Heading into the offseason the Cleveland Cavaliers main focus in free agency was simply in retaining their own players. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, James Jones and JR Smith all had the ability to test the waters and perhaps sign elsewhere. David Griffin and Dan Gilbert did a great job getting the band back together and spared no expense to do so.
Even though the team was capped out, and couldn't be major players in free agency, the team was able to make a few additions. First, Anderson Varejao is back after yet another debilitating injury last season. Second, the team acquired point guard Mo Williams, and small forward Richard Jefferson. These were considered low-risk, low-reward moves. Williams figured to be a ball-handling upgrade over Matthew Dellavedova. Jefferson figured to be a guy who could knock down spot-up threes. Both had serious question marks defensively coming in.
With injuries sidelining Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs' bench figured to be tested early on. With Thompson missing the entire exhibition season because of a contract impasse, it seemed like there might be a rough start.
It's only been three games (everything in this article will involve a tiny sample size), but nothing of the sort has actually occurred. Anderson Varejao appears to be laughing in the face of Father Time, Richard Jefferson keeps dunking and making threes, and Matthew Dellavedova has the best +/- in the entire league. Opponents are shooting 5/26 when Tristan Thompson is the closest defender, and just 3/17 when opponents are within 10 feet of the basket. It's been surreal.
In 39 minutes sharing the court together, Dellavedova, Jefferson and Thompson are outscoring opponents by 55.6 points per 100 possessions. I mean, that's insane. They are simply feasting on second units. Delly handed out 10 assists without turning it over once against the Heat, and he looks stronger and more comfortable dribbling the ball. He's assisted on five of Thompson's baskets, reprising the unlikely pick and roll dynamic duo.
Delly and Jefferson play with a high basketball IQ, and the ball has moved at an incredible rate with these two on the court. If coach David Blatt continues to stagger the minutes of LeBron James and Kevin Love, it seems fair to assume that the Cavs can scrounge enough firepower to maintain a successful offense against second units.
If the defense of the bench units is going to continue, Thompson will have to continue his excellent play. What he's doing right now isn't sustainable, but there are some things he can build on. No one in the league is protecting the rim as well as he is so far, and he just isn't that good. But stuff like this sure is fun.
But he has also seen a huge uptick in defensive rebounding, and that is something he should be able to continue. He's always been an average defensive rebounder with lackluster technique. So far this season, he's boxing out on a level we haven't seen yet in his career. According to basketball-reference.com, Thompson's career defensive rebounding rate is 20.6%. This year? That number is all the way up at 31.9%. A sustained jump of even a few defensive percentage points would be a big step towards earning his big payday.
It will be curious to see what happens to the minutes distribution when Irving and Shumpert return. These guys are earning their time on the court, and it's unlikely the Cavs would maintain an 11 or 12 man rotation. Best not get ahead of ourselves. This might not be all that sustainable, and other players could always go down. Right now though, it looks like the Cavs might end up having the best kind of problem. Too many good players, and not enough minutes.
All stats courtesy of nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted.