The Cavaliers have been one of the worst teams in the league since Christmas and were staring at yet another loss, this time to the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on the second half of a back-to-back if they weren’t able to find some sort of energy.
They found that in rookie Cedi Osman, who was thrust back into the rotation on Wednesday night.
Osman played 21 minutes in the Cavaliers 140-138 overtime win against the Timberwolves after racking up zero meaningful minutes in the team’s last 10 games. Osman had been on the back end of the rotation earlier in the year, but returns to health for more established veterans pushed the young, sometimes wild rookie out of the rotation. That might need to change.
The box score stats weren’t outrageous, as Osman put up nine points and four rebounds while turning the ball over twice, but his energy was infectious while being a pest on defense.
Osman took on the challenge of guarding tough Timberwolves ball handlers on switches and at the point of attack. He drew the switch on Jimmy Butler, one of the league’s best isolation players on the final T-Wolves possession of the game. He stayed chest-to-chest with Butler while slowing him down just enough to set up a classic LeBron James weakside block:
That wasn’t the only time Osman stone-walled Butler in an isolation situation either:
Osman played fearless, frenetic basketball, and LeBron James said after the game that Osman’s inexperience is actually valuable in that capacity.
“He doesn’t know. He’s out there just playing for the love of the game,” James said after the game, per cleveland.com’s Hayden Grove. “He’s going to make mistakes, which is ok, but his purity of the game is infectious to our team. He hasn’t been in many situations, so he’s not even going to trip about what’s going on.”
This is a veteran locker room, and while that normally is a strength, it’s also a dramatic one. Osman, as of now, seems to mostly be interested in playing basketball as well as he can. Finger-pointing isn’t on his agenda because, well, he can’t afford to have it on there. He doesn’t have his place in the league assured, so he functionally has to go balls to the wall at all times.
And when he banks in a three? Well, he can laugh at that even in a tense moment.
Osman played a ton of minutes as the Cavaliers “point guard” though James did most of the heavy lifting. He’s still got a ways to go with his handle, committing both of his turnovers by being a little too aggressive on the ball.
Osman may not be ready to shoulder the burden as the team’s secondary creator next to LeBron on the floor, but he was part of some of the more successful lineups on the floor for the Cavs. He hit two threes in this game, but what will continue to be his most useful skill is his ability as a rim runner in transition:
That kind of play will always be there as LeBron James draws attention in transition. Meanwhile, running that hard to the rim will open up shots for the Cavaliers three-point shooters as they trail.
Former Cavaliers GM David Griffin, who drafted Osman, extolled the virtues of Osman’s selfless play and its effect on the team in tweet sent out early Thursday morning:
This is a significant comment. @cediosman is about all the right things and will be joyful in the pursuit. Grit, selflessness and “want to” are unquestionably contagious. Exactly the right call by T Lue to stick with him late. https://t.co/DSh4jwk4bm— David Griffin (@dg_riff) February 8, 2018
This is a team that has mostly played lifeless basketball over the last month. They’ve sniped at each other, they’ve stopped helping each other on defense, and for the most part, they’ve entirely stopped doing the little things to help their team win. As a result, they’ve lost a lot of games.
Osman won’t be perfect, and he’ll make plenty of mistakes as he finds his way in the league. What he can provide for the Cavaliers in the meantime is the energy that they might lack on other nights.
Griffin hailed Tyronn Lue for keeping Osman in the game against the Wolves. It looks like Lue feels like he’s earned more time.
“We got to keep playing him,” Lue said, per Grove.