The obvious solutions to the Cavs’ lack of high-level playmaking are Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. In drafting them in back-to-back years, Cleveland was (and is) clearly betting on playmaking driving team success in some form. The ways they can be better have already been hammered home enough.
There are other options on the roster. Here are a few.
Exum was a fair return for Jordan Clarkson — a high-usage guard on a expiring contract — last year. He turned 25 in July, is a former top-five pick and had moments where he was a rotation-level NBA player in Utah. Even in Cleveland, there were moments of brilliance.
The problem with Exum is that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. It started with an ACL tear suffered while playing for the Australian National Team in 2015 and he’s subsequently had shoulder and ankle issues. With the Cavs, he suffered a left ankle sprain that cost him multiple weeks.
But when he’s on the court, Exum profiles as an interesting piece for the Cavs. He’s got ideal size as a 6’6” guard and is a really good athlete. He’s turned the ball over a lot relative to his position, per Cleaning the Glass, but has had above-average solid assist percentages for most of his career. He’s not a high-level or high-volume playmaker, but an interesting supplemental piece. (Just so it’s not ignored: Exum’s three-point shot is a real concern and limits his upside.)
In 2020-21, he’s entering a contract year. Whether it’s in Cleveland or elsewhere, Exum will be playing for his next deal whenever the next season is. The Cavs might be a good place for him to rehab his value.
Kevin Porter Jr.
The Cavs are going to give him opportunities to create for himself and others — they openly mused about it before coronavirus ended their season. And when you ask around the organization, Porter Jr. is the player most seem to be excited about and believe in as a high-end talent. The top-five rating smoke may have been slightly overblown, but Cleveland loved him the draft process. His rookie season only adds to the intrigue.
Per Cleaning The Glass, Porter Jr. was in the 73rd percentile in AST% and 65th in assist to usage ratio among wings. For a 19-year-old, that’s very encouraging. Next season should provide clarity about it holding up at higher volume. One key area to watch: Porter Jr. was in the third percentile of wings in turnover percentage at 17.7%. He has to cut down on that.
Larry Nance Jr., Andre Drummond and Kevin Love
All three bigs can pass. Love is probably the best passer of the group, while Nance has made a leap in the last two years and Drummond had a stretch as facilitator before Blake Griffin arrived in Detroit. To lessen the load on the Sexton, Garland and Porter Jr., J.B. Bickerstaff could run sets through his trio of veteran bigs. Even if Drummond opts out and walks, he could still lean more on Love and Nance.
Matthew Dellavedova (or some veteran guard)
Let’s call this the José Calderón theory.
Remember in his year with the Cavs and how he’d start a random game and because he moved the ball and organized the team, he made the offense better? The Cavs probably need someone to do that, at least on bench units. That’s maybe Matthew Dellavedova’s role if he’s back next year or it could be filled by some other veteran on a cheap deal. There’s also a case to be made that Exum should get the first shot at these minutes.