J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching staff have a lot of decisions to make this season as they look to craft the best lineups with which to deploy their revamped roster. With multiple shooters now available to fill in around the core players, the court should open up.
It’s very likely that the newly acquired Max Strus will be in the starting lineup to begin the season, and he, Georges Niang and Ty Jerome will figure prominently in the rotation. With that being said, there is one lineup featuring returning players that the Cavs should consider deploying next season.
The Cavaliers will be at their best offensively when Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell share the court, and at their best defensively with Evan Mobley. Jarrett Allen will obviously feature prominently in all of Cleveland’s most-used lineups, but perhaps a smaller group with Mobley at the 5 could get some run as well.
Here’s a lineup the Cavs should try this year:
The lineup: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Dean Wade, Evan Mobley
With Mobley at the 5, this group is smaller and more mobile than their starting lineup. It did see the court for 30 minutes last season, and the results were not ideal: the offense scored at an anemic 95.4 points per 100 possessions and they had a negative 7.7 net rating. So why should the Cavs use this lineup next season?
When you look at this five-man group’s performance last season, you note the poor net rating and anemic offense. The other thing that you note? The pace.
That group played at a pace of 104.7 possessions per 48 minutes, which was the fastest of any lineup the Cavaliers played last season (minimum 30 possessions). By comparison, the fastest team last season played at a pace of 101.6 (the Golden State Warriors). This group had five players who could push the ball down the court, from Evan Mobley handling grab-and-gos to Darius Garland a threat to pull up or spray the ball to teammates running the court.
That pace highlights that the poor offense was likely a small sample fluke, driven by some cold shooting; that group should be able to score, and playing fast should generate higher-percentage looks. This group can fly around on defense and push the ball quickly after rebounds or turnovers, or even after opponent makes.
The Cavs don’t need to change their identity to become the Warriors or Pacers; what they need is versatility. Their diet of pick-and-rolls should be mixed in with dribble handoffs and horns sets, and their slow-paced defensive juggernaut should flex into a chaotic transition speedster every once in a while. This lineup lets them do that.
The Cavaliers need all the versatility and skill they can get to knock off the best teams in the Eastern Conference and take a step forward in the playoffs. This group should play better than a season ago, and if so, could be a strong alternative punch to knock opponents off-kilter.