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Dictating the Pace Appears Key for the Cavs' Bench Units

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The Cavs have played slow overall this season, but their most effective bench units appear to be their fastest and slowest units early on.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers are playing with one of the slowest paces in the NBA this season. Per NBA.com/stats, they're averaging 96.39 possessions per game, good for 28th in the league, only ahead of the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks. This is about on par with where the team was in terms of pace at this point last year, but the league as a whole is playing much faster while the Cavs have stayed at about the same pace.

The Cavs' most used lineups sit right around this average mark in terms of pace. The starting lineup of Mo Williams, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Timofey Mozgov sits at a pace of 95.42 possessions per game, while the second-most used lineup, the Williams/Richard Jefferson/James/Love/Mozgov unit, plays a little slower at 93.61. These lineups often spend a lot of time in the Cavs' more complex and slow-developing halfcourt sets, and also play a majority of their minutes early in halves, when the pace is generally a little slower, so that makes sense.

Interestingly, however, the Cavs' best bench units play at the ends of the spectrum in terms of pace. The best lineup of the ten most frequent lineups the Cavs have used is the group of Matthew Dallavedova, Williams, James, Love, and Tristan Thompson, who have been playing at a more league-average pace of 98.5, and they have a net rating of +71.5. Meanwhile, their second-best bench unit, the Williams/Jared Cunningham/LeBron/Love/Mozgov group, plays at the molasses pace of just 88.23, and that's by far been one of the Cavs' most efficient offensive groups, with an offensive rating of 157.0 in 14 minutes of play. Of the ten most used lineups by the Cavs so far this season, four of the top five play at a pace either below 90 or over 98, and the fifth is the starting lineup.

A possible reason for this is that the Cavs are simply better when they can dictate the pace of the game. Many of the Cavs' most effective lineups by net rating play in the second and third quarters, when the Cavs often are able to take and maintain control of games. They will often shift between the fast and slow units in these quarters, most often using lineups like the Williams/Jefferson/James/Love/Thompson unit to get out and run for a couple of minutes, and then shifting to a Love-captained lineup or a group that focuses on getting LeBron isolation looks to slow things back down. When the Cavs are playing at a pace extreme, generally it means they're controlling the pace and dictating the flow of the game. Contrast that with the team's worst lineups by net rating, which so far have been the Williams/Jefferson/James/Love/Mozgov and Delly/Williams/Jefferson/Love/Thompson lineups that get a lot of action in first and fourth quarters, where the Cavs have had a tougher time with consistency this season.

It's still early in the season, so time will tell if these trends stay the same, particularly when the Cavs get Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert back. But for now, it appears that the Cavs' bench units are at their best when they can dictate the pace of the game, and while the team has been playing slow overall, varying between running and crawling appears to be an effective tactic.