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The Cavs’ starting lineup doesn’t make sense

Fit and success, not egos and status, should dictate the Cavs starting lineup

NBA: Preseason-Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Dwyane Wade is probably one of the two or three best shooting guards of all time. Since this article is a bit of an exercise in seeing how many people I can annoy in 800 words, I’ll just throw in that I’d rank his career ahead of Kobe’s. This article isn’t about that, but we’ll just leave it there.

He’s not that player anymore.

Derrick Rose was for a time one of the most exciting players in the NBA. He was won an MVP award, although we know that was sort of silly. His speed and handle was Russell Westbrook before there was Russell Westbrook and he played with a relentless style. He got himself to the point where he was a competent defender. He’s not that player anymore.

The Bulls were 2.5 points worse per 100 possessions with Wade on the floor last year than with him on the floor, per The Knicks were slightly better with Rose on the floor than off, but were still outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions with him. Rose used 25.6 percent of his team’s possessions while on the court, while Wade used 29.3 percent of the Bulls’.

These problems, on their own, can be okay. LeBron James is extremely good, one of the two or three best players ever, and appears to be at or near his peak. Worse players have looked fantastic next to James, and high usage players like Kyrie Irving and, well, Wade have found ways to play like superstars next to him. Compounding the issues, though, are two more facts: neither Wade nor Rose shot above 31 percent from three point range, and Rose languished at 21.7% percent On top of this, the Cavs plan on starting not just one of these high-usage players next to LeBron, but both of them.

The Cavs have put together insanely good offenses over the last couple years by surrounding James with shooting and giving Irving space to break down defenses. They will start this year with two starting guards that can’t shoot three pointers in a league moving towards more three point shooting every single year. It’s also a league with more and more guards that can break down defenses off the dribble and run the pick and roll. Neither Wade nor Rose are good defenders anymore.

To make up for the lack of shooting in the backcourt, the Cavs have benched Tristan Thompson. Kevin Love, who isn’t exactly known for durability, will now start at center. Love is a better defender than people credit him for, but he’s not a rim protector, and I’m not sure he’s excited about being put in the pick and roll over and over again this season. Jae Crowder will start at the four, and there will be more rebounding responsibility for Kevin Love than ever before.

So the Cavaliers will go with two starting guards that don’t defend, plus LeBron, who isn’t exactly known for defensive focus and intensity in the regular season, with Love being asked to do things defensively he’s never really done before. Crowder will help, for sure, but it’s unclear how much he can do.

Offensively, the Cavs have talked a big game about featuring Love. But if they are asking him to do more defensively, and have three high usage players in Rose, Wade, and James controlling possessions, how likely is that? It’s possible that with Thompson on the bench, Love will finally be used more as a pick and roll or pop partner. That would be a welcome development. But with two of Wade, Rose, and James spotting up in the corners, the Cavs might decide they need Love spotting up to provide more spacing.

Starting both Wade and Rose doesn’t make a ton of basketball sense. It’s what happens when Rose is trying to earn a payday (he has said as much) and when Wade has earned the status. Thompson and J.R. Smith and seem to be handling their demotions fairly well. It helps that both have already been paid. You’d like basketball to be the reason for these decisions to get made; if it were, you’d take Smith’s shooting and lack of usage, and Thompson’s screens and rebounds and (moderate) rim-protecting ability and lack of usage.

The good news is that there are 48 minutes in a basketball game and the 37th minute is as important as the first and second minutes. The Cavs have said Rose will leave games early to run the second unit. If he’s replaced early by Smith, a shooter, that will be positive. Isaiah Thomas will also return eventually. That probably won’t help the Cavs defensively, but it gives them a much better creator than what Rose and Wade can provide anymore. The Cavs can also change the starting lineup fairly easily. Lue seems to be giving Wade some deference early on. Will he be able to assert himself if he needs to?

Rose and Wade could be fine additions in the right context and role. It does not seem as though the season will start with that being the case.

Stats courtesy of