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NBA Offseason - Can the Cavaliers Upgrade at Small Forward through the draft or free agency?

The Cavaliers currently have one small forward on their roster heading into next season -- Alonzo Gee. CJ Miles will likely see his team option picked up, and he can get minutes at the position. Still, this isn't good enough. What are the Cavaliers looking for, and can they find it this summer?


By now, the phrase "3 and D" has become an essential term in NBA jargon. If you are one of these "3 and D" guys, you are an NBA wing who can both play solid defense and hit open three pointers. The league is changing; teams are utilizing the three point line more than ever, and it isn't a trend likely to slow down anytime soon. At the same time, teams are playing smaller. As teams become more reliant on scoring point guards and shooting guards there is less value in having a big clogging up the paint, and spacing the floor becomes ever more valuable. This isn't to say having a traditional big or bigs isn't important or necessary; unless you have LeBron James on your team, it almost certainly is. But there are simply fewer and fewer productive players who can't hit some type of jump shot.

In a recent Grantland piece, Zach Lowe tackled both the importance of having "3 and D" guys, as well as some players who fit this mold. He notes that the conventional wisdom holds that finding these types of players is relatively easy, but pushes back on this concept a bit. The amount of players who can capably guard 2's and 3's in the NBA while shooting league average or better from three point range is smaller than many think. He likens the archetype of this kind of player as Shane Battier, and it seems apt. Thabo Sefolosha may be the best example of a player in this mold who happens to be in his prime.

Cleveland is in dire need of this type of player. Offensively, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are more than capable of getting into the paint and getting defenses to collapse. When the offense was rolling last season (and it really was at various points) open looks created by our young guards were plentiful. The problem was, too many of those looks were created for Luke Walton (29% 3pt shooter) or Alonzo Gee (31.5% 3pt shooter). Only Kyrie Irving, Wayne Ellington, and CJ Miles showed real proficiency when shooting from distance. Irving and Waiters also mean that the third wing the Cavs employ need not be able to create for himself, or require the ball in his hands. If he understands spacing and can hit corner threes while showing a bit of proficiency cutting off the ball then that is more than enough. Defensively, the Cavaliers need someone who can both check the opposing teams best wing, and also understand his role in the defense. We all know Gee isn't a great defender off the ball, but over the course of the season he badly regressed even just in checking his own man. Some of this can be attributed to being worn down over the course of a season, but it is pretty clear that Gee doesn't belong anywhere near an NBA starting line-up.

NBA Draft

So who makes sense for the Cavaliers? The easiest place to find one of these guys might be the Draft. Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo both project in most analysts eyes as above average defenders in the league, and both enjoyed some success shooting from distance in college this year. There are caveats with both; neither are naturally gifted shooters, and when they get to the NBA and things speed up and the line moves back, there is reason to believe that there will be some adjustment time before they become proficient shooters. Oladipo might be a little short on height to guard some small forwards, and Porter may lack the lateral quickness to check all but a few shooting guards. In other words, while I think both have outstanding potential as "3 and D" wings (and perhaps much more) expecting it next season might be unfair. If I had to choose between the two at this point I would lean towards Oladipo; I think his strength and athleticism will allow him more flexibility in guarding NBA wings.

If the Cavaliers don't go the route of using a top 6 pick on a wing, there should be plenty of opportunity later on to get a difference maker. Sam has written excellent profiles on Reggie Bullock and Michael Snaer as guys who could eventually fulfill the role.

Free Agency

If Matt Barnes could be convinced to play for a team that will contend for the playoffs but not a championship, he could be a great fit. He plays with a lot of passion, wants to win, defends, and is a solid three point shooter. Cleveland could both give him a greater role than he has ever had before and avoid putting too much on his plate or asking him to do too much. Chase Budinger is coming off an injury and could be valuable for Cleveland on the cheap next season. Brandon Rush, should he decide to turn down a $4 million player option for next season, also makes sense. Corey Brewer passes the defense test and then some, but can't shoot. My feeling is that Oladipo will be on his level as a rookie next season. Dorell Wright or Martell Webster could be fits.


And, of course, there are trades. It just wouldn't be one of my columns without a trade proposal to infuriate the public at large. The Cavaliers need to trade for Trevor Ariza. But David, he is overpaid and has been terrible his whole career except for that one time in the playoffs, I hear you say. And you are sort of right. But he is only overpaid for one more year, plays solid defense, and is money on corner threes. How money, you ask? Per, Ariza was 40-85 on corner threes. When he played with John Wall, that is, had someone who could create for him, he shot 43% from distance. His Player Efficiency Rating of 14 is almost 2.5 points better than Alonzo Gee's. For the Cavaliers to improve next season, they don't necessarily have to add great players. They just need to stop giving bad players so many minutes. Ariza fits. I would be willing to give up the 19th pick in the draft for him. What are the chances the player with that pick ends up being good? If Ariza works out and has a great experience in Cleveland, we can re-sign him next season on a team friendly deal. He is still only 27 years old, and could easily be a valuable small forward off the bench.

Regardless of what route the Cavaliers go this summer, there is real opportunity to improve and pick up a player the team needs, all while maintaining long-term financial flexibility. It will be fun to see what Chris Grant can do.