributes would be best utilized with Miles at the shooting guard in the second unit next season.
Earl Clark - 6’10”, 225 pounds
The new signee will certainly compete for minutes at small forward. I tend to think of Earl Clark as just a forward. He has the height of a power forward, but his skill set is more similar to that of a small forward. Nonetheless, I do think Coach Brown will experiment with him at both spots. Clark, like Gee, is a four-year veteran. As a Los Angeles Laker last year, he averaged 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Per 36 minutes, Clark would have collected 8.6 RPG. His ability to rebound the ball at a high level does separate him from the other three players. A major question mark for Clark, along with Gee, is inconsistency while shooting from the perimeter. Clark shot a below average 34 percent from downtown in the 59 games he appeared in. Although floating around The Association for the same number of years as Gee, Clark lacks the starting experience that Gee has. I do not see him starting right away, but his minutes could increase depending on how he performs early on. I think there is a chance Clark could squeak into the starting lineup for the Wine and Gold sometime next season.
Sergey Karasev - 6’7”, 203 pounds
The only rookie in the group, Karasev was drafted 19th overall. There a lot of question marks about the 19-year-old Russian and how well he will adapt to the NBA game. Beginning in 2010, Karasev has played professionally for Triumph Lyubertsy, a team in the Russian Professional Basketball League. During the 2012-13 campaign, he averaged 16.1 points in roughly 32 minutes of action per game. One of his strengths is his perimeter shooting, and it will be interesting to see if he is able to carry that over to the States with him. He shot 49 percent from three, although the arc was over a foot shorter than the NBA distance. Even with that said, I do expect Karasev to still be able to shoot the ball effectively next season. I anticipate the young Russian to struggle defending this season. He will need to add some muscle to his frame, but having a defensive-minded coach will, without a doubt, be a surefire advantage. Out of the four players, Karasev will probably see the least amount of action, at least right away. Down the road, he may be a viable option to start at small forward for the Cavaliers, but as of right now, it is unlikely for Sergey to crack the starting lineup next season.
Who should it be?
I think because of his prior starting experience and his ability to defend on the wing, Gee makes the most sense to start at small forward for the Wine and Gold when they hit the hardwood next fall. He already has the athletic ability to play in transition and near the rim. If Gee can strengthen the consistency of his outside shot next year, a major question mark about the 2013-14 Cavaliers will be erased.