As has been discussed in multiple forums, the Cleveland Cavaliers have very specific needs that they are hoping to have met from the small forward spot this season. Essentially they are looking for a “3 and D” player, i.e. someone who can knock down an open three (particularly from the corner), play solid defense, rebound, and move the ball. Anyone who knows Mike Brown knows that the defense and rebounding aspects are particularly important. Thus far none of the players who have spent time at the small forward spot have been able to meet all of these needs. Earl Clark has done a solid job on the glass, but his defense has been average and best and his offense has been horrid. Clark also attempts to create his offense far too much for Mike Brown’s (or my) liking. The last two games, Clark has been little more than a “show starter”, playing the first quarter never to be seen again. Alonzo Gee has been an active defender, but he is still prone to lapses in his defensive fundamentals. Gee’s offense has also been inconsistent game to game. While Gee has not been starting, his minutes have increased due to Clark’s ineffectiveness, essentially putting Gee back in the position he was in last year, that of a solid end of the rotation wing who plays too many minutes. C.J. Miles has been by far the Cavalier’s best small forward on offense, but his defense continues to be inconsistent and he is not much of a rebounder. Rookies Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix are not part of the rotation right now.
So what should the Cavaliers do? Well, the first thing they shouldn’t do is panic. As I write this we live in a world where the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies are 1-2 while the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers and Phoenix Suns are undefeated. There is a good chance that the Cavaliers will find the balance at small forward they need over the next few weeks utilizing the players currently on the roster. There is absolutely no reason the Cavaliers should trade part of their core or mortgage their future for what could be a marginal upgrade at small forward. Even if they wanted to make a trade, most teams are still assessing their rosters and deciding what kinds of moves they want to make in the future.
That being said, it is in the best interests of the team to look at who may become available on the trade market, assess the cost versus gain of acquiring those players, and see which ones could help them this season without mortgaging their future. Today we will look at 10 players, listed from worst to best fit, who could help the Cavaliers fill their needs at small forward both this season and potentially in the future. The closer to a 3 and D wing, the better. For the sake of keeping this list realistic we are excluding the small forwards who play pivotal roles on contenders (Luol Deng, Kawhi Leonard), those whose contracts would necessitate trading a core player (Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Nic Batum), and those who are possible core players for rebuilding teams (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Maurice Harkless). Matt Barnes is also excluded because he plays a pivotal bench role for the Clippers and apparently has some issues with Mike Brown. Without further ado, ten players who could fill the whole at small forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
10. P.J. Tucker: Small Forward, Phoenix Suns
Strengths: Tucker is a strong defender capable of guarding both wing positions. A power forward in college, he uses his physicality well on defense, and last season he held opposing small forwards and shooting guards to PERs of 10.7 and 12.7 respectively. He is also a solid passer and rebounder, averaging 2.1 assists and 6.6 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. He is also on a very affordable contract of $884,293 that expires after the season. With the rebuild in full swing, Phoenix could very well be willing to trade Tucker for a smaller asset such as a second round pick.
Weaknesses: Like Gee and Clark, Tucker has been a poor outside shooter and below average offensive player up to this point in his career. While he has started out this season hot from deep, the sample size is entirely too small to use as a true frame of reference. Also, at 28 years old Tucker has probably peaked as a player. It remains to be seen if he is actually better than any of the Cavaliers’ current wings.
9. Marvin Williams: Small Forward, Utah Jazz
Strengths: Williams is a capable defender and rebounder who has put up solid, if unspectacular numbers on both sides of the ball for the majority of his career. While he is overpaid, Williams is on an expiring contract and Utah would definitely be willing to move him for other expiring deals and a second round pick. At 27 years old, Williams is a young veteran who has playoff experience from his years with the Atlanta Hawks.
Weaknesses: While he is a capable defender, Williams is not a lock down type. He also can struggle with quicker shooting guards when matched up against them. His three point shooting also leaves a bit to be desired. While Williams shot a career high 38% from three two seasons ago, he only connected on 32% of his shots from beyond the arc last season, much more in line with his career averages. Because of his salary of over seven million dollars this season, the Cavaliers would have to give up multiple players such as Gee and Clark to make the salaries match. That’s a lot for a player who may not give you more production than either of the players who the Cavaliers would be shipping out.
