Cavs look to begin Luol Deng era with coveted road win in Utah

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Cavaliers vs JazzThe Utah Jazz are 11-11 since Nov. 25. The Cavs are 2-15 on the road this season. Those two stats should be the featured numbers on the minds of Cleveland Cavaliers fans this evening. But, understandably, fans are wildly optimistic with this week’s big news.

Luol Deng should certainly help the Cavs. He’s a two-time All-Star and he’s averaging a career-high in points. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alonzo Gee again receives a DNP-CD tonight, which almost alone is addition by subtraction. And yes, again, Deng is a talented basketball player that arguably becomes Cleveland’s No. 2 star.

I wrote earlier in the week on my favorite Deng-related stats. His interior scoring, passing, defense and all-around veteran leadership are gigantic improvements. Will that necessarily transfer into a road win tonight let alone over the following four more Western Conference games? We’ll see.

How did the Jazz become an average NBA team?

To begin the season, the Utah Jazz were 1-14. They were regarded as one of the weakest teams in the game. They let go of well-known scoring big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in the offseason. They’re relying upon a whole slew of youngsters, plus some underwhelming veterans.

Coveted rookie point guard Trey Burke, a Columbus native who then starred at Michigan, made his season debut on Nov. 20. In those first few games, however, he was just getting his feet wet.

In Burke’s place, Utah relied upon 21.5 minutes per game from John Lucas III. That’s not a recipe for success in the 2014 NBA (or, perhaps in any year in NBA history). Since Burke’s return to full-time duty, it’s been a completely different story.

Here are the player-by-player stats over these impressive last 22 games, per

NBAStats (5)

Gordon Hayward at 17-5-5 is transforming into a legitimate up-and-coming talent. He scored a career-high 37 in the team’s upset win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday. He’s their best player and likely will immediately be an intriguing challenge for Deng defensively tonight.

Burke has been solid. Obviously, 38.6% shooting leaves room for improvement, but his .449 efg isn’t that terrible overall. His 2.94 assist-to-turnover ratio is quite good. He has helped to stabilize a train-wreck of a season.

Replacing Jefferson and Millsap are two high-end draft-picks in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Favors is one of the league’s better shot-blockers and has been very efficient on the offensive end. But the team has struggled somewhat with Kanter on the court.

The most startling stat might be the supplemental three-point shooting. Combined, Alec Burks, Richard Jefferson (potential Cavs trade target), Diante Garrett and Brandon Rush are 59-for-126 (46.8%) from long distance during these 22 games. Granted, Burke has the team’s most attempts during this span at 107, followed by Hayward’s 77 and Marvin Williams’ 76, but dang. That’s crazy.

How will the minutes play out for the Cavaliers?

This is then likely the biggest question for head coach Mike Brown. Before the season, I took my stab at the overall rotation breakdown. That’s now ancient history with the addition of Luol Deng (and, previously, the emergence of rotation glue-guy Matthew Dellavedova).

Here’s a possible projection for how the 12-man rotation could break down, ideally:

This Thompson-Kanter photo is LOL. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

This Tristan Thompson-Enes Kanter photo is LOL. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Kyrie Irving 36 (average: 35.2)
Luol Deng 34 (average: 37.4)
Tristan Thompson 32 (average 33.0)
Anderson Varejao 30 (average: 29.4)
Dion Waiters 28 (average: 30.0)
Jarrett Jack 24 (average: 28.1)
C.J. Miles 18 (average: 20.1)
Tyler Zeller 14 (average: 10.6)
Matthew Dellavedova 10 (average: 17.1)
Earl Clark 8 (average: 17.6)
Anthony Bennett/Alonzo Gee/Sergey Karasev 6

Most significantly, of course, I see Deng taking away the bulk of the minutes from the Clark/Gee duo. Together, they’ve accumulated 1,129 minutes in the team’s 35 games – that’s 32.3 per contest that are just ripe for the taking. Some minutes of course will then come from additional rearranging lineup combinations.

It’ll be fascinating to see how often Brown uses the Varejao/Thompson starting frontcourt. As you saw in my WFNY Stats & Info headline on the frontcourt today, that lineup has had quite the success this season. But lineups without either of them have been terribly bad. In order to conserve energy and resources, it might make more sense to just use one at a time more often.

Which then relates to the small-ball three-guard lineups that have had surprising success. Jarrett Jack is supposed to be back tonight, so it’ll be neat to see how it all works out sans Bynum and with him and Irving back on the court. That’s only happened three times since the famous suspension. Deng’s presence could be to diminish the frequency of these lineups or as a substitute for Clark/Gee at the 4. But what about Anthony Bennett? I’m not certain.

The next two games are against the next two worst Western Conference teams, but the Cavs can’t afford to overlook this improving Jazz squad. Should be an entertaining battle.

  • Kildawg

    I think the Jazz will be better competition than the Kings. How could any team win consistently with Demarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay (outside of a video game)?

  • Marek Włodarczyk

    I’ll give less minutes to Jack – when he is on the court Cavs play bad and he can’t guard nobody … so it will be better to switch his minutes with Delly who played well and is good defender

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The Kings are slowly improving Cousins is a beast when he doesn’t let his emotions get in the way. Still a very winnable game,

  • Kildawg

    True, but Sacramento has been the dumpster fire of the Western Conference. My point is that Cousins and Gay are me-first players that take away from the team concept. Andy and Deng will have their hands full no doubt, but will be able to handle it.