In which five Fear the Sword writers reevaluate the Cavs’ offseason moves.
1. How would you evaluate Jae Crowder’s season so far?
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): He’s definitely been underwhelming more often than not. My guess is that he’s struggling to adjust to a completely different team and system that will take some time to adjust. It’s also incredibly telling that teams are having decent success hiding centers on him so far this season.
Alex Raulli (@EVR1022): Underwhelming. His defense has been below average, which hurts when he was expected to be a difference-maker on that end. On offense, his shooting inside the arc has been terrible and outside the arc merely average. That said his shot distribution and free throw rate are both quite good, so expect this to improve sooner rather than later, especially if Isaiah Thomas returns in the next two to three weeks. Defensively, I’m expecting a longer learning curve as he’s playing almost exclusively next to LeBron James (92 percent of his minutes so far) instead of backing him up.
Zack Geoghegan (@ZackGeoghegan): Definitely disappointing. He hasn’t provided the defensive impact that he brought to Boston and his offense has been nonexistent up until the last 7-8 games (when Derrick Rose went out). The more time he has to work in the system the better he should get but right now he just isn’t good. Hopefully his chemistry with Isaiah Thomas should help Thomas’ transition period once he gets back on the floor.
Carter Rodriguez (@Carter_Shade): Anybody who says they’re not a little disappointed is selling you something. Most of us could see an erratic three-point shot cutting, but his struggles finishing at the rim and at times, defensively, have been a major bummer. All hope is not lost, but as it stands, it’s been a letdown.
Zac Lockwood (@thezlock): I’ve been much happier with his play during the streak as a member of some good units, but overall I agree with everyone else. I think he can still be a key player for the Cavs even if he’s almost invisible on offense, but you’d like to see the three-pointers go in at a minimum.
2. Do you think differently about Kyle Korver’s contract — three years, $22 million — now considering how good he’s been so far this year?
CM: I think he’s proven than that he’s worth all of the money the Cavs gave him, especially since the last year isn’t fully guaranteed. You could argue that he’s been the second most consistent Cavalier behind LeBron James this season, and he’s been a lynchpin on bench units in all forms.
AR: I thought it was fair value for both sides at the time. Right now it seems like the Cavs got a great deal, especially with their shooting specialist in the starting lineup, J.R. Smith, struggling to knock down shots. Korver is posting the highest 3-point attempt rate (3PAr), the second-best TS% and the most points per 100 possessions of his career. Not bad for a guy in his 15th season.
ZG: I originally thought he might be a tad overpaid but I didn’t think he would be this involved in the offense. He has been essential in multiple Cleveland comebacks and his fourth quarter shooting has been lethal. He’s worth every penny the Cavaliers are paying him right now even though he can only play one side of the court.
CR: No, because it was a great deal at the time and only people caught up in the hysteria surrounding the organization at the time thought it was a bad deal. That third year is mostly unguaranteed, so he would’ve needed to stop being useful at all this season for it to be a bad deal. It was a good risk for a very good role player, and it’s paying dividends for the Cavaliers this year.
ZL: It was way too easy to dislike the contract when it was first announced because of the way the Finals went, but we are talking about one of the greatest shooters to ever play the game. If you had to build the ideal lineup around LeBron, you’d put Kyle Korver in it. He was never a great defender, but he is still a great team defender and he tries as hard as anyone on every single play.
3. It seems as if Isaiah Thomas will be back very, very soon. What are you expecting from him in his first 10 games?
CM: I’d expect some disruption in the Cavs’ current flow, and some adjustment to the Cavs’ lineups. Early on, the Cavs are going to have to find when and where Thomas makes the most sense. It is with LeBron? It it with Wade on bench units? I’d also expect to see him eased into the fold instead being asked to play 30-plus minutes right off the bat.
AR: Nominal starter that plays five to six minutes at the start and end of each half for a total of 20-24 minutes per game. I expect more jump shooting and less driving than we’ve seen from him in the past. Ease him back in, with the goal of having him ready to play like his normal self after the All-Star break.
ZG: I would expect him to get eased into the offense relatively cautiously, especially if the Cavaliers win streak continues. Don’t want to put too much of a load on him offensively but I can see him coming in and putting up consistent scoring numbers in limited minutes. I’m not expecting high production, but some signs that show he get back to being the IT we saw last season.
