clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Should Jared Cunningham Be a Thing?

Jared Cunningham has seemed to either play huge minutes or barely at all for the Cavaliers this season. Should he be getting consistent minutes, or only play garbage time?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Cunningham has gotten big minutes in a few games this season. He's played 32 and 34 minutes the past two games respectively, and he's been pretty effective in both. He scored 11 points in Saturday's loss to the Miami Heat, and looking very solid in Tuesday's win over the Portland Trail Blazers. This has been good timing for Cunningham, because he's deserved the extra playing time every time he's gotten it.

Cunningham's been a pretty decent three-point shooter this season, hitting 36.4 percent from outside. He does most of his damage from the left corner, where he's 4-8 this season, and he's done a good job of moving without the ball to get into spots where the Cavs can work ball movement to him to launch threes, much in the same way Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones do. He's done most of his work from three in first half minutes, as well, saving his mid-range fooling around and off-the-dribble work in garbage time in second halves. Minutes in the rotation and in the normal flow of the game have generally meant Cunningham acting as a spot-up shooter and outlet option offensively, and that's when he's been at his most effective. If you adjust for only his first half minutes, his averages tick up to 40 percent from three including 46.2 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, which is where most of his minutes in the regular rotation have come.

Defensively, Cunningham has been ugly on defense at times this season, particularly defending on the perimeter, where opponents are shooting 8 percent better than their average this season. But if you adjust that to first half minutes, per, opponents shoot only two percent better than average on threes, and shoot 10 percent worse with Cunningham defending inside ten feet. In first halves, Cunningham's spent more time next to Dellavedova with Tristan Thompson behind him, allowing him to often defend the other team's weakest option and saving him from being put on an island.

Granted, these numbers come with a lot of statistical noise, because first half minutes don't include important fourth quarter minutes and only account for 118 of Cunningham's 244 minutes this season. However, Cunningham has appeared to play better on both ends if he's allowed to play in the rotation. The Cavs do have a lot of guards on the roster, but it might be worth throwing Cunningham out for stretches where the Cavs are doing their lineups with Love at the five. Those lineups would also Cunningham to continue hitting threes and not be a total mess defensively while playing minutes that matter. He's yet another weapon the Cavs can choose to go to in bench-heavy second quarter unit and he's athletic and plays hard. That counts for something.

With Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert coming back, it's not like you're asking Cunningham to continue to play 30 minutes forever. 10-15 minutes a game isn't that big of a deal and Cunningham's capable of doing so when needed. Another effective body means you can stagger the "Big Three" better, decreases load on guys like James Jones and Richard Jefferson to keep them from breaking down, and allows you to work matchups against other bench units. If the Cavs would be better served sticking tight to the chest in terms of rotation, that's fine, but in the grind of the NBA regular season, Cunningham being capable of playing more minutes would be huge.