Big Man Bulletin: Do the Cavaliers Need One?

Written by Ben Winks (@BenjaminWinks) on 20 December 2016

Chris "Birdman" Andersen is out for the season after tearing his ACL in practice. Birdman was the fourth man in a Cavalier big-man rotation that includes the likes of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Channing Frye.

Andersen has played in 12 games this year. In those 12 games, he has played 9.5 minutes per game.  The majority of these minutes are in garbage time, in games where the game is out of reach, or spot minutes at the end of a half. 

Looking at the current big men on the Cavaliers roster, the minutes per player shake out as follows:

Kevin Love: 32.2 minutes per game.

Tristan Thompson: 29.1 minutes per game.

Channing Frye: 17.7 minutes per game.

Note: This does not take into account minutes that LeBron James spends at power forward.

Are these players in the front court enough for Cleveland to do what they want to do on offense? The numbers would say that yes, they are enough. 

The Cavaliers want to be able to spread the floor on offense, and they want to be able to crash the boards. The current set of big men they have on the roster give the Cavaliers all the pieces and attributes they would need to accomplish those goals.

Tristan Thompson is a rebounding machine. He is in the top 10 in terms of offensive rebounds a game. He cleans up the boards on offense, gains extra possessions for the Cavaliers offensively, and is good for a highlight putback slam every now and again.

Kevin Love is the hybrid of the three players. Love is a scoring machine on offense — he scored 34 points in the first quarter alone against Portland, he averages over 10 rebounds a game, and he shoots a remarkable 41.2% from behind the three-point line. Love operates with confidence from the elbow down also, shooting over 56% on hook shots in the lane this year. Love is both a rebounder and an offensive juggernaut, so he is the perfect mix between Thompson and Frye.

Channing Frye is third in the league at three-point shooting by percentage. The Cavalier power forward is shooting a ridiculous 47.1% from behind the line this year, picking up and improving on what he did in Cleveland last year.  Frye has been getting wide open looks this year from the penetration of players like James, Irving, and Love, causing the defense to collapse on the penetration, leaving players on the wing wide open.

One thing that is important to note is that the Cavaliers have the benefit of LeBron James being able to play the power forward position. He is very good in the low and high post positions, this causes the defense to collapse, and this opens up the offense for the other players on the floor. James and Thompson both were good at working the paint against the Warriors in the Finals with James operating from the low and high post. Not many power forwards in the league can deal with James on the block or at the elbow, and while this is not a position that James necessarily enjoys playing, he is good at it.

Visual Examples

Tristan Thompson does all of the dirty work on the boards that the Cavaliers need. 

Here, Tristan Thompson is waiting for the opportunity to rebound the potential James miss. When James does miss, Thompson rushes in, taps the ball up and into the basket, providing a second line of offense when the primary is stifled.

In this example, you will see that Thompson runs the pick-and-roll with Kyrie Irving. Irving sucks in the defense, and this leaves a wide open lane for Thompson to cut to the basket, catch the pass, and has the space to throw it down.

Channing Frye is the recipient of the James pass from the mid-post here. Notice how the defense is collapsed on James — four of the five Lakers is within 10 feet of James, with the fifth Laker, Jordan Clarkson trailing well behind the play. James had a choice of three possible passes on this play: he could have made the pass to Jefferson on the left wing, to Shumpert, or to Frye, and each player would have had a wide open shot. This is the benefit of having James playing in the post and of having players like Frye guarding the wing where James can find them.

James again finds Channing Frye here, but this time, James is operating near the three point line. This is exactly how the Cavaliers want to play: multiple formations, movement off the ball, and here, Liggins sets a small screen on Nance Jr. which allows Frye to have enough airspace to elevate and knock down the corner trey. Finding another big man who can do this either on the trade market or the open market is highly unlikely.

Kevin Love has been given a similar opportunity to the one that was given to Frye when James passed it to him in the corner. Here, Love receives the pass from James, and with Nance Jr. on him, he pumps, which Nance Jr. has to respect because of the way Love has been shooting this year and using this space, Love puts the ball on the floor, drives on the baseline to the hoop, where he finishes with a reverse layup. 

Love here takes advantage of the three-man Cavaliers bunch, pops out, and James hits him for the three. This kind of play can be run with either Love or Frye and is usually very effective. If Love does not work back toward James and create further separation from the defender, this shot could have been more contested or even blocked, but such is the nature of Love's game, it was not an issue.

The Cavalier bigs this year have been playing well so far this season. The style of play that the Cavaliers utilize lends itself to not needing a multitude of big men. The three that the Cavaliers have in their rotation should be more than adequate for what it is that they want to do. Barring injury, there should be no reason why the Cavaliers would need to acquire a big man for the rest of the season. In their most important matchups, they will likely be forced to play small in order to match their opponent. Love and Thompson, Thompson and Frye, and the combination of Frye and Love should have no problems playing with each other at any point in the season. One final bit of good luck is that the Cavaliers can also play with James in the frontcourt, which would restore their four-man rotation. 

The Cavaliers are off to a hot start to the year. They are leading the East, and while they lost a member of their team, all is not lost. This injury is to a minor role player on this team, which is better than a major player going down with this injury but is still not a good thing. Look to see if the Cavaliers frontcourt rotations change slightly, and look to see if the Cavaliers play small more often to combat this new found issue.

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