CR: I think the Cavaliers play a style that will make Thomas feel comfortable early. He might have some kinks as he works things out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he immediately takes on a large usage in the offense, for better or worse. He should help juice starting units that haven’t been playing well enough. Let’s see how the rest of the team adjusts around him.
ZL: Remember when Kyrie came back from the knee injury at a similar point in the season and we were sad for a long time because he was downright not good through January and after that he still wasn’t Kyrie? Something along those lines is what I’m preparing myself for. At least I won’t be disappointed this way. He probably won’t play more than 20 minutes in a game until near the end of January, but he’s got the skillset to at least be efficient as he comes back.
4. Why has Jose Calderon been useful recently as the Cavs’ starting point guard?
CM: Snarky answer: he’s not Derrick Rose. Not-snarky answer: He knows what is asked of him, he works hard and doesn’t try to do too much. That’s really all the Cavs could have asked of him.
AR: Mostly because he’s smart enough to understand his role and let the team run through LeBron and Kevin Love instead of trying to force the action himself. Bring the ball up and get it to one of the offensive hubs then space the floor. Surprisingly his defense has been much better than in his early season appearances, for whatever reason. Perhaps it took some extra time for him to get into game shape.
ZG: He doesn’t try to do too much; he knows his role and sticks to it. He hustles, can bring the ball up, knock down a couple threes, and hasn’t played bad defense. He’s playing like a solid veteran point guard and that’s exactly what the Cavs need right now.
CR: Well, he doesn’t really have to do anything. He’s not asked to create or even to get the Cavaliers into their offense (that’s mostly LeBron). His job is to space, make secondary passes and to play really hard on defense, and he’s doing that. The defense has certainly been encouraging, and there’s little question he’s outplayed Derrick Rose by not being actively harmful.
ZL: He’s a smart veteran player who played his first NBA game when I was seven years old. He is, ironically, like Richard Jefferson in that he’s probably not good anymore but can buy into a very defined role for a team and be a net-positive as long as he stays in that role. As long as the team continues to play defense as a unit and he continues to not turn the ball over, he can be a successful Cavalier.
5. How are you feeling about Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic’s rookie seasons so far?
CM: Zizic has been semi-underwhelming, but he’s the youngest teammate LeBron has ever played with and has looked good in the G-League. As for Cedi, he’s played hard when he’s in the game and has made some impressive plays. It’d be really, really fun to see him get 10-12 minutes a night even when this team is at full strength.
AR: Zizic has only played 22 minutes so far, and honestly all I’ve gleaned from it is that he can rebound at an NBA level and that I maybe could see him developing into a useful offensive player a couple years down the road. Osman, on the other hand, seems much more promising. His game just fits so seamlessly on this team: his skill set is high effort defender and low usage offensive player that knows exactly how to stay in his lane. He’s a good rebounder and makes a lot of hustle plays. He seems to have a high basketball IQ for his age and deserves his spot in those end of quarter defensive lineups. Long-term, the big question is how consistent will his three-point shot be?
ZG: Cedi Osman hasn’t done anything spectacular in his play this season but he’s definitely shown me that he can be a valuable player for the Cavaliers future. He can shoot and drive against NBA defenses and most importantly he appears to love playing for this Cavs team. His on-ball defense has been shaky, especially against smaller opponents, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen from him and I hope he continues to get more minutes this season. Zizic hasn’t played enough for me to give a solid evaluation, but as Alex said, he looks to be capable of rebounding against NBA bigs.
CR: There’s not much to say about Zizic other than “he’s big.” That’s not his fault, he just hasn’t really gotten to play. Tyronn Lue’s insistence on keeping Cedi rooted to the bench has been odd, especially in the Miami blowout that was decided by the third quarter. Instead, Lue played J.R. Smith over 40 minutes for seemingly no reason. Osman’s looked good filling lanes, occasionally shooting threes and he’s rebounded well too. There’s no guarantee he’s a player, but he’s looked the part in limited action.
ZL: I just want to see them play more and the Cavs have three major-minute guys who are injured right now and we still can’t see them get into the action. Cedi can do things to help the team defensively and can be at least the equivalent of 2017 Jae Crowder on offense, so I don’t see why he is glued to the bench. Right now is when Lue should start developing these young guys a little bit. You never know when you might need them.