Despite being a limited player, Matthew Dellavedova’s departure to the Bucks leaves the Cavs in a position where they have to find his replacement and do so with some creativity. On a team with a very narrow focus, Delly filled a very specific role and did it well. You can’t ask for much more out of a role player.
Mo Williams and Kay Felder both are exciting Delly alternatives, albeit for different reasons. Williams is a fan favorite who came up big in the Finals and will likely be the backup point guard to start the season due to the departure of Dellavedova. Felder, a rookie who the Cavs paid to pick and turned some heads at summer league, is the lone young prospect on a team full a veterans and focused on winning right now; he’s easy to get excited about and it doesn’t hurt that LeBron James is a fan.
Behind the back passes also tend to make fans get excited about what’s to come:
Neither are perfect, which is functionally ok. The Cavs have Kyrie Irving at point guard and LeBron handles the ball so much, so there isn’t a need for a “true” backup point guard (think Darren Collison) that plays 15-20 minutes and runs the offense while the starter catches a breath. The reason Delly was so successful in Cleveland - and then got paid by the Bucks to fill a similar, if larger, role - is because he could shoot off ball, handle the ball a little and played good defense. Being the Cavs backup point guard basically requires the ability to shoot, dribble decently and work on defense.
Neither Williams or Felder are likely to really fill that exact role. Williams missed a large portion of last seasons with knee issues and they remain a concern heading into next season. He’s also a bit of a gunner now - Williams posted a usage rate of 22.8 and took 7.4 shots per game despite only playing 18.2 minutes per game - and hasn’t been good on defense in a few years.
Felder, while a really impressive athlete, is a bit small at 5’8” and won’t be able to defend both guard spots like Dellavedova did. He also currently lacks a consistent jumper and it’s not hard to see teams sagging off him, daring him to shoot and thus muddling the rest of the floor. In time, Felder can probably develop a solid jump shot. But he needs to play more and Canton might be the best place for him next season.
Due to Delly’s departure and the Cavs’ cap situation, one of Williams or Felder will have to be the Cavs’ backup point guard and be insurance in case Irving gets hurt. Williams, as the veteran and the better shooter of the two, will likely get the nod at least to start. But what if his knees become an issue again and what if he’s too much of a sieve on defense?
The good news is that the role the Cavs need filled isn’t one that will have a major impact on the regular season. Cleveland heads into next season as the overwhelming favorite to dominate the East and even below-replacement level production from the backup point guard spot won’t change that. And yes, the Cavs have roster spots, technically, but only remains if the Cavaliers ultimately sign Felder and retain LeBron and J.R. Smith. If David Griffin was so inclined, he could sign someone like Norris Cole or Ty Lawson to a minimum deal.
Realistically, none of the remaining options can offer anything Williams or Felder can’t. That last roster spot is probably best saved for a minimum veteran or D-League prospect the Cavs want to nab like they did Jordan McRae last year.
And if Tyronn Lue needs to get creative, there are unorthodox solutions that could be worth a look. Because LeBron can and will prop up bench units, small bursts where McRae or Iman Shumpert nominally play point guard could be viable options. It puts the focus on LeBron to handle most/all of the creating duties, but that’s fine in bursts during the regular season. Putting Shumpert in positions to create might also be a fruitful regular season experience if he can become passable in that area of the game. Last season he wasn’t, as he posted a 14.8 TOV% against a career worst AST% of 9.8.
And when the season starts to really matter in April, May and June, there’s an easy solution for the Cavs: play LeBron as a quasi-point guard with bench units. It’s a role he played last year when Dellavedova was still with the Cavs and it’s the best way to get the most out of units that don’t feature at least one of Irving or Kevin Love. LeBron simply makes the people he is playing with better. When his main function becomes setting others up for open shots and pulling the strings of the offense, he is the best distributor on the team. Come the playoffs, it’d be a mistake to not maximize James in that way and get the most of bench units. And when James fully takes on that role, the need for a full-stop backup point guard will largely go away outside of garbage time.
Until then, Williams and Felder will have to do.