As a select few of the NBA’s top-tier teams get richer in an attempt to draw up some sort of puncher’s chance against the Golden State Warriors, the league continues to tilt in a heavily lopsided direction.
But, three straight finals appearances by the same two teams has shaken up some interesting outcomes this offseason: Teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks are looking to make playoff pushes to get their respective young cores ready for an eventual shift in power, while the Oklahoma City Thunder just traded seven pennies, a washing machine and a porcelain cat trinket for two superstars, instantly becoming a pseudo-contender if chemistry and luck swings their way. Boston cashed in on a few of its assets to get better. The returning champions somehow added more bench pieces. But, through all that, the Cavs have still had the most intriguing, polarizing, strange dice roll of an offseason.
No one can be sure just how big of a loss that Kyrie Irving is yet. No one (except Isaiah Thomas) is really sure if Isaiah Thomas is going to be 100 percent, even in 2018. We’re not sure if Kevin Love is who we thought he was back in the Timberwolves days. Can Jae Crowder hit another level next to LeBron? Is Cedi Osman ready for the NBA? Can Kyle Korver impact big games? And on and on and on.
But, the two most unpredictable and interesting players are the two hyper-athletic former superstar guards who once tore defenses apart in the lane, but time and injuries have taken away their strengths and exposed their shooting limitations. The Cavs landed both Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose each for under $2.5 million for the 2017-18 season, but, even on those bargain, low-risk contracts, can they bring enough to the table to move the team’s meter in the right direction? Can they slide into super specific roles? Can they even share the floor?
In 2011, Derrick Rose was the youngest player ever to win a MVP award because of the then-Chicago Bulls alpha’s wild explosiveness (mixed with LeBron James voter fatigue), skyrocketing him into the league’s upper echelon. He averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists per game and was top five in win shares and plus/minus. That same year, Dwayne Wade scored 25.5 points per game during his first year with LeBron in South Beach, before falling to the Dallas Mavericks in the finals. Back then, both players had the freakish athleticism to terrorize defenders off the dribble, compensating for their lack of shooting, but, in that season, six years ago, when they were two of the most dominant players in the league, Rose only shot 33.2 percent from three, while Wade hit at 30.6.
Neither player has ever broken 35 percent from three in a season, with Rose topping out at 34 percent and Wade’s best coming in at 31.7. Once upon a time, that didn’t mean much, but it’s a bad sign moving forward. The first pressing problem it causes is that they are virtually never going to be able to share the floor. One of them is going to have to play point guard in the staring lineup and the other is going to have to be the creator of the second unit.
Until Thomas gets healthy, it’s not a bad idea to throw Wade in with the starters, along side J.R. Smith shooting guard, because of his chemistry with LeBron and prowess on defense. No matter who starts and who runs the bench squad, not having Irving or Thomas’ ability to score at all three levels makes life in a half court offense much more difficult. Really, it’s going to allow us to see exactly how clever Tyronn Lue is as a coach.
Despite the loss of obvious star power, the increased depth helps, but to avoid frustrations early, his rotations are going to have to be on point. Since Wade and Rose don’t shoot threes well, and they’re working with diminished athleticism, it’s going to be a short and longterm challenge, especially with their overlapping limitations. But, there are certainly paths to finding success on this team for both players.
It’s not like their ability to score has completely disappeared. Wade averaged 18.3 points per game last season, while Rose wasn’t far behind at 18 points per game. Both of those numbers are going to shrink in the Cavs offense, but the hope is that a decreased workload makes them as efficient as possible, helping them become quick and effective offensive sparks as the ball handlers in pick n rolls, as well as LeBron’s running partners in transition. And defensively, they’re going to have to pull their weight to create those fast-break opportunities.
But, while there are plenty of concerns revolving around both players — and them being on the same team — they’re not bad fourth or fifth offensive options. The Cavs have been in need of secondary playmakers during their last three finals runs, so if one of them stays healthy and pans out, at the very least, as someone Lue can hand the offensive keys to while LeBron rests, that’s a win. If there’s still room for both come May, then it’s probably a better situation than anyone expected. But, even if the worst case scenario plays out, and they’re both unplayable or hurt before the playoffs, it was still a risk worth taking. Lineup versatility, playmaking help, depth and chemistry mean a lot to the Cavs’ chances of landing another ring, and for under $5 million, the team made savvy moves, even if there are unspectacular.
It’s a fool’s errand to think LeBron will put them back into an All-Star game (but, hey, I guess it is the East), but a limited role on a top team is probably exactly what both of them need at this point.