The Cleveland Cavaliers’ starting five feels mostly set. Unless an injury happens, or someone contracts the coronavirus and has to miss time, Darius Garland and Collin Sexton will start at guard with Kevin Love and Andre Drummond will start up front. Love and Drummond may sit some back-to-backs, but they are going to be in the starting five.
That leaves one spot: small forward. Maybe J.B. Bickerstaff will change things over the course of the season, but at least at the start of the season, small forward is the one open spot.
Projected starting five
The three options are Garland/Sexton/Isaac Okoro/Love/Drummond, Garland/Sexton/Dylan Windler/Love/Drummond and Garland/Sexton/Cedi Osman/Love/Drummond.
In simple terms, Osman offers consistency from last year in the form of a (young) NBA veteran who has more familiarity with Bickerstaff’s schemes and playing in the NBA night in and night out. Windler offers spacing and maybe a little bit of creative juice off of other action. Okoro comes in with not a ton lead time for the NBA season, which matters even if NBA playbooks aren’t as complex and detailed as, say, an NFL playbook. But Okoro does offer more size and puts in the role he was drafted for.
Most on the line
Osman probably has the most on the line, at least to start the year. He’s looked overmatched at times in the role the Cavs have had him play before, but he’s also a useful NBA player. At least to start the year, he should be clearly better than Okoro.
But over the course of the year, Osman is at a place where he’s carving out his place in whatever it is the Cavs are building. The way his contract is structured — particularly with the last year non-guaranteed — doesn’t scream long-time piece. But if he has a great year this year, be it as a starter or otherwise, he could lock himself info the core going forward. Even though he’s heading into year four, he’s still within the right timeline for the Okoro’s Collin Sexton and Darius Garland’s of the world.
The best answer, though, is Drummond. He’s in a contract year and is trying to prove his maximum worth this year. Drummond also is talking about expanding is game in ways that are modern developments for bigs, aren’t what Drummond is really good at. but Whether that’s with the Cavs or elsewhere, whoever pays Drummond is at least going to base it somewhat on what Drummond does this season. It also sounds like Drummond, along with Kevin Love, will be near the center of what the Cavs do.
“Their skill sets match. Their versatility goes well with one another,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said last week. “I think Andre is an underrated passer. I think we know what Kevin can do with the ball in his hands. But they create opportunities for one another. Dre’s ability to dominate the paint allows Kevin to play on the perimeter and space the perimeter. Kevin’s ability to score in small spaces and Dre’s ability to play vertically allows Kevin to get down in the post and, if they want to bring help, Dre can space the floor with his verticality and being able to throw the ball to the rim.
Biggest wild card
It’s Okoro. If he comes in from day one and earns the starting spot, then it puts the Cavs in an interesting position where it’s last three lottery picks are all starting. It also means Cleveland feels he’s ready to compete and contribute right away in a season where the stated goal is to be more competitive and improve on defense. But if Okoro starts slow, it might signal a need to bring him along slowly and add more to his plate as the season progresses and he earns it.
The answer here could be Sexton or Garland. In the most fun world, the answer would be one of those two. But my pick is Kevin Love.
Love isn’t likely to be the featured guy in the Cavs’ offense. As he has been in the last few years, even post-LeBron James, Love is most likely to space and shoot three-pointers off of other actions than being the direct catalyst in sets.
But defenses still respect him and pay attention to him wherever he is on the floor. When he spots up, he draws attention and it generates open shots for others. When he posts up or sets up at the elbow, he still can draw focus from other defenders and use his passing to swing it to someone on the perimeter. And Love can kickstart fastbreaks with his outlet passes – something that probably could be maximized more than it has been. Think of Love as the ultimate offensive glue guy.
Storyline to watch
In a world where Drummond and Love sit back-to-backs, how Bickerstaff approaches the starting lineup will be worth watching. The obvious answer would just be to start Larry Nance Jr. and JaVale McGee, but there are downsides to that too, particularly with Nance.
Nance is good and fits in any kind of lineup. But if he ends up being key to bench units and is the guy who holds them together, is it worth it to move him out of that role? Maybe he gets enough minutes to make that concern invalid, though.
Also of note here is who will get more minutes if/when Love and Drummond sit on back-to-backs. Could it be Dean Wade and Thon Maker, assuming they make the team? Or will the Cavs play smaller with Love and Drummond out? The latter option opens up way more possibilities than the former. It also seems likely that Bickerstaff will stagger who sits so that both aren’t out on a given night.