Ante Zizic, Tristan Thompson, and Chris Bosh - Do the Cavs Need Another Healthy Big Man?


This was supposed to be an active buyout season in the NBA. Teams were supposed to cut lots of good players loose and let those guys flock to title contenders like any other year, except there were allegedly more of those good players this year. We were told to watch out for guys like Wes Matthews, Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and a handful of others. Instead, we got Greg Monroe (expected), Marco Belinelli (OK), Joe Johnson (sure), Ersan Ilyasova (the perfect role player in NBA 2K14), and that was about it.

Among all this absurdity, the Cleveland Cavaliers - who were thin in the frontcourt - lost their two starting bigs in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, but never seriously considered signing a replacement. The Larry Nance trade (how long before we start calling that the Larry Nance trade instead of the Isaiah Thomas trade?) helped, as Nance has been excellent so far, but behind Nance there's only one big on the roster: Ante Zizic. 

Zizic was part of the Kyrie trade (how long before we start calling it the Ante Zizic trade? ...a long time, probably) because he's a 7' tall 21-year-old. That's the perfect trade chip: He's malleable, he's got potential, and he's inexpensive. Until Monday, he was also a non-entity because he never cracked the rotation. Prior to the game vs. Detroit, Zizic hadn't played more than seven minutes in a game yet this year and had only appeared in 16 total.

Monday night, however, Ante Zizic looked...good. He looked like a solid backup center in the NBA. He bothered Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, he bodied up in the post, he scored when asked to, and he just generally appeared comfortable on the court. There's nothing else you can hope for from a backup center.

In fact, Zizic looked so good that, for the first time in his NBA career, someone made a highlight video of his game.

This could be a great development for the Cavaliers. If they're willing to give him some run while Tristan is out, and he performs anything like he did Monday, the Cavs will be just fine.

The other side of the story

The good news is also the bad news: Ante Zizic is only 21 years old and has played in a total of 17 games in his NBA career. He is not making anyone in the Cavs front office glow with confidence yet, even if he's a promising player for the future. Meanwhile, Chris Bosh wants to come back to the NBA. He told ESPN in February that he wanted to come back this season, even if he will not be eligible for the playoffs since it is past the March 1 deadline. In the meantime, is he worth a look?

Bosh could essentially re-audition for the NBA for 10-15 games on a team that needs a body and see if he's ready to go again for next season. The Cavaliers, with Bosh's dear friend LeBron James (maybe you've heard of him?), are at least in a position to consider him.

While Ante Zizic's performance Monday night was delightful, it's hard to overlook the resume of an 11-time All-Star who has never had a negative NetRtg in his entire career. 

Let's be clear though: Bosh wouldn't be eligible for the playoffs and he wouldn't even be necessary at that point. Hang on. A big man who hasn't played basketball in a few years and who was very good at one point but hasn't been able to stay involved so the Cavs take a flier on him down the stretch of the season? That sounds familiar.

While I felt like the Cavs didn't need to bother with Larry Sanders, I see why they did it. This year is similar. If Bosh could prove that he was worth a look, and the Cavs could use the depth, he might be able to help them stay competitive over the season's final 15 games. 

If there were another option out there, that person would also deserve a look. It's not just Bosh for Bosh's sake. Unfortunately, the other names currently available aren't terribly inspiring either. The most likely option - if the Cavs were to do anything at all - could be Edy Tavares, who spent some time with the Cavaliers down the stretch of the 2016-17 season and was waived just before the current season started. He's a giant and I like him.

The other-other side of the story (this story has three sides, I guess)

If Ante Zizic (or Chris Bosh, or Edy Tavares, or Andrew Bogut, or whoever else) gets playing time in the Cavs' frontcourt over the next couple of weeks, and he plays well, will he have a role when Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love are healthy?

At this point, Kevin Love is sorely missed. He's been a bit injury-prone lately, but it's shocking how much the offense needs him. He's a stud, even if his fit has always been a little awkward in Cleveland. His low-post game hasn't been as good as it was in Minnesota, but teams still send attention to him on the block, which opens up the rest of the offense.

But what's going on with Tristan Thompson? There's speculation that he's never really gotten healthy over the past year, and that might be the only real explanation. Per CleaningTheGlass.com, the Cavaliers are over six points per 100 possessions worse when Tristan Thompson is on the floor this season. The Cavs score just 88 points per possession in the half-court when he's out there. They allow a staggering 104 points per 100 in the half-court when he plays.

It's a popular topic on #cavstwitter, that's for sure. It's easy to forget how good Tristan was during the title run in 2016, but it's also been odd to see him stumble so much since then. The current hope is that he gets healthy and can experience some kind of return-to-form by the playoffs. He would ideally be a reserve, as Larry Nance looks to be completely unstoppable when he plays with LeBron James.

To that last point, the Cavaliers are posting a 109.4 ORtg and 95.7 DRtg when Larry Nance plays without LeBron James. That's crazy good - a Net of 13.7. When they play together, the team's ORtg skyrockets to 121.3 and the DRtg rises a bit to 103.9. The crazy-good 13.7 NetRtg when Nance plays without LeBron goes to an impossible, insanely, incomprehensibly good 17.5 when they play together.

Compare those with the opposite effect that Tristan has had (LeBron's NetRtg goes from 2.3 in the nearly 1700 minutes without Tristan to -6.1 in the 670 minutes they've played together), and even the fiercely loyal Cavaliers staff will have a decision to make when everyone's healthy. Here's the thing though; that decision isn't hard. Play the guy who is playing well and don't play the guy who isn't. If Tristan still blows defensive assignments, still drags the team down offensively, and still contributes to the team being outscored by a ton when he's on the floor, put in someone else.

If Zizic is a revelation, it's a good problem for the Cavs. It would be a better problem if a healthy Tristan Thompson becomes his former self again.

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