The lack of backcourt depth is no longer an excuse for the Cleveland Cavaliers after their interesting - to say the least - 2017 offseason. The Cavs acquired Jose Calderon, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Cedi Osman (finally) and Dwyane Wade. They will join J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Kyle Korver (and Kay Felder?) to make up the deadliest backcourt that 2011 never had the chance to witness.
All of these additions ultimately cost them Kyrie Irving and whether or not you agree with how that deal went down, it’s time to take a grip of reality (as much as it pains me). Irving is a Celtic and Thomas is a Cavalier, that’s official. What isn’t official is how the coaches and management will handle the new Cavaliers backcourt that is flooded with counterproductive guards.
Isaiah Thomas is expected to return by January, so there will be roughly three months of regular season games without him in the rotation. Until then, how will the Cavaliers deal with spreading the minutes? Dwyane Wade could potentially start at shooting guard and Derrick Rose will likely start at point guard, so let’s begin by dissecting how those two might work together.
Rose at point guard, Wade at shooting guard
First off, Wade and Rose are much more similar than they are different, and that could cause a plethora of issues. Wade and Rose are both injury-ridden, horrendous outside shooters, and tired defenders. While those are some bad signs considering how the NBA is played in its current state, they can both provide points by attacking the rim and making plays off the dribble. However, I can’t imagine a scenario where two ball-dominant guards such as Wade and Rose would be willing to give up being a primary ball handler. Throw in the fact that LeBron James is the ball-handler for the Cavaliers and all of the sudden there isn’t enough basketballs to go around. Last season, Wade’s usage percentage was at 29.6, Rose’s was at 25.7, and LeBron’s was 30.0. Someone will have to take the sacrifice and it sure as hell won’t be the best basketball player on the planet. The issue is that Wade and Rose are limited off-ball, they need to have the ball in their hands to be effective. If they don’t have the ball, they are going to suffer the most and Kevin Love will likely see a drop in production and usage as well, right as he is hitting his stride in Cleveland.
The odd man(s) out
I wouldn’t be surprised if Kay Felder is the odd man out this season. He could never get a good rhythm going last season and it was obvious that his lack of size did him no favors. If he doesn’t develop a consistent jumpshot, he could find himself at the end of the bench or even back in the D-League. Iman Shumpert may find himself in a similar situation as well. As of right now, he is a considerably better player than Felder and probably Calderon as well, but he brings even less to the table than Wade or Rose. His defense is where he excels, but with J.R. Smith, LeBron James and the addition of Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers actually have some depth with their perimeter defense. Unless Shumpert can become a much more consistent shooter - which isn’t completely out of the question since he’s only 26, but still highly unlikely - he may find himself becoming best friends with Felder on the bench. Going back to Calderon, despite him seeing a decline in his game over the last two seasons, he will likely be the backup point guard if Rose is the starter, which brings me to my next point.
Wade at point guard?
We’ve seen it in the Olympics and it’s already been discussed for this season’s team, but Wade starting at point guard might not be a viable option. There is absolutely no way Wade will be able to run around guarding point guards such as Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, or *sniffles* Kyrie Irving. Wade is 35 years old now and the idea that he will chase those types of players around for even 20 minutes a game is a pipe dream. With no Thomas until January, I do expect to see Wade run the point at times - mainly because he and LeBron do have a unique connection that I do believe can legitimately work throughout the course of a game - especially if Rose is subbed out. Watching either Wade or Rose play point guard WILL be frustrating to watch more often than not. They aren’t even remotely close to what Irving was in Cleveland and the potential for injuries only makes the situation even more frightening.
What about the shooters?
Kyle Korver, Cedi Osman, and J.R. Smith will be the snipers for the Cavaliers and they will all likely come off the bench. Personally, I hope they elect to start Smith over Wade or Rose to provide some spacing, and as of right now it appears that he might. We already know what Smith (3 and D) and Korver (3 and more 3’s) bring to the table, but Osman is who everyone will be looking at. There shouldn’t be any unreal expectations for him, but he should be able to at least space the floor and provide another big body for the Cavaliers on defense.
This Cavaliers team is the deepest LeBron has ever had in Cleveland but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the best. There will be growing pains with this new backcourt until Thomas returns and it could even stretch beyond that if the chemistry doesn’t click right away. Having more shooters and perimeter defenders is a definite plus, but the backcourt players don’t compliment each other in a way that would surpass what Irving and Smith were able to accomplish last season. The Cavaliers finally have depth, but it won’t be ideal.