The Cleveland Cavaliers bench has swung games this season. After multiple years of watching the team fall apart, this year's second unit has been relatively effective, but what's really going on with these guys?
The first 15 games of the Cavaliers' season have been strange. There have been injuries, juggled starting lineups, no-shows from guys who are supposed to be studs, dominant performances from backups, horrifying losses, impressive wins, and LeBron James highlights. It's hard to tell what's going on and what is an actual problem vs. what is a symptom of "can it please be April, now?" syndrome.
The biggest story has been the addition of guys like Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, and Isaiah Thomas, but without Thomas, those other four have taken the spotlight. Crowder has struggled. A lot. He's going to be a topic for another day. The other three are effectively bench players. Rose is the starting point guard when he's healthy (lol at Derrick Rose ever being healthy), but he was signed as a backup and frankly, he plays like a backup. Let's dig in a little to Derrick Rose.
The Cavs are better with Rose out
Derrick Rose is, by most accounts, a point guard. Point guards (Wikipedia entry for Point Guard) are primarily used to distribute the basketball and get their teammates involved. They are also supposed to protect the ball. In today's NBA, they are often required to have strong shooting ability.
That's three strikes for Derrick Rose.
Among the 80 guards in the NBA who have played more than 25 minutes in a game this season, Derrick Rose has the sixth lowest assists-per-game rate. He is averaging 1.7 assists per game or 2.3 per 36 minutes of play. Here is an incomplete list of guys who are averaging more assists per 36 minutes than the guy the Cavaliers prefer to start at point guard over the next two months:
- Andre Drummond
- Boban Marjanovic
- Pascal Siakam
- Robin Lopez
- Jusuf Nurkic
- Joe Johnson
- Dion Waiters
There are dozens more, but that's a decent sampling, I'd say. However, I mentioned three categories above, and the other two are turnovers and shooting. Rose hasn't been as prolific with his turnovers as a lot of other guys, but he does have more turnovers than assists so far this season. He has 19 turnovers in 188 minutes (a not-nightmarish rate for a point guard, but not a good one) to go against 12 (twelve!) assists. Here's one of those turnovers.
As for the shooting, he's 3-13 on three-pointers. Remember when the Cavs made the finals three straight times by surrounding LeBron James with shooters? And remember how the only non-shooter was an elite offensive rebounder? Derrick Rose is neither of those things.
One last twist of the Rose knife: The Cavaliers are being outscored by 12.3 points per 100 possessions when Derrick Rose is on the floor. They outscore their opponents by 1.5 points per 100 possessions when Rose is off the floor. When he's on the court, the team shoots 30% on three-pointers. When he's off, they shoot 37%. What more do we need to know?
I have (so far) been very wrong about Jeff Green
Jeff Green is exciting! I had no idea, and if I were a betting man, I'd technically be wrong. Principally, I still don't like that Jeff Green is occasionally shooting threes because, and I can't stress this enough, Jeff Green is not good at shooting threes. If someone can pass this message along to Jeff Green, that would be great.
He's actually 39% on corner-threes for his career, per Basketball-Reference.com, but he hasn't hit a higher rate than 33% since the 2014-15 season.
On the other hand, dude has been active around the rim.
This kind of thing (maybe not the putback, but the dunking part) has been a lot more common than I expected. Green dunked 10 times over the 1500+ minutes and 69 games he played in last season. He has dunked 14 times in the first 15 games of this season. The Cavs are a +2.8 NetRtg when he's on the court and a -6 when he's off, and again, I 100% did not see this coming. He's been a pleasant surprise, and I hope he keeps it up.
Kyle Korver is the best basketball player in the history of the NBA
Do I even need to explain anything here? The guy is incredible. The stats don't currently reflect the effect he has out there this season, as the first two weeks were such an unabashed hellscape of basketball, but Kyle Korver changes the game around him.
When Korver starts running off screens, defenses shift. A lot. The Cavs aren't known as a team that runs a lot of plays, and Ty Lue has the reputation for being one of the least imaginative coaches in the league. However, when Korver is on the floor, he's sprinting through screens, hugging turns, and springing into open space. The fallout of this is that defenses suddenly have to do more than wait for LeBron to drive and try to cut off a passing lane. They have to communicate while several giant men are running around. They have to switch. They have to run through and around guys. They have to stay within two feet of Korver while not giving up space to a teammate cutting to the rim. It's difficult.
The result is open dunks and open threes. It's a beautiful thing. It will be even more beautiful if JR and Iman Shumpert can start making them - they're a combined 34-109 going into Friday's game.