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Buddy ball: Thoughts on Dion Waiters, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov

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The Cavs make moves. What will the impact be?

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I started writing for Fear the Sword in the Spring of 2012, focusing mostly on that June's NBA draft. I wrote profiles of Andre Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes and more. The Cavaliers would ultimately choose fourth, the payoff from a second year of depressing tanking. I hadn't written a pre-draft profile of Dion Waiters, but he was the choice.

He's been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Cavaliers have added Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Timofey Mozgov to their ranks. Buddy ball dives into the implications.

  • Losing Waiters, this year, is probably a positive for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He's talented, to be sure, but it just hasn't been realized in Cleveland. In 33 games with the Cavs this season he shot 40/26/78 from the field for a sub-47 true shooting rate. His usage rate of 24% was higher than Kyrie Irving's. He was having a lot of trouble adjusting to having Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love around (basketball-reference).
  • That last point isn't an opinion. He said that to several media members back in late November. When asked if this was the toughest adjustment of his career, Waiters responded "Oh, yeah, for sure. My first two years I was a guy who always had the ball. I could do whatever I wanted to."
  • That's at odds with his comments yesterday upon being traded: "Nah, I’ve always been like held back a little bit from really reaching and showing what I can do. I think last year I got a chance to do that when guys went down and I was able to show what I can do in that time."
  • I don't mean to pile on Waiters. His jump shot has shown promise at times, and hopefully one day he finds a role that he can be comfortable with. I'm fairly sure it wasn't going to happen in Cleveland, though, and he had a role in the Cavs' bench struggles, as well as their inability to find consistent play at the shooting guard position. As of January 4, the Cavs had been outscored by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the 786 minutes Waiters had played (nba.com/stats). That's not all on Dion of course, but when you take as many shots as he did at the percentages he did, well, you are far from blameless.
It's time to turn the page, though. I have no idea what to expect from J.R. Smith, and suspect he will have some of the same issues as Waiters in terms of fitting in. That said, he has a history of greater efficiency than Waiters. He also isn't at a point in his career like Waiters where he is trying to establish himself in the league. Maybe that helps. Let's talk about Iman Shumpert though.

  • 47% of Shumpert's shots last season were from three point range. Waiters had attempted just 25% of his shots from three point range this season. The Cavs are hoping Shumpert can provide perimeter defense and hit shots. Regardless of whether he actually makes the shots, that's a good sign he will take the right ones (nba.com/stats).
  • Shumpert's career usage is also about 10% lower than Waiters. He takes less shots, requires the ball less. This is good. For his career he's a 34% three point shooter. James, Irving, and Kevin Love should be able to consistently get him open looks. Even 34% isn't the worst number in the world (basketball-reference).
  • For what it's worth, Shumpert is just 18 months older than Dion Waiters. He is a restricted free agent this summer, and I have no idea what he will command. The next three or four months will be huge for him.
  • The question, of course, is what kind of defender he can be. He hasn't been the same since an ACL and meniscus tear ended a strong rookie season for him several years ago. As a replacement for Waiters, Dellavedova, and Shawn Marion, though, it's almost certainly an upgrade. For me, Shumpert is the right type of player for the Cavs to acquire. It remains to be seen whether he is that player, though.
  • As for Timofey Mozgov, I'm a lot more excited about the deal after watching Dwight Howard bully Tristan Thompson last night.
  • Thompson has been great, and can guard a lot of the centers in the league. He's an excellent fit with Kevin Love, LeBron James, and has chemistry with Kyrie Irving. He can't guard Dwight Howard.
  • Can Mozgov? I don't know, but he isn't giving up so much size before the fight even gets going. Mozgov is 28, coming off a season with a true shooting rate of 58+, and has a relationship with coach David Blatt.
  • Everyone is ready for Mozgov to make a defensive impact. He should be able to.
Mozgov is a bit above average, Thompson is average, and Kevin Love is right above the bottom. The full list is here.

  • If nothing else, Blatt has more options to play matchups. On nights like last night, the Cavs can ride Mozgov. Sometimes Tristan might be the better choice next to Love. How good can the Cavs be defensively with Shumpert and Mozgov playing 25+ minutes? That's the million dollar question.
  • Okay, so can we get all these guys healthy? This is probably the core of your Cavs team for a couple years. Watching them come together should be fun.
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