Cedi Osman Can Make or Break the Cavaliers Down the Stretch

Cedi Osman has had an increased role over the past month. He has looked good, but he needs to make some changes to keep the Cavaliers rolling toward the playoffs.

Cedi Osman has all the makings of an Anderson Varejao level fan-favorite. He fits the description: He hustles like crazy, he would be incredibly aggravating to play against, he doesn't try to outplay his role, and he generally just seems thrilled to be on an NBA court. What more can you ask for from a European rookie? Not much.

After the trade deadline and an impressive salvo from their new-look squad, the Cavaliers have cemented their status as favorites in the Eastern Conference, sitting at 1/1 odds on most betting sites. Sports Betting Dime was quick to report that "LeBron and company were never anything but the favorites to come out of the East -- largely because James has been to seven straight NBA Finals and shown an uncanny ability to flip the switch in the postseason”.

But Cedi's role has been a little bit strange (hard to believe that Ty Lue has made some iffy role decisions, right?). Since the trades, Cedi has averaged over 20 minutes per game and has been pretty effective. He's made 43% of his three-pointers in that time and has been an overall plus in the plus/minus category. His minutes are also declining. But that doesn't tell the whole story. The whole story is a lot more complex.

Cedi's Shooting

As I just mentioned, Cedi has been shooting well on paper. For the season, he's at 39% from deep and has been almost 50% overall. But teams are taking advantage of his perceived lack of shooting ability. It seems counterintuitive, considering the numbers, but consider the following.

Cedi Osman has taken a grand total of four three-pointers this month when defenders are within six feet of him. NBA.com tracks the nearest defenders for shots, and Osman is basically allergic to taking contested threes. Of those four three-pointers, he has missed all four. On the other hand, he has taken 17 three-pointers when there is no one within six feet of him. He has made nine of those.

The upshot is that Cedi is very capable of making an open three, but he's having trouble convincing himself to take a chance on something that's not laugh-out-loud open. Teams are starting to catch on.

The Spurs, who are obviously a model of defensive game planning, had a simple strategy to stop the Cavs on Sunday: Ignore Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson, and anyone else who was not going to beat them single-handedly. They went so far as to stick LaMarcus Aldridge on Cedi, knowing that Aldridge would basically just float to the paint anytime someone (LeBron) got past the first line of the defense.

Take a look: 

There's a lot going on here. First, LeBron got Gasol on a switch, so he wants to clear out. As Cedi moves across the court, Kyle Anderson leaves Patty Mills to follow both Cedi and Tristan Thompson so he can stay to help on LeBron. Before LeBron steps back to shoot, Mills motions for Aldridge to come front the post, inviting/enabling a flare screen for Cedi to be alone in the corner. It would be a tough pass for LeBron to make (and he'd have to beat Gasol off the dribble first), but it's one he's made countless times. The Spurs aren't afraid of it though because Mills would be able to get close enough to Osman to force a pass, allowing the defense to scramble and recover.

For what it's worth, LeBron made the shot over Gasol, but that's not exactly the point. They continued to do this on defense, as seen on this possession. Or on the first three scoring possessions of the game (they gave him too much space on the first one, but they were inviting that kind of behavior. It only worked for the Cavs once). 

Cedi needs to take advantage of these decisions or he's effectively useless. He's doing what he can - knocking down the open shots - but he's also passing up god knows how many decent shots because he may be being too careful. This is part of a larger issue right now with the Cavaliers being unable to create good shots when LeBron isn't the one creating.

Cedi's Involvement

The secondary part of Cedi's current status is that he might be the team's little brother figure. It's easy to imagine being thought of as a secondary (or tertiary) player when LeBron James is on your team, but Cedi is not yet aggressive enough to earn the respect of his opponents.

So far this month, Osman has fewer front-court touches than Tristan Thompson per game. He's less a part of the offense than the guy whose entire job is to rebound and not shoot. Cedi is getting just 13.3 front-court touches per game. Furthermore, he's getting all of them on the perimeter, which means he's either shooting or taking a dribble and passing it again. Osman has had zero touches at the elbow and zero in the post, with about one touch in the paint per game (some of these are fastbreak finishes, others are on slashes/offensive rebounds).

Additionally, he only has three assists in the past five games, meaning he's not getting rid of the ball to set up other guys, he's simply getting rid of it because he thinks he's not the guy who should be doing something. Unfortunately, that seems to be everyone on the Cavaliers roster over the past few weeks as three-pointers just keep missing.

Things will change a little when guys start shooting better, as the team is in an incredible slump right now. Of course, Cedi Osman is the only guy making three-pointers, so go figure.

What Needs to Happen?

There are two possible outcomes and they both demand the same action. Cedi Osman basically needs to try to do more. If he starts taking tougher shots and getting more aggressive on offense and it works, then the Cavs are in a great position. If he starts trying to do more and it doesn't work, then he's shown that he's going to be a situational guy who plays his ass off on defense. That revelation will let the Cavs settle into different/hopefully improved roles by the time the playoffs come around.

In either case, step one is going all-out and being more aggressive to figure out what will best help the team. That's not an easy task for a guy who was in the Turkish league a year ago and now bodies up with Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge in the span of a few days, but it could prove to be a huge boost for the Cavaliers in this playoff push.

I have a feeling he'll do alright.

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