Being the head coach of the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers is a desirable job. There are probably 25 or so head coaches across the league that would be willing to trade spots with Tyronn Lue, and why wouldn’t they be? He has LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and a rather deep supporting cast at his disposal.
Having such a loaded roster is without question a luxury for Lue, but that does not mean it is always easy to manage, especially with how many players have been shuffling in and out of the rotation due to injuries and new acquisitions. All the shuffling and reshuffling of the roster has created new issues that Lue must sort out, challenges with integrating the new players into the system and making the sure the exiting players can work with the newcomers.
The Channing Frye Conundrum
After the Cavaliers added Frye at the trade deadline last season, the stretch five seemed to fit into his role rather quickly and effectively. He spread the floor and opened things up, as defenders had to make the decision to either help off him and risk giving him an open 3-point look or stick to his side and let someone go one-on-one to the rim. Since Frye shot 59.4 percent from the floor and 56.5 percent from deep in the 2016 playoffs, that decision was a difficult one for defenders.
Frye retained that role for the first half of the season until the Cavaliers acquired Kyle Korver. Upon his arrival, Korver became the go-to catch-and-shoot option for Cleveland. Some thought that Korver’s addition brought Frye’s fit in the team’s offense into question. He now spends more time down low and more time in pick-and-roll situations than pick-and-pop situations, and he also gets fewer looks from his favorite spot on the floor, the left corner. When he does get looks from that spot, he’s only converting them at a 36.8 percent clip compared to a 62.5 percent clip pre-Korver. Overall his shooting percentages have dipped in the last two months with his 3-point shooting percentage falling from 46.1 percent to 37 percent.
Additionally, Frye is part of a now fairly crowded frontcourt that not too long ago looked somewhat thin. With Love’s return and the additions of Derrick Williams and Larry Sanders, playing time will likely get more difficult to come by going down the stretch.
The good news for Lue and Frye is that the veteran sharpshooter can be used with multiple frontcourt combinations. Sure, a lineup containing both Love and Frye will sacrifice some defense and rebounding, but the shooting and spacing it will provide will more than likely make up for it.
If worst comes to worst, Lue can also keep Frye on the bench. He saw his playing time get cut in the first round of the playoffs against Detroit and in the Finals against Golden State, which Frye was willing to stomach for the team’s good.
When healthy, the Cavaliers have five different guards that could get significant time going forward. Having Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert and Deron Williams on the same team is hardly a problem. But that does not mean that it may not be slightly difficult to manage all of their minutes. What makes it a bit of a challenge for Lue is that he has not had all five of these guys for most of the year. The only constants have been Shumpert and Irving. Smith missed 35 games due to a thumb injury he suffered Dec. 20, and Korver and Williams have both just come to the team within the last two months.
The plan for Deron Williams seems to be fairly clear as of right now. First and foremost, he will serve as a playmaker for the second unit. Though, it appears that Lue also plans to use him in conjunction with Irving much like he occasionally did with Matthew Dellavadova last season. The pair hasn’t played together a ton - only about eight minutes a game - but it is a nice wrinkle Lue can utilize to take some of the ball handling burden off Irving while keeping his scoring ability on the floor.
Now with three guys capable of getting significant minutes and even starting at shooting guard, Lue has plenty of options, one of which is playing more than one of his options at a time. Lue has gone to a lineup with Irving, Smith and Shumpert all on the floor in six games since Smith has returned from injury.
Lue has stated that once all the Cavs’ guards are healthy, he will move Smith into the starting lineup and keep Korver with the second unit to give both the starting and second unit a quality catch-and-shoot guard.
Until then, Lue will probably just ride the hot hand at the two. For right now, that decision is a pretty easy one considering that Korver is still out with an injured foot and Smith is still searching for his rhythm. Smith, who is shooting just 25.5 percent from deep since his return, has shown flashes like his back-to-back 12 point performances against Detroit and Utah last week. But there have also been the games like Saturday’s loss to the Clippers when he went 0-7 from 3-point range.
Provided that Smith can find his rhythm and Korver can continue to shoot at the 48 percent 3-point clip he’s shot since joining the Cavs, Lue has options much like he does with the frontcourt. That’s the biggest thing that can be taken away from the Cavaliers roster. With such a deep team, Lue has more than a few players that could find a spot in the playoff rotation, which is undoubtedly one of the main reasons the Cavaliers will enter the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the Finals again.