8. John Salmons: Small Forward, Sacramento Kings
Strengths: While he is overpaid, getting older, and has the stigma of playing for the Sacramento Kings, Salmons is still a solid player. He shot 37.1% from deep last year, and has been at least that high in every full season since 2007-2008. He is also a very good passer, averaging 3 per game last season against only 1.1 turnovers. One aspect of Salmon’s game that is often overlooked is his very solid defense. Last season he held opposing shooting guards and small forwards to PERs of 6.5 and 13.9 respectively. As is probably the case with Lee, Salmons would be available at minimum cost to any team that wants to take on his contract.
Weaknesses: Salmons is a poor rebounder for a wing, averaging less than three per game over the last two seasons. At 33 years old Salmons is still a skilled player, but is undoubtedly in decline. He is also guaranteed at least seven million dollars in both this season and the next. Like Lee, if the Cavaliers wanted to move him, they would undoubtedly have to throw in an asset such as a future draft pick to find any takers.
7. Courtney Lee: Shooting Guard, Boston Celtics
Strengths: Lee is a solid defender capable of guarding both wing positions as well as some point guards. He is also a solid three point shooter with a career average of just over 38% from deep. He is also a capable passer who can keep the ball moving on offense and understands his role on the court. As they begin to rebuild the Celtics would probably be willing to take on a small offer to rid themselves of Lee’s salary. An expiring contract and a second round pick would probably get the deal done.
Weaknesses: Lee is a solid three point shooter who doesn’t shoot enough threes. Part of this is due to playing time, but he has only attempted 2.7 three point shots per game for his career. Last year’s Celtics were one of the worst three point shooting teams in the league last year, and Lee simply didn’t shoot enough to change that. While he is a solid defender, Lee is only above average when matched up against shooting guards. Small forwards had a PER of 16.0 against Lee, and at 6’5” he is bound to have trouble against the larger small forwards in the league. Finally, with a salary of over five million guaranteed through the 2015-2016 season, any trade for Lee could put a long term pinch on a team’s salary cap. Although Lee could most certainly be traded if the Cavaliers through in an asset to sweeten the deal.
6. Caron Butler: Small Forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Strengths: Butler is a proven veteran who has been an integral part of playoff teams for the Heat, Wizards, Mavericks, and Clippers. He has also developed into a solid shooter from deep, finishing well above league average in this area in each of the last three seasons. Butler has also been a solid defender throughout his career, and held both shooting guards and small forwards to a PER below league average last season. With an expiring deal and soon to be 34 years old, the Bucks will undoubtedly look to deal Butler if their season goes south.
Weaknesses: Butler’s age is the biggest concern. His efficiency has been in decline for several seasons, as have his rebounding and steal numbers. While Butler has made a fairly smooth transition from All-Star to role player, his decline could continue this season to the point of being below replacement level. With a salary of eight million dollars this season, the Cavaliers would have to trade a fairly significant amount of salary for a player who has no chance of being part of the team’s future.
5. Evan Turner: Shooting Guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Strengths: Turner works hard on defense and is a tremendous rebounder for his position. While not a strong three point shooter throughout his career, he did shoot 36.5% from beyond the arc last year. Turner’s biggest skill on offense is his ability to set up his teammates. At 25 years old and with an expiring deal of just over 6.5 million dollars, Turner is both young enough to fit with the Cavaliers core and would probably not cost them more than a low first round pick.
Weaknesses: While Turner does have the ability to create for himself and others on offense, he must have the ball to do so. Giving Turner the ball would take it out of the hands of Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack at times and likely have a negative overall effect on the offense. While he has started out the year hot as a focal point of the 76ers’ offense, his improvement from deep last season has not continued so far. While he is a solid defender, Turner is by no means an elite one as he is lacking in athleticism and defensive instincts. He is also a bit small to guard some of the small forwards in the league. Finally, as a restricted free agent next summer, some team could make Turner an offer the Cavaliers wouldn’t want to match.
4. Brandon Rush: Shooting Guard, Utah Jazz
Strengths: Rush fits a lot of the qualities the Cavaliers are looking for. He is an excellent three point shooter, with a career average of over 41% from deep. He has also seemingly eliminated the long twos from his game, allowing his field goal percentage to move over 50% in his last full season. Standing 6’6” with a 6’11” wingspan, Rush has solid size that allows him to defend both wing spots well. Just returning this week from ACL surgery and with a four million dollar expiring contract, Rush should be available for a fairly minimal asset.
