The Cavaliers are short-handed while JR Smith and Kevin Love recover from injuries, but when they come back, where will everyone find minutes?
As of two weeks ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in a fantastic place. The Cavs were first in the conference, had LeBron James in the lineup, and were defending NBA champions. They've dealt with the injury bug thanks to Kevin Love and JR Smith's fairly long-term injuries, but both are expected back for the playoffs.
Since two weeks ago the Cavs have wrangled Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut. These signings beg the question: Once everyone is back and healthy, how in the world is this rotation going to shake out?
I've long been suspicious of Tyronn Lue's coaching philosophies and I've been openly critical of the way he handles rotations and minutes. While plenty of fans like to think they know how to do things more efficiently and logically than Lue, those fans probably don't have any idea what they would do once this roster is complete and healthy. This may be the most talented 1-12 roster since, well, ever?
Think about this for a moment; the starters are Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson. The next five is Deron Williams, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, and probably Andrew Bogut. Does that make Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye the 11th and 12th men on this team? The 6'11" guy who shoots 40% from three-point land is realistically in danger of losing his spot in the rotation. That's absolutely incredible.
Maybe you disagree with how I lined it up. Maybe Shumpert's minutes go down in favor of more Korver at the shooting guard, meaning Derrick Williams plays small forward and Channing Frye plays power forward, but Shumpert's defense makes that a tough sell.
Any way you slice it, the Cavaliers are about to become the most versatile team in the league. Here's how.
If Cleveland wants to beat someone with size, they can choose any five of the following guys, all of whom are 6'5" or taller: LeBron James, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, Tristan Thompson, and Andrew Bogut.
Read that list again, because that is terrifying. The Cavaliers could trot out a lineup of guys 6'5" or taller in which everyone shoots better than league-average on three-pointers. They could also trot out a bruising, giant, defensive-minded lineup of LeBron James, JR Smith (or Shumpert), Derrick Williams, Tristan Thompson, and Andrew Bogut. After watching the way Shumpert, James, and Williams defended Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday night it's not hard to imagine these guys switching everything and smothering all opponents who get in the way.
My best guess is that Richard Jefferson's minutes will almost disappear in the front-court. Derrick Williams has been staggeringly effective on both ends of the floor (although statistical evidence suggests that it won't last - he's a career sub 30% shooter on wide open three-pointers) and has solidified his role in the second unit. The Cavs can essentially get the same productivity out of younger, bigger, or faster guys and RJ may be a casualty of that.
Channing Frye, as I mentioned above, could also be relegated to cheerleading. He'll be useful for specific match-ups much like in last year's playoffs, but in Cleveland's four NBA Finals wins he played a total of 12 minutes. That number could shrink even further.
It's also entirely possible that Andrew Bogut sees very limited minutes. He'll presumably provide added rest for Tristan Thompson but with the versatility mentioned above, Bogut could be just like Frye - used in specific match-ups. Bogut's strength, of course, is as an old-school center - he blocks shots, he rebounds, he scores inside, and he's a very talented passer. He doesn't fit the pace-and-space era, but he's excellent at what he does.
As if the wealth of options in the frontcourt isn't enough, the Cavaliers will be positively loaded in the backcourt as well. JR Smith is traveling with the team and participating in shootarounds so his return is not too far off. Once he's back, here are the guys who will be vying for a total of 96 minutes at the guard positions: Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, and Deron Williams.
That's preposterous. Here are the three-point shooting percentages of those guys: Irving - 38.3%, Shumpert - 38.7%, Williams - 34.8%, Korver - 45.5%, and JR Smith - 36.2% (although he's been dealing with several injuries and shot 40.0% last season). Williams is the weakest link in there and he's shooting below his career average, meaning it's likely that he turns it around on a team where he'll constantly get open looks.
While that's an awfully good shooting group, it goes beyond the "can they shoot?" test. Since most of these guys are familiar to Cavs fans, let's pick out Deron Williams for a moment. Williams is known for being adept at two specific things on offense: Pick and rolls and post-ups. The Cavaliers do both of these things very well.
Williams ranks in the 72nd percentile in the NBA as a P-n-R ball handler, per Synergy Sports. That places him slightly better than Russell Westbrook, Goran Dragic, and John Wall - three guys who run a ton of pick and rolls. Williams is even better in the post: 85th percentile in the NBA. He's actually 26th best in the entire NBA among qualifying players, averaging 1.034 points per possession.
In short, Williams will be free to play his own game. He can post up or isolate because no defense will double him at the risk of leaving open anyone else on the roster.
The Cavs are in a good position that's only getting better. Once these guys heal up, watch out.