As the Cleveland Cavaliers season slowly approaches, it’s time to look at how the Wine & Gold currently stack up at every position. This breakdown, looks at the power forward position.
Position: Power Forward
Starter: Tristan Thompson
Key Reserve(s): Anthony Bennett, Anderson Varejao
Other Players under contract: Possible contributions from Earl Clark and Henry Sims
Power forward has become one of the league’s most versatile positions. Players at the four range from traditional post threats like Zach Randolph, to stretch fours like Thaddeus Young, to hybrid small forwards like Carmelo Anthony. The Cavs will represent this well this season, with many different types of players who could be playing the 4. You have two power rebounders in Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, a potential stretch four in Earl Clark, and a potentially devastating inside/outside combo threat in Anthony Bennett. It’s a position where the Cavs should have quality offensive and defensive players, perhaps the only position where we can comfortably say that. It’ll be very interesting to see exactly who will be playing this position and for how much of the game, but with so many interesting, and versatile, pieces to play with, power forward should be a strong position for Cleveland this season.
This position is where the majority of the Cavs’ biggest potential strength will be coming from. The Cavs look like a deadly team on the boards this season, and the power forwards are the reason why. Not counting Varejao, who will spend a majority of his time early in the season at center, the Cavs have three excellent rebounders to throw at opposing fours. Thompson has been a monster on the boards in the preseason, averaging 11.5 rebounds per game in the final four preseason games. Clark’s main strength is that he can crash the boards with relative effectiveness, and Bennett has strong rebounding instincts and should be better once he gets more confidence in the league. I can easily see the Cavs pounding any team on the boards despite all three of these players being somewhat undersized.
Shooting should also be a strength for this spot. Thompson has flashed improvement as a shooter so far in the preseason, but he’s not really the focal point of this strength like he is for rebounding. That falls to Bennett and Varejao, both above-average shooters for this position. When Varejao is playing next to Andrew Bynum or Tyler Zeller at the 4, his range should help provide spacing to the offense, and Bennett also has the potential to provide mid-range shooting ability. Granted, the Cavs won’t be relying on this as much as other teams with this strength (New Orleans’ use of Ryan Anderson is a good example). However, it’ll be a nice addition to the offense, something that really lacked for the Cavs last year after Varejao went out.
Finally, of course, versatility is a strong point for the Cavs at power forward. I’ve long argued this offseason that the Cavs should play both small and big lineups, and this is predicated on this position. Want to match up with a big team like Memphis? Throw out Varejao with Bynum and body up Z-Bo and Marc Gasol. Getting run over by a small-ball New York lineup? Earl Clark can shift down to the four. Thompson can match up well with either style as well, so if it’s a full game plan to commit to one or the other, you aren’t pigeon-holed into playing the reserves more minutes. Stylistically, the Cavs are in a great situation to match lineups to any situation.
Consistency could be a bit of an issue for the Cavs here, at least early. Relying on Bennett early is not going to go well, as he’s struggled to stay on the floor thanks to foul issues and his effort issues are well documented. Thompson’s shooting hand change will still lend to issues from time to time with his offensive production as well. About the only consistent threat offensively is Varejao, and what if he gets hurt?
Also a potential issue, like with most other positions for the Cavs, is defense. Thompson showed remarkable improvement as a defender towards the end of last season, to the point that I’d say I’m more confident about his defense than offense. But when he’s not on the floor? Varejao will be a plus on defense, but I don’t see him playing many minutes here unless Bynum is fully healthy and consistent. That leaves Bennett and Clark……and yikes. Bennett has shown me nothing defensively so far, other than the fact that he can foul. Clark also has a tendency to stand around on the defensive end, and he’s not quick enough to handle anyone off the dribble. Thompson is a plus, but the defensive prowess of the rest of the options is……suspect.
I’m comfortable with power forward being a position of strength on the Cavs this season. Between Thompson, Varejao, and Bennett, you get a little bit of everything you could ask for from this forward spot, which is nice. The versatility and rebounding punch you’re getting from this spot are two of the Cavs’ major strengths this season, and the major weaknesses for the Cavs (defense and consistency) are somewhat hidden by Tristan Thompson, quietly one of the team’s most consistent options. With Thompson looking to have a strong season, Varejao healthy, and Bennett and Clark on board as options, power forward is where the Cavs should have an advantage against many teams.