The shooting guard position has evolved a considerable amount since the beginning of last season. Last year the Cleveland Cavaliers were hoping that Dion Waiters would be able to evolve into a starting-caliber shooting guard and that Mike Miller would be able to effectively back him up. Those expectations fell... a little short. Now the team has two starting-caliber shooting guards in Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
While the Cavs have now invested in Shumpert for the next four years with a four-year extension worth $40 million, a wrist injury will hold him out until January in all likelihood. It's just another unfortunate setback for a player who's young career has been littered with injuries that have prevented him from developing into a consistent performer. Shumpert may have received some consideration for a starting role this season, but that decision has been taken out of the hands of the coaching staff by fate and once again they will turn to J.R. Smith.
Smith gambled on himself this summer, but with all the warts his game comes with no team was willing to provide him with the contract he wanted. The result of that was the Cavs retaining Smith on a discount, making him one of the best bargain contracts in the NBA. The narrative surrounding Smith is that he is the type of player that will let you down when you need him. His disappearance in the NBA Finals certainly provided fuel for those critics, but it's ignoring the fact that the Cavs may not have got past the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals if he didn't go absolutely berserk. On the decimated Cavs, Smith was the second best option offensively for the team. A situation he should never be in and he was exposed.
On a full Cavs lineup he is likely the sixth or seventh best player depending on your opinion of Mo Williams and can be a difference-maker when he gets hot. The Cavs offensive rating received a boost of 3.3 when he was on the floor and the defensive rating was 2.4 points better when he was on the court. Smith had bought into what the Cavs are doing and the result was one of the best years of his career. He has said all the right things coming into the 2015-16 season, he's been a vocal supporter of David Blatt and seems dedicated to doing whatever it takes to bring a championship to Cleveland.
While Smith is now an easy decision for starting shooting guard, there still are other options even with Iman Shumpert out. Mo Williams will likely see a fair bit of time here, especially once Kyrie Irving makes his return. Williams was in a position where too much was being asked of him on bad teams and his efficiency suffered as a result of that. But in a reduced role where he just needs to shoot open shots and occasionally create offense it's not unreasonable to think he might be in for a big season. Playing alongside Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love could create havoc for the opposition. You need to account for four players that are can shoot the ball and have proven to be willing passers over their career. In the Cavs finals loss to Golden State the lack of playmakers and shooting were a glaring weakness for the team. This lineup would feature an abundance of those traits and any time the defense tries to takeaway one player, it would open things up for another.
Once Shumpert returns he will once again be able to contribute in his utility role within the team. He should be able to stay in shape with his wrist injury, but the odds of him finding consistency as a shooter this season may have gone out the window. He is still a strong defender that rebounds well for a wing and moves well without the ball. Even with his shooting coming and going sporadically, he should continue to be a positive for the team as long as he isn't asked to do too much.
Smith, Shumpert and Williams should receive the bulk of the minutes this year at shooting guard. But Richard Jefferson, Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Harris may also get some minutes there. All three are catch and shoot threats, but they come with their warts. Jefferson is getting up there in age, but in all likelihood will have much better mobility than Mike Miller or James Jones on the wing. Dellavedova is an undersized combo guard with a relatively weak handle. He stepped up in a big way at times last year, but was exposed overall in a starting role. He should be able to contribute playing small minutes off ball as a spot up threat and continue to provide the decent off ball defense he has become known for. Harris is a bit of a mystery. He is now 24 years old and appears to have gained strength this summer. David Griffin praised how good he has looked early in camp, but he looked really rough in a feature role in summer league. That was two months ago and nobody will ever confuse him with a player destined for a featured role, but if he can be a three and D threat for the Cavs for even five minutes a game it would be an additional luxury for a team that already has an embarrassment of riches.
While shooting guard isn't as star packed as the other positions on the Cavs, it features multiple quality options for David Blatt to work with that appear to fit well with the big three. It's just going to be a matter of finding out who has the hot hand and riding them.