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2018-19 Cleveland Cavaliers player preview: David Nwaba

Nwaba is a tone setter for a Cavs team looking to form an identity.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Media Day Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The upcoming season is full of unknowns for the Cleveland Cavaliers. We know who the core likely is, but outside of that the direction of the team is still a bit of a mystery.

The team has a log-jam with their guard rotation, as well as a big man rotation that could get complicated. However with so many unknowns, one newcomer projects to bring consistency and stability to the rotation.

David Nwaba had somewhat of a breakout season for the Chicago Bulls. Coming into camp, there wasn’t much consideration given to him. But he put his head down, came to play every night, and ended up starting 21 games for the Bulls. In his 70 appearances last season, Nwaba averaged 23.5 minutes per game. This was mostly due to his ability to hustle and be a positive contributor on the defensive end.

At 6’4”, Nwaba has naturally been cast as a shooting guard in the NBA. But his seven foot wingspan, strength, and style of play all screams small ball big man. Given the number of guards the Cavs are heading into this season with, Nwaba will likely join Cedi Osman at the small forward position. He may even play some power forward, if the team attempts to go small.

The most obvious thing Nwaba brings to the table is activity. Per player tracking, of players that played over 20 minutes per game Nwaba had the sixth highest average speed on defense at 4.38 mph. The only Cavs player that came close to that last season was Cedi Osman, at 4.34 mph with a much smaller workload.

Other notable Cavs names would be Tristan Thompson at 4.21, Larry Nance Jr. at 4.12, and Kevin Love at 4.09. While LeBron was the slowest Cavs player last season (outside of Kendrick Perkins) on both offense and defense, with an average defensive speed of 3.66 mph.

Now activity doesn’t always translate to good defensive play, but it is a good indication of effort. Tyronn Lue has wanted the Cavs to play quick for some time now. A style of play that Nwaba should benefit from, while also helping to mask his weaknesses as a shooter.

While Nwaba shot a respectable percentage from deep last season, at 34.6 percent, he only attempted 52 shots. He also isn’t going to be a player that will keep teams honest if he is left standing in the corner.

Understanding this, Nwaba made his living offensively by moving without the ball, finding passing lanes, and finishing strong when he got the ball.

The Bulls were just 21st in three-point percentage last season, but despite the lack of reliable threats the team’s ORTG was 2.4 points higher with Nwaba on the floor. Just like on defense, Nwaba was more active than any Cavs player offensively last season. His relentless motor meant that teams needed to account for him constantly, opening up opportunities for himself and others.

While the Cavs do have a number or reliable shooters, there is still a high likelihood that the team will go through stretches where they need to play with spacing-challenged lineups. In order for the team to survive in those minutes, Nwaba will need to continue using his signature activity and basketball IQ to keep those lineups offensively viable.

Nwaba isn’t a franchise cornerstone or somebody that will fill the shoes of LeBron James. But quality role players that understand what they do best and stick to that are hard to come by. He won’t win you game single-handedly, but he’s someone that can help you bring a game home if the score is tight late.

  1. After turning down a multi-year offer from the Indiana Pacers, Nwaba bet on himself and his fit with the Cavs. It’s a union that makes a lot of sense, and could pay off for both the player and the team if Tyronn Lue can maximize what Nwaba brings to the table.