It seems like just yesterday that the Cavalier faithful only had the four-man core of recent first round picks in Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller to hitch their wagon to in terms of future pieces of a prospective competitive playoff team. The weapons were there to bolster the roster, but patience, foresight, and faith in Chris Grant and company was required. Suddenly, in the last month, the team has added Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev in the draft along with Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, and now the big fish Andrew Bynum in free agency. Adding five players who all will receive rotation minutes and only subtracting those which the Cavaliers actively chose to let slip away (Shaun Livingston, Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, Omri Casspi, and probably Luke Walton and Daniel Gibson all qualify) gives the Cavaliers a lot of talent and some decisions for Coach Mike Brown to make. So, in light of that, I know some people are strongly against “minutes” breakdowns, but I think that used the right way as a framework only that it’s a good context to begin some discussion about some of the more intriguing storylines for this roster as it’s currently constructed.
Let’s start with my rough estimate on how I would do a 10-man rotation at this given time (minutes at each position shown in parentheses):
PG – Kyrie Irving (34), Jarrett Jack (14)
SG – Dion Waiters (32), Jarrett Jack (12), Sergey Karasev (4)
SF – Earl Clark (12), Anthony Bennett (12), Alonzo Gee (14), Sergey Karasev (10)
PF – Tristan Thompson (22), Anthony Bennett (14), Earl Clark (8), Anderson Varejao (4)
C – Andrew Bynum (25), Anderson Varejao (20), Tristan Thompson (3)
Adding those up, we get these minutes allotments (career minutes per game in parentheses):
Irving – 34 (32.8)
Waiters – 32 (28.8)
Jack – 26 (27.9)
Bennett – 26 (n/a)
Thompson – 25 (28.1)
Bynum – 25 (26.0)
Varejao – 24 (25.6)
Clark – 20 (14.1)
Karasev – 14 (n/a)
Gee – 14 (26.7)
Other players on roster not in rotation: Tyler Zeller, C.J. Miles, Carrick Felix, Kevin Jones, and Chris Quinn
The first thing you see right away is that the Cavaliers now have a cornucopia of big men. Any way you slice it, they have six NBA caliber, rotation big men. It’s going to present some problems at times, but with the injury rap sheet of both Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao, it’s a nice luxury to have. With the Bynum signing, when this team is healthy, Tyler Zeller’s going to have a hard time getting out on the floor. That shows just how far this roster has gone when a guy who was your primary starting center last year is now your third center and out of the rotation.
Because of the big man logjam, it’s possible (and in my case, probable) that we’ll see both Anthony Bennett and Earl Clark get some significant time at the small forward position. For Bennett, it’s not a question of offensive ability at the three. After all, he’s got range out to the three-point arc, can take his man off the dribble, and has a nice post game where he is experienced with drawing contact. Instead, the question is whether he can drop enough weight to man the position. Even then, is he quick enough to defend most NBA three men? For Clark, the defensive end won’t be a problem as the 6’10” Louisville product played about one-third of his minutes with the Lakers last year at small forward and was praised for his defensive ability. However, with Clark, it’s more of an offensive question whether his turnover numbers and handle leave a little bit to be desired from your small forward. An interesting idea is that with Clark and Bennett on the floor together, one could in theory be your “three” on offense and the other your “three” on defense. I actually have both Alonzo Gee and Sergey Karasev getting minutes at the 3 as well. Chris Grant said post-draft that they saw Sergey as more of a 2 at this point, though he could play both positions. So, while Gee may remain the only true small forward on the roster, I see a fairly equal division of labor between four guys at the position. I still think it’s possible that we’ll see either Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao traded at some point. If Bennett has a really good rookie year primarily playing at the power forward, and Bynum proves he can play and stay relatively healthy, then one of these guys becomes expendable.
The flexibility is tremendous with this unit. Jack and Waiters can play both guard spots. Karasev can play both wing positions. Clark and Bennett can play both forward slots. Thompson, Varejao, and Zeller can play both big spots. The team now has some really intriguing defensive lineups (Jack, Gee, Clark, Thompson, and Varejao for example) to close out games and some offensive units (Kyrie, Jack, Dion, Bennett, Bynum is one that comes to mind) that will be matchup nightmares for an opposing defense to account for all scoring options. One of my biggest complaints the last time Mike Brown was here was trying to adapt too much to what the opposing team was doing in the playoffs rather than having his team impose their will with their matchup advantages. The Cavs can play incredibly big or incredibly small now. They have 10 guys (or more) to work with, and given that they were about an average team on offense last season (19th in offensive rating), I expect them to become a Top 10 offensive team this season.
Salary is a hot button topic heading into next summer, and even if the Cavaliers pick up Andrew Bynum’s option, there is still room for them to sign a max free agent next summer. Sure, it likely means that they’ll need to trade Anderson Varejao or not pick up his option, but that’s a small price to pay if the team is able to land the biggest free agent of them all next summer. With Jarrett Jack’s (and soon Anthony Bennett’s) contract the only one guaranteed past this year right now (the young core all has team options that will be picked up), the flexibility remains for Chris Grant if he wants to try and pull off a major trade.
More than anything, I’m just excited for all of us Cavalier fans who have endured some rough basketball the last three seasons. I was bullish on this team sneaking into the playoffs without Bynum, but now I think they could go as high as the four or the five seed in the East if things play out according to plan. Mike Brown still has to teach A LOT of guys how to play at least average defense. Unlike the last go-around, though, Mike Brown has youth, depth, and versatility in his roster. Whether that results in a playoff trip and more in coming years remains to be seen.
(Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)