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The nice thing about next week's NBA Draft for the Cleveland Cavaliers is that they can fill any variety of needs at a variety of positions. With a good portion of the bench players - J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones - and looking to head to free agency this summer, the Cavs can fill in depth at any number of spots. They can draft a point guard if they anticipate Delly getting more than they want to match in restricted free agency. They can add a wing if they anticipate losing Shump or Smith. They can always add a big if they don't think Anderson Varejao can play significant minutes next year. Or they can look at a combo forward who can work alongside LeBron James.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is of course the ideal option for that last role. A big small forward who can defend multiple positions, Hollis-Jefferson would be a great potential fit to fill the role Shawn Marion was projected to have this season. But Hollis-Jefferson is up to 13th in Draft Express's latest mock, and the chance he's long gone by the time the 24th pick comes around is high. If the Cavs want to fill that spot, and still get someone who can play small-ball four or three next to LeBron.
With that said, let's look at a guy who projects as a three or small-ball four who would play well to the strengths of lineups with LeBron at the four: Texas forward Jonathan Holmes.
Who is Jonathan Holmes?
Stop me if you've heard this before: A Texas forward who's slightly undersized and doesn't have a polished offensive game is a draft prospect the Cavs might consider due to his defensive aptitude, rebounding, and non-stop motor. Holmes isn't exactly Tristan Thompson, because he's older, less of an athlete, and more perimeter-oriented, but the two have a lot of similarities. Holmes played a lot of four early in his career, but slimmed down last season and added a perimeter game as he transitioned to be Texas's primary small forward. He's risen up draft boards in recent weeks due to the purge of international prospects withdrawing, and now seems positioned to be a late-1st round pick. He's ranked 24th on Draft Express's big board, 43rd at CBS Sports, and SB Nation's Kevin O'Connor has him 26th (albeit on a Celtics big board).
When you say Holmes is a 3/4 combo forward, a lot of people just immediately start shouting "TWEENER, DOESN'T HAVE A TRUE POSITION, WON'T MAKE IT." and because of our experiences with tweener types on the Cavs in recent years, there's the temptation to do the same to Holmes right away (Earl Clark and Anthony Bennett will do that to you). But in Holmes's case, he's not like either of those players. He's not 6'7" with a power forward's frame, and he's not 6'10" but 220 lbs. soaking wet. He's more in the Draymond Green mold, a 6'9" forward with the size (242 lbs.), length (8'11" standing reach), and quickness to legitimately play either spot. He's probably more of a power forward at the NBA level, because his perimeter game is still developing and he's not a great athlete, but he can handle stretches at the three depending on matchups, and as we'll get to later, his effort helps overcome some physical limitations he possesses.
Holmes is a versatile offensive player, and while he may not be great in any one area, it's hard to find a significant weakness, either. He's a solid finisher at the rim, and got a good portion of his offense on cuts and attacking closeouts last season. He's Harrison Barnes-esque in the way he runs the baseline, and this should be something he can succeed at in the NBA thanks to his quickness and length to finish in traffic. He's a great offensive rebounder as well - at Texas, had a career ORB% - 10.5 - using great nose for the ball, physicality, and footwork to clear space underneath the basket. His post game is also very well developed, and while that's not something he'll be overly reliant on at the next level, it makes him a matchup problem, because he will easily be able to exploit a smaller defender on the block with his strength and excellent power-spin move.
Holmes also has become more of a perimeter player as he transitioned to the three, and he should be of use there at the next level. There are questions about Holmes's jumper, because it's more of a set shot and he doesn't get great lift, but he hit consistently around 33 percent from three his last two seasons, and the components are all there for him to be a weapon from outside, especially when open. He also moves really well off the ball for a guy his size. Holmes is adept at using screens to free himself and sliding into open space as the defense rotates, and that'll also help make him a threat from three-point range. The one complaint I have with Holmes offensively is that he's a little bit of a tunnel vision guy; he had just 92 assists in four seasons at Texas, and he's not a guy who is great at swinging the ball or passing out of a double-team. If he's going to get regular time at the three, this is where he's going to have to greatly improve, because he's not a good enough scorer to have that type of mentality. Still, though, there's a lot to like about Holmes's offensive game as a role player.
Holmes is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none defensively. He's a sound, disciplined one-on-one defender on the block and on the perimeter, able to contain penetration from guards and body up much bigger offensive threats down low. He's a good defensive rebounder too, who's very willing to bang and fight for lose balls. Because of his size and length, he can also defend threes, fours, and fives pretty easily, and he's shown promise as a pick-and-roll defender, because he can recover well and contains penetration when asked to ICE the ball-handler. However, there isn't really an area where Holmes is eye-popping, and his athleticism limits him somewhat. He can be late on rotations and struggles to contest shots on the perimeter because he's not that springy, and he'll get out-jumped by more athletic bigs on the glass. However, he's got sound fundamentals, rarely fouls, has the length to be versatile on this end, and isn't afraid to get physical and get on the floor. That'll make him at least very serviceable on the defensive end, even if he's unlikely to be elite.
I've mentioned it already briefly but it's awesome to watch Holmes because he plays with a great intensity, especially on the glass. Holmes will slam guys across the paint with box outs, dive for loose balls in piles of bodies, and doesn't back down from contact, ever. He's a more disciplined, 6'9" Dellavedova, in a way, and he's the type who will work very hard to get better at what he needs to. The major downfall for Holmes comes with his age. He's a dreaded senior and set to turn 23 in December. You have to think he's pretty close to his athletic ceiling - or at least closer than other prospects - and it's not a high ceiling as it is. If anything keeps Holmes out of the first round, it's probably that, even though I have no doubt he can probably break in as a rotation player somewhere.
While he's a little bit smaller than Holmes, Jae Crowder fits a lot of the same profile that Holmes will have to play in the NBA. Crowder's not a great 3-point shooter, but good enough to be a threat, and he's a versatile defender who can guard threes or be physical as a small-ball four. Crowder also has the same athletic profile as Holmes (quick, not explosive), and he's not a great passer either, proving Holmes doesn't need to be Green to have an impact on the offensive end. He just has to attack the rim, rebound, and be a versatile defender, and he'll be a quality rotation player.
How Does he Fit on the Cavaliers?
Holmes would be a great fit in that he projects as the type who could fill in as a Shane Battier-type in LeBron small-ball lineups. He'd be able to sit on the perimeter while LeBron goes into the post offensively, moving off the ball and filling gaps in the defense. He'd also be more than happy to bang with the fours defensively, allowing LeBron to guard the perimeter. The fit would force Holmes to be on the perimeter a little more than he probably should be initially, but playing in between Tristan Thompson and LeBron James can hide a lot of weaknesses for him. Holmes may not be a convincing first-round level talent because he's a stretch four who's an inconsistent shooter and not a great athlete, but him landing on the Cavs might be a fantastic fit for him to develop into a player who is worth reaching for.