So now comes the fallout. What happens on opening night whenever the Cavaliers suit up against an as-of-yet unnamed team? Joe Kotoch of ProBasketballDraft.com had this to say immediately after the signing:
Cavs source says projected lineup is Irving, Waiters, Gee (for now), Thompson, and Bynum. Bench: Jack, Bennett, Varejao, Clark.— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) July 11, 2013
With Bynum at center Cleveland can now move Varejao back to the bench. This is a playoff team if healthy but that’s a big if.— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) July 11, 2013
So Kotoch believes that Bynum will be the starting center. That knocks out that right there. I'm actually all for he and Varejao playing ~25 minutes per game each at center for the first month or so of the season. I think that limiting their minutes early in the season is going to be essential to getting these guys through the season, and that's the most important aspect of this whole thing.
However, Matt Moore of CBSSports' Eye On Basketball, brings up an incredibly salient point that I hadn't considered. What if you started Varejao next to Bynum and simply limited both of their minutes?
Varejao and Bynum, together, is a pretty lethal combination of pure size and aggression. Varejao is somehow monstrously strong and incredibly savvy, Bynum is somehow incredibly skilled and unbelievably monstrous, physically. That's a great pair to set up down low.
Irving can run the pick and roll with Varejao, and feed Bynum in the post, with a shooter in the corner (Waiters) Irving on the wing, and a floor-stretching shooter in the opposite corner. If Bynum shoots and misses, Varejao is there for the cleanup.
I love this concept on offense. Starting those four that he mentions, and then C.J. Miles at the 3 as the opposite corner shooter to stretch the floor is probably the most lethal offensive lineup the Cavaliers will start with. However, what about defensively? Mike Brown's defensive scheme, as I feel like I've mentioned 87 times in the past two months, relies a lot on heavy hedging and agile big men. Bynum is decidedly not that, which means I think I'd want one on the floor with him. Varejao used to be an incredibly effective perimeter defensive player, but he showed signs of slowing in that regard last season -- plus it's an unknown commodity how attrition from injury has caught up to him.
It might be a better idea to start Tristan Thompson next to Bynum. He can do the same type of clean-up work on the offensive glass that Varejao does, and possibly play slightly more effective defensively next to Bynum (although there is no way to say this without seeing them next to each other. This is simply my speculation right now). The downside is that Thompson is not nearly as effective in the pick-and-roll. And what does this say for number one overall pick Anthony Bennett, who profiles to be another excellent pick-and-roll/pop option with Kyrie Irving? His defensive skill is not ready to start from Day 1 in the NBA, but he -- starting next to Earl Clark at the 3, who shot 39% from the corners last season and can take guarding the more difficult defensive forward matchup from Bennett -- could create the best possible offensive spacing along with the most explosive potential offense. And I still haven't even mentioned the projected starter Alonzo Gee yet. There are so many actual, legitimate options compared to the last few years for the Cavaliers that it's crazy.
If you made me make the choice right now, I think I'd go with starting this lineup, then going with something like this for the second unit:
PG - Kyrie Irving
SG - Dion Waiters
SF - C.J. Miles
PF - Anderson Varejao
C - Andrew Bynum
PG - Jarrett Jack
SG - Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters
SF - Earl Clark
PF - Anthony Bennett
C - Tristan Thompson
So now, these guys would all come in at different times and different points of the first quarter as substitutions are made. But ultimately, this would become the second unit that is on the floor at once. I love the idea of going somewhat "small" (even though the lineup itself isn't actually that small) with two point guards, two combo forwards, and then an athletic, rebounding center. This is potentially a matchup nightmare. Jack and Waiters/Irving play off of each other consistently and perpetually attacking the defense, Bennett playing the role of pick-and-roll/pop big man, and Thompson cleaning up while Clark spots up in the corners. Or you can have Bennett line up from the corner and Clark set the screen. This is a potentially dynamic, small-ball-like second unit.
Defensively, if you're going to line up Thompson against centers I think it would be beneficial to start him out guarding second string ones. As I mentioned earlier, Clark would take the more difficult forward matchup from Bennett. With the three main guards being Irving, Waiters, and Jack, I have many, many concerns about perimeter defense. Any combination of the three you put out there is going to be a below-average defensive combination at the beginning of the season while Irving and Waiters learn how to defend from Brown (this is the only reason I see Alonzo Gee potentially getting minutes ever with this roster).
What I think you're getting from this exercise is that there are a lot more combinations that could potentially work at play here than in the past. Any combination of Bynum and Thompson, Bennett or Varejao works. Lining up Varejao as the traditional center with any of the power forwards works. Playing small works. Playing two point guards with a traditional front court. It's an extremely different situation than Cavs' fans have seen in the past, and one they can look forward to maintaining in the future.
After all, the average age of this rotation is just 24 years old.