Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
Luke Walton played 12 minutes last night, doing nothing and alienating Cavaliers fans everywhere. Why did he play, and what are the Cavs' options going forward?
After last night's abysmal bench performance, there is one overriding question that seems to be blowing up on Twitter:
What in god's name was Luke Walton doing on the floor to begin with, and why did he play 12 minutes?
Walton was awful after his initial three possessions on the court in the second quarter. Playing out of position at the power forward spot, he received minutes over more qualified players (I'll get into that later). During his time on the floor, Walton made me long for the glory days of Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden and a one-legged Leon Powe. He was slow on defense. He wasn't big or strong enough to guard Earl Barron, Jan Vesely, or Chris Singleton (hardly players with polished offensive games who went 9-17 from the floor combined last night). He had two atrocious turnovers that anyone with any semblance of NBA-level athleticism would have avoided. It is clear at this point that Walton simply cannot play at the NBA level anymore. So to refer back to the beginning of this post: why is he getting minutes?
Byron Scott answered that in the press conference after the game. He said that he thinks the second unit feels more comfortable with Walton on the floor and runs the offense better. However, in the 10 minutes Walton was on the court without Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers scored a grand total of seven points. Now of course, this can't be fully attributed to Walton. The ugliness that occurred on the offensive side of the floor for the second unit was a total team effort. It involved complete stagnation with no movement whatsoever. There was a lot of isolation play against a team with long, athletic wings and big guys such as Singleton, Vesely, Barron, and Martell Webster (all of whom played significant minutes against the second unit last night). If they can establish some sort of movement on offense that would go a long way towards helping the unit score and become more effective.
Having said that, Coach Scott also said in the post-game interview that he really didn't plan on using Walton until he looked down the bench and called his name. So this doesn't seem like it will be a recurring thing. In my opinion, there are three possible candidates to receive these minutes instead of Walton:
Omri Casspi: Casspi is a very similar idea to Walton if Coach Scott's goal is to go smaller with the second unit. He'd be a better option to stretch the floor, despite his cold shooting last season. The big part of the game that he does not have though is a strong basketball IQ. He turns the ball over more than you would like to see and overall tends to make bad decisions. Also, Casspi wouldn't address the offense's stagnation, as he is a guy who tends to stand around waiting for a spot-up jumper. Where he would help is on the defensive end, as he is more athletic and isn't a bad perimeter or post defender for his size. Overall, I'd probably be more inclined to give Casspi a chance after the second unit's performance last night, but I think the Cavs have better options.
Jon Leuer: I was a big fan of the Leuer pick up. He was awesome on a per-minute basis when played at the power forward position last year for the Bucks. According to 82games.com, he had a 17.9 PER while holding his counterparts to a 10.3 PER. What he does especially well is shoot the ball. Leuer has 3-point range, but what he does extremely well is pick-and-pop to the (Conrad will love this) 18-20-foot range and knock down jumpers. Blessed with a pretty strong basketball IQ, he also tends to make the right pass when the opportunity materializes, which leads to him turning the ball over very infrequently. He'd be the best offensive option of the three choices here. I also think he'd be the best option to play while Varejao is on the floor with the second unit because as we saw last night, getting Varejao more space under the hoop to go for offensive rebounds is very beneficial to the Cavaliers' chances of winning. Conversely, I don't think Leuer can play with Zeller right now. The Cavaliers will get owned in the paint if both of these two are on the floor together. Neither is a particularly strong rebounder yet, and neither is strong enough to defend defensively in the post against better offensive big men (Leuer's defensive metrics last year were strong in the post, but I think that it's a small sample size issue and not reflective of his actual skill). He is a legitimate option though that would be a definitive upgrade over Luke Walton right now.
Samardo Samuels: Samuels would be the more prototypical option at the backup power forward spot. He played pretty well in the preseason. Obviously there was the revelation of his being in shape for the first time in his career with the Cavs, but also he seemed to have developed a pretty decent 16-footer. He brings more of a post game than the other three players (including Walton), and much more physicality. He is stronger and able to defend players in the post effectively (his defensive metrics are pretty solid all-around defensively with most of his possessions coming in the post). His strength in the post would be an effective pair with Zeller. He's a better and more physical rebounder than Leuer. While he wouldn't bring the diverse offensive game that Casspi or especially Leuer can, he'd probably be the best foil to play with Zeller of the three because of the more traditional big man qualities that he brings. Samuels' play in the preseason and Walton's play last night would seem to say that Samuels would be the better option.
So overall, what the Cavs need to decide going forward is how they want to split their rotation. If they're going to try to keep one of Varejao, Irving, or Dion Waiters on the floor at all times to help create offense for the second unit, then Varejao seems to be the likely choice to stay on with the second unit and Leuer becomes the best option. He can run the pick-and-pop with Sloan or Miles, stretching the floor and creating more movement on offense than what occurred last night. If they want to try to reduce Varejao's minutes a little (not a bad idea, he played nearly 40 minutes last night and won't always be as effective as he was last night), then I think Samuels makes more sense because he is a better fit to play with Zeller.
I only ask one thing of Coach Scott right now: Please don't make me pray for Luke Harangody to take the floor instead of Walton. Don't be the New York Knicks and value old, "veteran leadership" over talent. Do the right thing, take Walton out, and put the more qualified and skilled players in.