At times last year, it felt like the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t have more than one reliable wing player outside of LeBron James.
J.R. Smith went down with an injury early in the season, Iman Shumpert couldn’t find his stroke from long range, Richard Jefferson couldn’t be expected to play that many minutes at his advanced age. Kyle Korver’s defensive liabilities hindered his ability to stay on the floor in certain matchups. Derrick Williams had the athleticism, but his game wasn’t well-rounded enough to warrant a consistent spot in the rotation.
Coming into this season, while many felt the Cavaliers’ roster took a step back with the subtraction of Kyrie Irving, head coach Tyronn Lue has a different problem on his hands: how’s he going to manage the minutes of all his different wing players?
Cleveland added Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Cedi Osman and Jeff Green this summer, while keeping Smith, Shumpert, Korver and Jefferson. How Lue and his staff decide to split up minutes on the wing is one of the more interesting questions as the Cavs season starts.
The biggest impact will probably be on Shumpert and Jefferson. The two averaged 25.5 minutes and 20.4 minutes per game, respectively. They won’t even be in the rotation most likely. At the very least, their roles will be diminished.
Assuming Isaiah Thomas gets healthy and back to his All-Star level self, the Cavaliers should have a starting lineup of Thomas, Smith or Wade, LeBron, Love andThompson. There’s enough spacing on the floor with Thomas and Love and the secondary playmaking of Wade can get James off the ball a little bit more this season if he ends up starting.
The first player off the bench will likely be Smith for Wade, or vice versa. Crowder is the next substitute, checking in for Love and likely staying on the floor while LeBron sits as well. Lue will also need to find time to squeeze in Korver’s minutes as well. Let’s try and look at how many minutes all of these players could possibly see on the court every night.
Wade only played 29.9 minutes per game last season, which was a career low for him. I think Lue would want to bring that number down closer to 25 minutes per game. J.R. Smith played around 29 minutes per game and I think that’ll drop down to 27.
Crowder probably gets on the floor for about 28 minutes, while Korver’s minutes will take a steep drop. Lue will have a difficult job to manage all of these lineups to try and make sure all these players get the playing time they might get if even one of their teammates wasn’t on the team.
I think Smith and Korver’s ability to consistently hit the three-pointer will allow them to find time on the floor. Wade’s playmaking and off-the-dribble scoring will give him his nightly minutes. Crowder might be the best wing on this roster after LeBron, due to his ability to defend multiple positions and space the floor. Since the incumbents Shumpert and Green have been inconsistent in the past, they won’t be able to beat out the other wings. Jefferson, at least, could get minutes playing up at power forward. Osman seems to have little chance of getting off the bench, at least early on.
Lue and his staff have a good problem on their hands: Too much depth. It was an issue that killed the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals last season and GM Koby Altman did a great job of addressing it in the offseason.
Now as they head into training camp, the Cavaliers will need to figure out what lineups work best and how they can integrate all the new pieces together.