Maybe I’m missing something here. Maybe Matthew Dellavedova and Henry Sims can be something now (and long term) on a Cavaliers team that if off to a 4-7 start and is dealing with resorts of a lock room right scuffle involving Dion Waiters and others. This team needs – without a doubt – needs some type of boost as it tries to regain its footing. Night in and night out, they fail to live up to their potential, which is why (including the preseason) the Wine & Gold are 0-4 against the Charlotte Bobcats. Frankly, good basketball teams will beat Charlotte. Bad teams will lose.
The early struggles have lead to a change in strategy for head coach Mike Brown. Earl Clark – the opening night small forward – is going to play more power forward now. That move has essentially has put top overall pick Anthony Bennett outside looking in at the Cavaliers rotation. And with Jarrett Jack playing horribly, Kyrie Irving not being himself and Waiters out/still struggling, guard Dellavedova and forward/center Henry Sims have started receiving minutes on an nightly basis.
The move to start playing Dellavedova and Sims more troubles me. It smells of a desperate Mike Brown, who has his five game 2012 campaign and having already having been fired by Daniel Gilbert once already.
I get the feeling that Brown – maybe because of Gilbert, maybe because of his own expectations, we can’t truly be sure – wants to win now. Why else would we see so many different line ups with players who, in reality, are not and should not be part of the long term plan.
Those aforementioned players not in the long term are – you guessed it – Dellavedova and Sims and you could probably through Clark in here as well. I’m more than willing to hear arguments about how these two players fit in – and I’ve tried to talk myself into it – but I just can’t do it. No matter how you look at it, there is not a logical solution.
Let’s first take a look at the Australian Dellavedova, who played his college ball stateside at St. Mary’s. In his five career games thus far, his stats look like this: 27.3 percent shooting, 11.2 minutes per game and 1.2 assists per game. In college, his highest shooting percentage was 44.6 percent in his last season and his percentage actually dipped each season he spent in Moraga, California. At 6’4, he has nice size, but his athleticism isn’t anything to write home about. He can play both guard spots – which is admittedly nice – and he has shown to be a gritty, solid role players in his brief spurts of playing time.
Here’s my issue with giving ‘Delly” minutes: Every minute he plays is taking away minutes from a Cavaliers player with a) far higher upside and b) a lot to prove. That player is Waiters, the enigmatic second year shooting guard who has yet to truly find his footing in the NBA.
He was drafted out of Syracuse with a the idea that he would become the longterm backcourt mate to Irving. The concept was that by pairing Irving with Waiters, the Cavaliers would have two playmaking guards in their backcourt, which would open up the offensive by avoiding having Irving as the only creator and consistent outside shot in the rotation, as Jarrett Jack has been very inconsistent thus far.
So far, Waiters has yet to prove that he’s the answer next to Irving long term. While his defense and overall effort has improved in his second season (I’m still swooning over how he defended Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson in the opener near the end of the game) some of his bad habits have reared their ugly head. Just take a look at his shot cart.
That’s a small sample size, but I see more negative than positive here. First off, he’s not only shooting under 50 percent on attempts near the rim, but he’s also converting below the league average. That’s not going to cut it – plain and simple. Granted, Irving isn’t much better (he’s also below 50 percent) and this number is inflated by bigs who do nothing but score close to the rim. But we know Irving is going to get better and his numbers will even out. We can’t say the same about Waiters. We haven’t seen him do that yet.
That’s why it’s essential – when he returns from illness – that he gets adequate minutes. He’s still under the Cavaliers control at a reasonable price until at least 2015, but sooner rather than later, it’s going to come time for Waiters to get paid. Recently, Derrick Favors of the Utah Jazz was given a four year, 56 million dollar extension playing under twenty minutes a game behind veteran big men Paul Millap and Al Jefferson. The situations are different, but it should give notice that the Cavaliers could be forced to pay a player they don’t want to lose without really knowing what he can do.
And if you compare Waiters to Toronto’s DeMar DeRozen – who makes 9.5 million per year – they put up similar numbers. As it stands, DeRozen probably is slightly overpaid at that salary. It’s entirely conceivable that Waiters becomes a solid second (or third) piece and is worth a similar price tag. But we won’t be able to find out unless he plays on the floor.
This brings me Henry Sims, who like Dellavedova, was not selected when he entered the NBA Draft. He can play both center and power forward, which makes him a nice 14th/15th guy on the bench. He’s someone you can call upon on a night where you find yourself shorthanded and need someone to fill around ten minutes off the bench. That’s what he is – nothing more.
At this point, he provides a roadblock to one Bennett, the rookie drawing headlines for all the wrong reasons. To be blunt, he’s been horrendous so far this season. He appears lost of defense, may still be recovering from his shoulder injury and recently left a game when he inured his other shoulder. Oh and he was featured on Deadspin. And by just looking at his shot chart, you can tell just how truly awful the UNLV product has been.
Still. there’s only one way he can actually get better: By playing night in and night out. From time to time, I could see the benefit of giving him a short leash, but more often than not, I want to see Bennett figuring it out on the court. Only by physically being out there (and learning the NBA game) is he going to get better, plain and simple.
This is where Sims reenters the conversation. Thus far, he appears willing to go out there and do nothing be look for rebounds, play rebounds, etc – basically the dirty work. And who can blame him – that’s necessary work each team needs done and it is usually not a service provided by #1 overall picks. And seeing how he is willing to work on defense, it’s not a shocker that Brown has given him minutes.
But it’s not the right move. Again, I know how bad Anthony Bennett has been. In 20 years of life, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a top overall pick not hampered by career threatening knee injuries play so horribly. But you have to give him a chance to figure it out while the games still aren’t of major importance and we get deep into the season. 10-15 minutes for Bennett is reasonable at this point. The Cavaliers are not contenders and thus far haven’t even looked like a playoff team. Sims (who has played a combined one minute over the last two games) and Dellavadova undoubtably earned their spots in training camp and they deserve to be on the roster. But they aren’t the future. They are the guys on the end of the bench providing depth incase of injury and the “new guy” Cavaliers fans see for five minutes and fall in love with.
Simply put, Sims and Dellavedova do not deserve regular minutes. Neither does Sergey Karasev (at this point) or Carrick Felix. There’s even a fair argument out there that Earl Clark has played himself out of the rotation (and I agree with this more if he is considering more of a power forward than small forward moving forward.) This season, whether you like it or not, isn’t about winning as many games as possible. As the Milwaukee Bucks can tell you, being the eighth seed and making the playoffs isn’t worth much when you immediately play Miami and are terminated quickly. This season is about finding out who on the roster – with emphasis on Waiters and Bennett – is part of the plan moving forward.
Unless something unexpected and crazy happens, the Cavaliers won’t be playing basketball coming June and certainly won’t be hosting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And if they can make the playoffs, they likely will not go any father than the opening round.
So, in the end, is the shuffling of lineups that results in five extra wins worth it in the end if, come July in what should be a very interesting NBA offseason, you don’t really know where you stand? Isn’t it worth suffering through a few extra losses this year if you can fairly appraise the young talent you drafted you to rebuild the franchise instead of giving minutes to players who may not even be here a year from now?
This the question I am asking you, the Cavs fan: Would you rather win a few extra games now or learn more about your young talent so you can properly evaluate them? I, for one but maybe not for all, think the answer is obvious: Play your top picks and suffer through the growing pains. At least then you’ll now where you both stand.