The 2019 NBA Trade Deadline has come and gone. The league as a whole is in an interesting place right now, with the Eastern Conference leading Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors both making moves to get better and, out West, the Golden State Warriors continuing to be the Warriors.
The Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans got themselves tied up on an Anthony Davis trade that never came to fruition and Philadelphia moved Markelle Fultz to Orlando for a chance to reboot his career.
What gets a lot less press, however, is how the Cleveland Cavaliers have restocked their war-chest with picks through the Alec Burks trade, the Rodney Hood trade and the early-season trades of Kyle Korver and George Hill.
Cavs GM Koby Altman has done a commendable job in asset accumulation without even taking on much in terms of bad money. The Cavaliers still possess theJ.R. Smith contract, which can be used for salary matching with a team looking to get off a bad contract in exchange for some more assets around the draft and before free agency.
The problem is that all of the Cavaliers 25 most-used five-man lineups up to this point include players that are no longer on the team. Similarly, 10 of their 11 most-used four-man lineups and four of their five most-used three-man lineups are out the window as well. Given the impending return of Kevin Love and the new faces in the locker room, Larry Drew has some choice to make. For the purposes of this exercise, we’re assuming full health across the roster.
The starting lineup is a pretty obvious thing. Collin Sexton is going to continue starting at point guard, with Cedi Osman and David Nwaba playing the two and the three in combinations based on opponent. Your front court combo is going to be the classic Kevin Love-Tristan Thompson duo.
In all honesty, it is not that bad of a starting lineup given how bad the Cavaliers are. It features three above average defenders at key positions and two players who are guaranteed to at least try. When Nwaba and Thompson share the floor this season, the Cavaliers are posting a 100.5 defensive rating, per nba.com; the Bucks currently lead the league with a 103.4 defensive rating.
It also surrounds one of the league’s best rebounding pairs with athletes who can get out and run. Between Nwaba, Sexton and Osman, they’re taking about six field goals per game within the first six seconds of the shot clock with an eFG% over 50 percent on these shots.
The first man off the bench for the rest of this season will likely still be Jordan Clarkson, who has been a surprisingly pleasant player to watch because he simply gets buckets. Don’t be surprised to see Larry Nance Jr. check into the game at the same time. The Cavaliers are one point per 100 possessions better with both players on the floor than when neither is on the floor and both players post better net ratings when the other is in the game. These two have just built real on-court synergy as a result of playing and being traded together.
Matthew Dellavedova should then be the next player to the scorer’s table, representing the Cavaliers really getting into their bench lineups as he typically signals Collin Sexton heading to the bench. Brandon Knight could get minutes here in theory, but shouldn’t.
Jaron Blossomgame, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Ante Zizic will get sprinkled in after this point, being slotted in with lineups typically featuring three of the Cavaliers’ starters. There doesn’t seem to be much incentive for having bench-heavy lineups with just one starter on the floor, as these lineups would likely be too bad at basketball, even by Cleveland’s standards.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like Larry Drew will find time for Channing Frye in his rotation, based on how many bigs the Cavaliers will have when healthy and how little Frye played prior to injuries to Thompson and Nance Jr. at different points in time. This is a shame, because Frye is one of the very few Cavaliers that are real threats from behind the arc, something Osman and Sexton need to play alongside.
Most of the lineups we could see, besides the starting lineup, are two-big lineups, given the Cavaliers absolute glut of big men. Swapping Sexton and Osman for Clarkson and Blossomgame with the starters would make for a very long lineup with plenty of athleticism and as much offensive capability as you can find in Cleveland.
However, one really intriguing lineup the Cavaliers will have at their disposal is a defensive small-ball lineup featuring Dellavedova, Osman, Nwaba Blossomgame and Nance Jr. These players are all posting great defensive numbers outside of Osman, whose numbers are ruined by all of the time he has spent playing out of position.
Given the lack of specialists or high-end talent on the Cavaliers’ roster, building lineups is easier said than done. However, there are some interesting combinations that we can hope to see now that the roster is generally settled for the rest of the season, assuming the team signs Blossomgame like they should once he burns up the rest of his two-way contract. It’s now up to Drew to put the product on the floor.