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Buddy ball: defending Golden State's small ball, Shumpert's role and more

Some general musings on the Cavs.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The next few days may change some things for the Cavaliers, getting both Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert back would be huge - especially with time to spare before the Christmas Day matchup agains the Warriors - and even getting one back would be huge and instantly make the Cavs both better and more interesting.

The Cavs, though, have other issues. Getting Irving and Shumpert will be big, sure, but it seems doubtful that they solve all of the Cavs' issues. There's a lot at play here and a lot to still learn about this Cavs team.

Now, onto some other Cavs thoughts.

Shumpert's status

Out of the Cavs' two returning players, Irving's role is easy to figure out and pretty straightforward. Although there is sure to be some juggling in terms of how the Cavs while maintain Kevin Love's early season success, Irving is Irving. He's going to start at point guard, give the Cavs some needed creation and make the offense all the more potent.

Shumpert, though, is a little bit harder to figure out. There are good arguments for him to start and there are good arguments for him to come off the bench. The best thing to do - at least at the beginning - may be to bring him off the bench and let him get back into the flow slowly. Prior to his wrist injury, Shumpert was a streaky shooter and it doesn't seem likely that he comes back as a knockdown shooter. Although playing with Irving would help, pairing him with Mo Williams off the bench still pairs him with a shot creator while keeping the Cavs from playing Williams and J.R. Smith at the same time. For what it's worth, Williams and Smith as a two-man lineup are being outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions in 250 minutes played.

At the moment, David Blatt and the Cavs aren't sure if he'll start or come off the bench. It isn't a huge decision or one that ultimately impacts the Cavs in the long run, but it's a micro decision that will have some ripple effect. The good thing, though, is that it can be tweaked and changed if it doesn't work.

On the Mozgov problem

Why Timofey Mozgov is struggling and playing so badly warrants a deep dive, as it's clear at the moment that his struggles probably aren't just due to his health. At the moment, Mozgov is playing under 20 minutes a game, averaging under a block a game and at the moment, the Cavs are giving 13.1 points per 100 possessions more when he's on the court. Last year, the Cavs were 1.9 points better per 100 possessions with Mozgov at center.

There are long term issues with Mozgov's play - do the Cavs bother re-signing him next summer and how much is he worth are the biggest ones - but there are issues to deal with here and now. At the end of the day, Mozgov won't be the reason the Cavs win or lose a title. But he anchors the Cavs defense when he's healthy and he's a really useful player for the Cavs against some of the league's best teams.There's a reason LeBron recently called Mozgov the anchor of the Cavs' defense even though he hasn't been that all season.

Take the Spurs, for instance. With Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge, having Mozgov adequately protect the rim for 20 minutes a game is huge. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson will probably close out the game, sure, but Mozgov is key to getting through the first three quarters. And if the backup option is Anderson Varejao, Cleveland probably needs Mozgov to get back to at least 75 percent of what he was last year.

On playing small ball vs. the Warriors

No one has really yet figured out how to beat Golden State's so called "death lineup" of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond GreenPer Basketball Reference, this lineup is outscoring opposing teams by 66.5 points per 100 possessions and it's Golden State's third most used lineup at 64 minutes and 49 seconds played. For comparison's sake, the Cavs' best lineup with a minimum of 40 minutes played - Williams, Dellavedova, LeBron, Love and Thompson - is outscoring opposing lineups by 50.9 points per 100 possessions.

When the Cavs and Warriors play on Christmas Day, the Cavs are (probably) going to run into this lineup a fair amount. They'll see it again come January in Cleveland and if all goes well for both teams, they'll see it again in June. To beat the Warriors, the Cavs are probably going to have to do something no one has done yet and beat it.

These lineups might not work at all, but here are the four lineups that might offer the Cavs a chance against the Warriors' killer brand of small ball.

  • Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, Kevin Love - This is matching the Warriors size for size and it bets that Love can both defend Green's shots and score on him on the other end.
  • Irving, Shumpert, James, Jefferson, Tristan Thompson - Thompson had success against Green in the Finals last year until he and the Cavs got gassed. His ability as an offensive rebounder - he's currently 17th in the league in offensive rebound percentage, although he's currently pulling down offensive rebounds at a career low rate, could give the Cavs some extra possessions and extra chances to score.
  • Irving, Shumpert, James, Love, Thompson - Here, the Cavs would stay true to their identity and roll out a big lineup in spite of the small ball, betting on their offensive rebounding and shooting to be able to create enough offense. The key would be figuring out who defends Barnes and who defends Green between Love and Thompson. If Mozgov returns to form, he could also see time with this lineup, and if Shumpert gets in foul trouble, maybe Jefferson or Dellavedova slide in at the two. If the Cavs fall behind, Smith could come in at shooting guard in hopes of giving the lineup an extra offensive kick.