Every nationally televised game this season, the same thing happens. At some point in the game, the broadcast throws a graphic on the screen comparing the Cavs' bench scoring to their opponent's bench scoring. Sometimes multiple times a game. Most of the time, the other team has the higher point total.
The announcers will either talk about how the Cavs need to score more points or something more interesting will happen in the game, and they'll talk about that. It's the same routine over and over, but the blanket consensus of these telecasts is usually that the Cavs' bench isn't very good at scoring points.
I'm going to overreact now to that consensus because it's equal parts true and irrelevant.
Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and Matthew Dellavedova are the Cavs' sixth through eighth men. Some James Jones gets thrown in there, too, but the heavy load of the bench minutes this season has been those three players. I'm not going to argue with anyone that they are scorers. They simply aren't. But pointing out that those three aren't good scorers misses the point.
Most NBA benches are a mix of one dimensional players. You have maybe one defensive specialist. You have a shooter. You have a Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford type scorer. A mix of players who are good at one or two different things. That's the prototype of a bench anyway, although there are exceptions.
The Cavs are no different in playing one dimensional players. It's just that they're mostly good at the same things. Thompson and Shumpert are good defensive, energy players. Dellavedova is good at trying very hard every game. None of them would be considered scorers even if they can have double digit scoring games from time to time.
And that's okay. If anything, that's preferable. The Cavs start four players who are very offensively gifted in Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James and Kevin Love. Chances are, at least two of those four are going to be on the court at all times with the bench unit. For a team that starts two minus defenders (Irving and Love), it's a luxury to have a bench with two good defenders and one guy who tries hard. That changes the defensive energy of the game.
The Cavs have trouble enough finding enough shots among LeBron, Irving and Love. Having a bench with three players capable of making shots in the right spots but who are effective without having to take any shots at all is paramount. The Cavs' bench exists to take defensive pressure off the Cavs' big three, and they are excellent at doing just that.
Thompson's contributions are noteworthy as a player who is multidimensional defensively due to his athleticism. He's not the world's greatest rim protector, but he's improved in that area this season. His real skill is his mobility, where he functions similar to a young, more athletic Anderson Varejao -- able to switch onto guards and hold his own in most situations. His rebounding is incredibly valuable as well. He's been praised for his work off the bench for most of the season and with good reason.
Underrated is Shumpert, who can guard point guards and wing players as needed. His importance is already obvious early in the playoffs. He can come in and guard whoever is playing well, taking pressure off LeBron or Kyrie. In this Boston series, he's often taken the challenge of guarding Isaiah Thomas, letting Kyrie guard a less troublesome and much less exhausting wing. This trend should continue as the playoffs march onward with Shumpert coming into the game to save the legs of the Cavs' two best players.
Even Dellavedova is useful in short spurts. While he has very few physical gifts for a professional athlete, he tries extremely hard, which can be annoying for opposing guards. Not to mention, he is beloved by 50 and 60 year old white guys, so I guess that helps sell the Cavs as a product. I know my dad inexplicably loves him.
It's not typical that the main players on a bench are all the same kind of role player, but for the Cavs, it works. For the Cavs, it is optimal. None of these bench players are going to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year in the near future, but they play their roles and they play them well enough. I've been overjoyed with their contributions. You'll never find me worrying about how many points this unit scores.