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2020-21 Cleveland Cavaliers position preview: Bigs

Weak guard play will force Cleveland to lean heavily on their biggest players - can it work?

Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

This offseason, it was the end of two eras for the Cleveland Cavaliers. First, lumbering big man Ante Zizic left Cleveland to join Israeli superpower Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he is averaging 4.4 points and 3.0 rebounds — comparable to his numbers with the Cavs. Zizic’s exit marks another piece in the infamous Kyrie Irving trade leaving Cleveland, with Zizic the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. Zizic is also still not living up to the title of “Baby Shaq” that former Cavs coach David Blatt once gave him.

The other era ending was when Tristan Thompson, Cleveland’s once longest tenured player, signed with the Boston Celtics in free agency.

But, even with the exodus of big men, the Cavs were not hurting for depth. They still have plenty of players on the roster loading their frontcourt, and today we’re going to be breaking down their outlook for the 2020-21 season.

Projected depth chart

  • PF - Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Thon Maker*, Dean Wade, Dylan Windler
  • C - Andre Drummond, JaVale McGee, Thon Maker*, Marques Bolden*

* - Current player is signed to a training camp only deal.

Most on the line

The most on the line in Cleveland’s big man rotation are both Drummond and Maker. Drummond is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Not only will he be showcasing his abilities to Cleveland, who can sign him to the most money, but, also every team in the league as well. Drummond’ archetype as a rim rolling, paint protecting goliath in the middle is a dinosaur in today’s NBA. Most teams are looking for Brook Lopez-like players, ones who can provide paint defense and perimeter scoring. That’s why Drummond is trying to add that to his repertoire so late into his career with the Cavaliers — he’s aware of the paradigm shift at his position. The problem is, it’s a case of too little too late for Drummond and he’ll unlikely get a major payday after the 2020-21 season. Look for him to get a deal comparable to what the DeAndre Jordan’s of the world are getting if he can get a team to commit to him long term.

Maker, meanwhile, is quite literally fighting for his NBA life in Cleveland. After being selected tenth overall in 2016, he’s on his third team in three seasons, playing with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Detroit Pistons before coming to The Land. If he doesn’t make it with the Cavs, his basketball career, at least in the NBA, is likely over. Thankfully, he has a sneaky good chance of making the Cavs’ final roster after the exodus of Zizic and Thompson and the fact that the Cavs need depth behind Drummond and McGee. There will be nights Drummond rests in back-to-backs and McGee is asthmatic and cannot play more than 20-25 minutes per night. That’s where Maker can step in and make the most of his opportunity in Cleveland. If he works, he’s also a good option to keep around long term on a team friendly deal as well,

Biggest wild cards

The biggest wild cards for Cleveland’s stable of big men are Drummond and Windler. As mentioned above, Drummond is playing for a contract this year and the kind of player the Cavs will get is a relative unknown. They could get a Drummond who plays to his strengths and is resigned to the fate that he is predestined to not get a maximum value contract. Or Cleveland gets a big man that tries to do too much and clutters things for the Cavs both offensively and defensively. Every Drummond three-point attempt is as bad as him committing a turnover and also makes me feel the light fading a bit more.

Windler on the other hand is more of a tongue-in-cheek wild card. At 196 pounds, Windler doesn’t have the girth to be playing the four often in the NBA. But, J.B. Bickerstaff shared with the media that in certain situations, the Cavs will go small and see Windler playing the four in sets alongside Drummond.

Will this work? Who knows! But, I will always applaud Bickerstaff being willing to try something new instead of being rigid like John Beilein was before him. Besides, Windler himself has compared his game to Utah’ Joe Ingles — who plays the four for the Jazz.

Projected MVP

Without a doubt, Larry Nance Jr. the undisputed MVP for Cleveland’s big man rotation. Nance has become both a bridge between the starting unit and the bench mob as well as a glue guy for the entire Cavs’ roster. Offensively, Nance is a jack of all trades and master of some as he has showcased his guard skills from high school as a three-point shooter and tertiary playmaker as well as acting as a consistent lob threat. Defensively, Nance can defend three through five and can act as a small forward in the Cavs’ all-big lineup and as a small ball five in certain scenarios as well. The beauty of that versatility is Nance knows his job whenever he’s thrust into a different position and still defends superbly.

Storyline to watch

The biggest storyline to watch is honestly what kind of Drummond Bickerstaff and the Cavs get this season. If his Instagram influencer videos show, it’s going to be a lot of Drummond acting as a point center and him believing he’s playing to his strengths when he isn’t. But, Drummond also has Jeff Schwartz as his agent as well. Schwartz is a powerful man in NBA circles and will be looking to get the most money possible for his clients. With that in mind, perhaps Schwartz is in Drummond’s ear telling him to play to his strengths instead of his perceived potential. If he does, Drummond signing an extension in Cleveland becomes a bit more reasonable. If not, the Cavs will probably look to move his mammoth $28.7 million contract by the trade deadline.