Weaknesses: Nothing is ever certain when a player is returning from an ACL injury, and Rush had already ruptured his other ACL in college. There is no way to know if Rush can regain his athleticism until he plays a full season, and if he does well it will just drive up his price in a trade. Rush is also a bit stronger when guarding shooting guards compared to small forwards. Having turned 28 over the summer, Rush is a bit old to fit with the core of this roster.
3. Wilson Chandler: Small Forward, Denver Nuggets
Strengths: Still just 26 years old, Chandler brings a lot to the table. He has improved as three point shooter throughout his career, hitting over 41% last season. He is also a solid rebounder and defender, particularly against other forwards. He also possess the size for a wing that Mike Brown and the Cavaliers covet. Penciled in to at small forward for the Nuggets due to Danilo Gallinari’s injury (the reason he didn’t make this list), Chandler could return form his own hamstring injury Monday against the Jazz. Chandler could be moved when Gallinari returns. If the Nuggets continue their horrid play Chandler also may be traded for an asset while the Nuggets enter the race to the bottom by starting Jordan Hamilton (all offense, no defense) at small forward.
Weaknesses: While Chandler is a solid player with a variety of skills, he does not really have one elite tool. His three point shooting last year was excellent, but his career mark is still slightly below average. Chandler’s PER last season was also a career high. While he is a solid defender, he is far from elite, despite possessing the necessary tools. He has also battled his own injuries the last few years, and hasn’t played over 70 games since the 2010-2011 season. Finally, with twenty million left on his contract through 2016, Chandler will take up a significant part of a team’s cap space while demanding a valuable asset in a trade.
2. Jeff Green: Small Forward, Boston Celtics
Strengths: After missing the 2011-2012 season due to heart issues, Green seems to be entering his prime. He is an excellent defender against opposing small forwards, holding them to a PER of 9.8 last season. Always a solid spot up shooter, the former Hoya has also dramatically improved from deep, hitting 38.5% last season, and currently shooting 50% from three to begin this season. At 27 years old, Green is signed for three more years, making him a potential long term solution at small forward for the Cavaliers.
Weaknesses: While Green is a small forward defensively, he seems to work better as a power forward on offense. His PER at power forward last season was 20.6 compared to 9.4 at small forward. Green’s inconsistency is well documented, as he can either be the best player on the floor or completely disappear. With three years and over twenty-seven million left on his contract, Green would eat up the majority of the Cavalier’s cap space, and the Boston Celtics aren’t trading him without getting a significant asset in return.
1. Thaddeus Young, Small Forward, Philadelphia 76ers
Strengths: At just 25 years old, Young is an extremely efficient and versatile player. A solid defender against small forwards, the 76ers have been better on both ends of the floor when Young is on the court for several seasons now. Young has a tremendous work ethic and has made himself into a capable passer and rebounder. An absolute terror going to the basket, Young has also reintroduced the three point shot to his game and is currently shooting 37.5% from deep this season. With a career PER of nearly seventeen, what’s not to like?
Weaknesses: After posting a PER of over 18 in each of the last three seasons, Young currently sits at 11.9 this season. While the most obvious reason would be his drop in field goal percentage on two point shots (.535 to .474), there are probably several other reasons, including the adjustments Young is making to his game and other teams focusing on him as the 76ers best player, and of course small sample size. Like Green, he is making over twenty-seven million over the next three seasons, and any team interested in Young will likely have to part with at least a mid-first round pick in next year’s loaded draft.
Conclusion: If I were the Chris Grant, I would look long and hard at trying to trade for Thaddeus Young as soon as possible. One of the most underrated players in the league, Young has put up borderline All-Star numbers over the last several years in terms of efficiency. He is also capable of excelling while playing with other creators as proven with his success playing alongside Turner, Jrue Holiday, and Andre Iguodala. While he is struggling a bit at the outset of this season as the Sixers best player, I have no doubt that Young could excel playing alongside an offensive threat such as Kyrie Irving. While his contract is large, he could easily be the best long term solution at small forward outside of LeBron James. Young at eight or nine million is certainly a far better value than Rudy Gay at 18 million or a 29 year old Luol Deng at 12 million over four years ( guess a his next contract). A trade for Thaddeus Young may not gather a lot of attention from casual basketball fans, but it could cement the Cavaliers’ status as a dangerous up-and-coming team in the Eastern Conference.