Do the Cavs Have a Lineup that Matches up with the Warriors?


Positionless basketball is not just the way of the future in the NBA; it's the way of the present. The Cavaliers have been half a step behind the Warriors, who have perfected the style, but the Warriors were half a step behind the Spurs, who nearly perfected it. Of course, the Spurs were half a step behind the D'Antoni era Suns, who were the brains behind the pace-and-space era.

In any case, the Cavaliers version of positionless basketball (like all the others) has centered around shooter-heavy lineups. Last year's Cavs had prominent scoring lineups that featured LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, JR Smith, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, and Richard Jefferson. Their best lineups typically included four of those guys and Tristan Thompson. It was tough to stop, as seen in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The possibilities seen blow are devastating to a defense.

In fact, five of the seven Cavs lineups that played more than 20 minutes together in the playoffs logged offensive ratings of over 120, and among them, Tristan Thompson was the only player in any of them who was not an outside threat. Unfortunately, those numbers weren't good enough and the Cavs were summarily slapped around by the eventual NBA champs. Golden State's famous "death lineup" outscored opponents by 33 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs and 46 points per 100 possessions against the Cavs. It was bad.

But what about this year?

What is The Best Cavs Lineup?

This year's Cavs have a new slate of question marks. They lost Kyrie's outside shooting ability but gained Derrick Rose's surprisingly good defense. They lost floor-spacing (until Isaiah Thomas comes back) but they gained wing depth. They lost a young stud and signed a few guys with AARP memberships.

For better or worse, the Cavs should already be thinking about what their best short-burst lineup will be, and if you want to say "what lineup can beat the Warriors" that's also a fine way of looking at it. I'll word it like this: What's the group that can devastate teams for two-minute stretches and blows things open? 

This lineup needs shooters, athletes, and defenders, but can sacrifice size. With that in mind, Tristan Thompson and Ante Zizic are off the list and Kevin Love is iffy. Iman Shumpert could make it but only if he's the guy who shot 41% on three-pointers through 48 games last year and not the guy who made 27% of them after that. The inconsistency plus his ankle injury take him off the list for now.

Jeff Green, Jose Calderon, and Richard Jefferson are off the list for being too poor a shooter, too old, and too slow, respectively. Channing Frye is out, as he's basically been relegated to full-time benchwarmer. Cedi Osman is out too because Ty Lue doesn't play young guys.

The remaining names are LeBron James, Derrick Rose, JR Smith, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, and Kyle Korver. This is the crux of the Cavs' most potent lineup. All six players are between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-9. All six players can defend several positions (Korver is not a good ball-stopper, but he can out-quick a traditional power forward in this lineup). All six players can either create shots or make shots (Wade is perhaps most limited here). All six players are extremely athletic (Korver may again be odd-man-out, but he's the best three-point shooter in NBA history, so you make some sacrifices).

Since obviously only five of these six can play at a time, the numbers favor Derrick Rose over Dwyane Wade. Rose is the better defender, has periodically shown a three-point capability, and could act as a slasher to leave open looks for the absurd shooting lineup of James, Smith, Crowder, and Korver. The worst of the four last year was JR Smith, who uncharacteristically hit just 35% of his shots from deep. LeBron (36%), Crowder (40%), and Korver (45%) will certainly help keep the lane open for Rose, who will face less traffic on his way to finishing at the hoop - something he excelled at in the past and was much better at last year than in the previous few.

So, that's the lineup: Rose, Smith, James, Crowder, Korver. It's not really in that order since the positions don't matter, but James or Crowder could play the nominal "center" of the group. Furthermore, swapping Kevin Love for Rose would unleash a big lineup of shooters, and how would a defense respond? JR Smith would be the smallest guy out there. Lastly, when (if?) Isaiah Thomas comes back to full strength, the dynamic will change again: He's so good offensively that he needs to be out there, but his defense is a major concern. 

Any way you slice it, the Cavs have options. Ty Lue is embarking on what will be his hardest coaching season, by far, and there's no telling what will happen. Thankfully for him, the Cavs are almost guaranteed 50 wins based solely on LeBron James, so I think Lue will survive.

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