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#CavsRank: Mike Dunleavy rocks the No. 9 Spot

Mike Dunleavy lands at No. 9 in #CavsRank. Can he live up to the billing?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls - Game Six Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

New Cavaliers addition Mike Dunleavy Jr. may be getting up there in age (like the rest of the Cavaliers bench), but the staff at Fear the Sword believes he can still contribute to this squad. Dunleavy lands at No. 9 in #CavsRank.

Dunleavy was a savvy acquisition for the Cavaliers this summer during the heat of free agency. The Bulls needed to open up cap room to sign Dwyane Wade, and the Cavaliers were happy to take on Dunleavy’s $4.8 million salary into their trade exception created by sign-and-trading Matthew Dellavedova to the Bucks. Seriously, David Griffin is a cap wizard.

Dunleavy just turned 36 on Thursday, and he joins a particularly old bench unit that features Chris Andersen (38), Richard Jefferson (36, Mo Williams (33) and Channing Frye (33). He only played in 30 games last year due to lingering issues resulting from offseason back surgery. I asked a Bulls fan friend about Dunleavy, and he said that “he’s 36, but his back is 42.”

The caveat there is, of course, that the Bulls training staff is hardly world renowned and perhaps the back issue was a one-time setback. That said, Dunleavy took a serious step back last year while he worked his way back into the action. He finished with the fourth-worst field goal percentage of his career on only 6.2 shots per game for the season.

He remains a three-point marksman, shooting 39.4 percent from deep, but he shot just 42.7 percent from two-point range last season. He also posted the first single-digit PER of his career last season, finishing at 9.1.

I’m painting what appears to be a bleak picture, but if anybody knows the perils of judging a player recovering from a major injury in the first 30 or so games back, it’s Cavaliers fans. Kyrie Irving’s regular season numbers certainly weren’t impressive last season and I think we all feel pretty okay about him.

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, as Dunleavy is much older, and recovery is just flat out tougher for older players. He may not get back to his old self, but I think it’s fair to expect him to play better this season as he puts the back surgery behind him.

If he does hit his prior heights, he’ll be a very, very helpful piece for the Cavaliers. He’s an absolute dead-eye shooter, shooting 38% from distance for his career on 3.6 attempts per game. Keep in mind, he spent the last couple years in Chicago, a team with pretty limited spacing - all the creators on the Cavaliers and other shooters that need to be stuck to will give Dunleavy a steady diet of open shots. Dunleavy shot 41.1 percent on threes the NBA defined as “open” or “wide open” during his last healthy season in 2014-15.

He’s also a better defender than most would think. He’s absolutely massive for a wing, standing at 6’9”, and knows how to play the angles and use his length to bother opposing players. He’s no lockdown perimeter defender, but he’s absolutely capable of being part of a strong team defense.

In addition, that size allows the Cavaliers to be very versatile in how they play Dunleavy. They can stick him at the three or the four in most lineups, especially coming off the bench. You don’t want to put him out there against Zach Randolph, but most bench units don’t have a four that can really hurt him out there.

Dunleavy is also known to have a bit of a...well, let’s just call it a mean streak. The Cavaliers let their resident “dirty” player Matthew Dellavedova walk this summer, and Dunleavy isn’t afraid to step into that role by doing some questionable things that help the team win. Most notably, he annoyed the Bucks so much during a playoff series a couple years ago, Giannis Antetokounmpo got himself thrown out of a game by absolutely truck sticking him after a three-point attempt.

Like it or not, having a player that can get under his opponents’ skin is a valuable asset. Things get chippy in the NBA, and having a player that demonstrates a bit of gamesmanship can help win games. Most good teams have one.

Dunleavy’s role with the Cavaliers is going to be an interesting one. The team now has a minor glut of forwards that can play the three or four, with LeBron James, Dunleavy, and Richard Jefferson. Tyronn Lue’s willingness to play small-ball will play a major part in how Dunleavy and Jefferson’s minutes are going to get distributed, because if Lue sticks with a two-big structure for most of the regular season, one of the two will likely be the odd man out unless Lue gives Iman Shumpert significant minutes as the nominal point guard on LBJ-led bench units.

My guess is that they’ll find minutes for all of their wings. A lack of useful traditional bigs and traditional point guards on the roster means that they’ll need to fill minutes in creative ways, and that means playing your most useful players in sometimes unusual spots.

We really don’t know what version of Dunleavy we’re getting. It’s certainly possible his back is shot, but it’s just as possible that he regains his prior form and becomes a devastating and beloved role player like he was in Chicago. I can’t tell you how many smart Bulls media members and fans thought Dunleavy’s return last season could help turn the Bulls season around. Intangibles matter, and he’s got them in spades.

The Cavaliers will likely need Dunleavy’s contributions in 2017, and they’re betting that the back is healthy.

Voting Breakdown

6th place votes: 1

7th place votes: 4

8th place votes: 2

9th place votes: 3

10th place votes: 3