We all know that an NBA coach’s rotation shrinks in the playoffs. It even gets smaller when you reach the NBA Finals. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst often uses the saying, “You play eight and trust seven” when referring to a team’s playoff rotation. In the 2017 NBA playoffs, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has condensed his rotation as expected, but it has left him with some difficult decisions.
In rounds one and two of this years playoffs, the Cavs drew the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors, two teams with true centers and more traditional fours and fives. With players like Myles Turner, Kevin Seraphin and Jonas Valanciunas getting significant minutes, Lue elected to go with Channing Frye over Richard Jefferson in his rotation.
Frye presents all sorts of matchup problems for teams with traditional bigs. His presence alone spaces the floor for Cavs’ play-makers and it is incredibly difficult for the slower footed fours and fives to help on any penetration and still get back to the arc, where he is lethal from distance.
Frye averaged 14.3 minutes, 8.9 points and 2.1 rebounds a game over the first two series of the postseason. He scored in double digits four times including an 18 point effort in 18 minutes of play during Game against Toronto. Meanwhile, Jefferson saw limited floor time in the same two series and picked up four DNPs.
It became even more clear that it was either one or the other for Lue in the Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. Suddenly, Jefferson was getting the minutes that were Frye’s in the series before. With Boston’s lack of a true big man and propensity to go small, Lue made the decision that Jefferson was the better match-up. Frye averaged 9.7 minutes a game, all of which came in garbage time, while Jefferson’s minutes bumped back into double digits for the series while putting together 10 points, five rebounds, two blocks and an assist over 19 minutes in Game 2 and nine points, three rebounds and a dime over 15 minutes in a close-out Game 5 for the Cavs.
It has become clear that Lue has anywhere between 10-20 minutes to be filled by one of these two depending on the match-up. The question of who it will be against Golden State, is rather easily answered. Expect Jefferson to get the minutes over Frye in the 2017 NBA Finals. Jefferson has played very well against the Warriors going back to last year’s series, where he averaged 24 minutes a game through the entire seven game series. Jefferson also played 29 minutes in the Cavs’ 109-108 Christmas day win over the dubs, and was covering Kevin Durant on the final stop of the game, clinching the victory for Cleveland.
Frye played some garbage time in Games one and two of last years NBA Finals but appeared to be thrust into a key role in Game 3, when Kevin Love was forced to miss the Game with a concussion. Still, Frye only played 12 minutes without Love and didn’t get up a single shot. In fact, Frye only took three shots the entire series and did not see the floor at all in the final three games.
The Warriors present a poor match-up for Frye. The are quick to go the their so-called “Death line-up” which puts Draymond Green at the five spot and fills in around him with shooters and slashers. Frye versus Green is not a matchup that the Cavs want to see. The Cavs have had a hard enough time trying to find matchups against the Warriors where they feel comfortable getting Love his minutes, let alone Frye who is a worse defender and a worse rebounder.
The truth is that Jefferson allows the Cavs to switch the Warriors screens without surrendering a matchup disadvantage, which has been vital to their defensive scheme against the Warriors’ smaller lineups. With so much on the line, bench minutes will be even more at a premium and this isn’t the match-up for Frye.