The Cavs’ long-term rim protection solution probably isn’t on the roster. Maybe it’s Andre Drummond, but that’s really the only current option on the roster. It’s also worth noting that dropping prime Marc Gasol or Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert onto this roster wouldn’t solve everything, even if it would help. It’s going to take improvement in the team’s overall defense to create support system in front of the back line of defense.
That said, there are options for Cleveland to get internal improvement for rim protection. Let’s run through them.
What Drummond needs to improve on was outlined on Monday. The template for him is there, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s what he is going to be or if improvement on that end is going to happen. He’s going to block shots and get steals, but how he does it matters.
It would also help if he was surrounded by good defensive players, which the Cavs don’t have many of at the moment. Drummond has never anyone like Mike Conley (Gasol’s partner in Memphis) or Ben Simmons (Embiid’s partner with the 76ers) to build a defense with and he’s not going to have that with the Cavs.
There’s also the question of Drummond in Cleveland for a full season and in a contract year. His entrance into Cleveland is hard to take anything from considering it was eight games and involved a coaching change. But by starting the year in J.B. Bickerstaff’s drop-heavy scheme — which fits wht Drummond is good at — and knowing he’s playing for his next contract, maybe Cleveland will get the best Drummond. This, of course, assumes Drummond is picking up his player option.
Larry Nance Jr.
Last year, Nance Jr. posted the lowest block rate of his career (0.8%), placing him among the bottom fourth of NBA’s bigs, per Cleaning The Glass. However, he’s still active at altering shots at the rim. (Per BBall Index, Nance is in the 63rd percentile in percentage of shots contested at the rim.) That matters.
Nance Jr. is currently the Cavs’ most aware help defender (not that it means a ton considering how bad they are at defense) and he can at least slide over when needed to bother opponents at the rim. He’s also solid at defending drives, even against bigger players. There’s definite potential for him to help Cleveland’s rim defense by guarding certain perimeter players. For now, he’s the Cavs’ best option against the league’s big, ball-dominant perimeter players; Kawhi, LeBron, Giannis.
My read on Nance Jr. is this: If the Cavs can build a better overall defensive structure, he will look like a better defense player. If Cleveland can pair him with an ideal center (my pick would be a Jusuf Nurkic-type) he could end up as a solid defensive forward who helps with rim protection and provides versatility.
Notably, he and Drummond have played 201 possessions together as a power forward-center combo. Per Cleaning The Glass, those lineups are +7.3 per 100 possessions and giving up 109.7 points per 100 possessions. If that was the Cavs’ actual defensive rating, it’d be tied for the league 14th-best defense, per nba.com/stats.
One caveat: Kevin Love is featured as the other forward in 57 of those possessions. When you factor those possessions out (leaving the Cavs with Sexton/Garland/Osman/Nance Drummond for 49 possessions, Garland/Porter Jr./Osman/Nance/Drummond for 25 possessions and Sexton/McKinnie/Osman/Nance/Drummond for 16 possessions) the Cavs’ defensive rating is 114.9 per 100 possessions. So, it’s hard to say any of this data means anything for projecting out next year.
Kevin Porter Jr.
Per Cleaning The Glass, Porter Jr. was about league average in block rate for wings. For a 19-year-old just entering the NBA, he was fairly good at using his frame to alter shots when players drove vs. him towards the rim:
He also has some ability to block shots when he’s in help and slides over:
The next step for Porter Jr. to know when to take risks off-ball vs. leaving his man in the corner or elsewhere. That will, ideally, come with reps. And if he adds some muscle to his frame, he defending drives and altering shots on drives could be a real part of his game. It’s not the area of his game that’s most fun to speculate about, and not even the most impactful part of his defensive upside. But it’s certainly worth watching.