One of the most frustrating things about the Cavaliers this season has been the distribution of minutes for the players. Throughout the early season, it seemed that the Cavs never had a really well-set rotation, and you could tell that it negatively affected the team. The Cavs have already had nine different starting lineups this year, and very few of the lineup changes were the result of injury. However, it seems like things are finally stabilizing. Kyrie Irving, C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson and Andrew Bynum have started the last eight games, and it seems that players are finally settling into their roles. With the Cavs winning five of their last seven, it appears that the rotation is finally settling into place.
Over the last 10 games, the most common lineup used has been the starters, who have played 91 minutes together in seven games. This lineup has been pretty solid offensively, and this is why the Cavs have continually jumped out of the gate on fire against opponents while this group is on the floor. Irving/Miles/Gee/Thompson/Bynum have scored at a rate of 106.8 points/100 possessions over the last 7 games, per NBA.com/stats. By comparison, this is only 0.2 points off the rate of the Rockets’ 2nd-ranked offense. This group flashes solid spacing with Bynum as the offensive threat inside, Thompson floating for rebounds, and Irving, Miles, and to a much lesser extent, Gee, spreading the floor. The Cavs rebound pretty well with this lineup as well, and it’s been one of the best three-point shooting lineups over this stretch, hitting 42.1 percent from deep. Defensively, the squad hasn’t faired as well, but has shown flashes, particularly against the Clippers late in the 88-82 win, and Knicks, holding the Knicks to 19 first-quarter points. This lineup is working pretty nicely, and if you watch the first quarter of any game, it’s clear that Mike Brown has finally found a functional unit to play a majority of the minutes.
The second-most common unit has been decent as well. Irving, Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters, Thompson, and Anderson Varejao have played together for 31 minutes in the last seven games, and this has been a surprisingly solid defensive lineup. In fact, at 93.7 points/100 poss. allowed, it’s the third-best lineup defensive lineup the Cavs have used over this span that has played at least 15 minutes. This isn’t a good offensive lineup, as the Cavs only score at a rate of 95.2 points with this group on the floor. This, of course, showcases just how bad Irving and Jack have been together this season, especially on offense. Having these two ball-dominant players on the floor cuts down the spacing, and this lineup just features too many players who like mid-range shots to really be efficient. However, the defensive capabilities of this lineup offset the lacking offensive firepower.
It’s when the Cavs experiment with other bench lineups that things have gotten ugly this season, and that’s best evidenced by the struggles the team had against Miami’s bench on Saturday, as well as the Nuggets game a couple of weeks ago. To start, there’s the same lineup as the previous one with Bynum replacing Varejao, which has been a trainwreck in 5 games of play over the last 10. This lineup is one of the worst rebounding lineups for the Cavs, as well as a horrifically inefficient one on both ends, scoring just 91.5 points/100 poss. while giving up 124.3. A Jack/Dellavedova/Waiters/Clark/Varejao lineup is good offensively, but can’t stop anyone either. And the Cavs’ best defensive lineup, Irving/Jack/Waiters/Clark/Varejao, can’t score against anyone. This might be why we see teams play the Cavs really close for long stretches of second and fourth quarters, and it’s definitely what killed the Cavs against the Heat on Saturday.
So what are the lineups the Cavs should actually be using to be effective? For one, the Kyrie/Dion/C.J./Tristan/Andy lineup that we saw a little bit of earlier this season might be worth re-examining. In 7 games this season, this lineup had a net rating of 12.2, and had one of the lowest turnover rates of any Cavs lineup. With how Miles and Waiters have been playing of late, these two could work well together, and this has promise as a more functional defensive lineup with Miles actually healthy again. A limited attempt at Kyrie/Miles/Clark/Thompson/Varejao was also really solid early in the season, and this puts perhaps the Cavs’ best four shooters on the floor with Thompson to rebound, something that would be worth looking into. This lineup scored 94.9 points/100 and only gave up 79.1 in 25 minutes of gameplay. More of these two lineups would really be nice to see.
The only issue so far here is that we haven’t discovered a way to really incorporate Jack and Anthony Bennett. The fact is that these two just haven’t been good this season, and it’s hard to find units where they are successful. However, it can be done. Want to throw Jack out for stretches as the primary ball-handler? Maybe the Cavs could use him with Dellavedova, Waiters, Thompson and Varejao. In 19 minutes, this lineup is one of the best offensive rebounding groups for the Cavs, and they have a net rating of 12.9 in four games. If you want Bennett to play, switching him into this lineup with Thompson hasn’t been bad either, scoring 98 points/100 while giving up just 94.6.
The Cavaliers are finally starting to get into a solid rotational groove this season. With the starting lineup scoring at a really high rate, the Cavs have gotten into a rhythm early, and had good success against some decent competition over their hot streak. The next step is to find workable bench lineups that allow you to keep the rotation the same, but pairs players in lineups that won’t lead to tire fires in the second and fourth quarters. Luckily, as presented above, those lineups are there. It’ll be interesting to see if Brown goes to some of the more successful groups again, especially this week, as we get Portland and their solid bench, Milwaukee, who killed the Cavs late in their last meeting, and Chicago this week. If they do, and can win two of three this week, the Cavs will likely jump into the top eight in the East, and hopefully will keep getting closer to the ceiling we had for this team at the beginning of the season.