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Why versatility is a need for the Cavs

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It’s all about making things easier.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Versatility is important in basketball. It starts with the players, first and foremost. More than ever due to “positionless” basketball, teams want players who can defend multiple positions, most often on the wing and into the post. Teams need players who can slide into different roles on offense, moving between shooting, playmaking and the like.

But versatility extends beyond the players. It extends into scheme and coaching too. Take the Mavericks for instance. They have the best offense in NBA history according to their offensive rating. Via motion and Luka Doncic magic, their offense crushes teams on most nights. But look at their first game in the bubble against the Rockets, a game they lost in overtime. Their crunch time offense floundered when the game slowed down and Doncic’s primary form of attack wasn’t there. When the game changes on you, teams need options. (Singular greatness is also a need, but we’ll cover that later on in the series.)

Defensively, players with varied skilled sets give you options. The right group of players allow you to switch when needed, to play zone when you need to, to have centers drop and hedge depending on the matchup. Take the Rockets, for instance. Even if their bet on small ball was about offense and maximizing James Harden and Russell Westbrook, it was about putting a versatile defensive lineup on the floor. When it comes time for them to defend the LeBron James’s of the world, they don’t want one option that can be hunted down via a switch. Even if there is a weak link, Houston wants that weak link to at least have a chance.

With where the Cavs are, they don’t have a ton of versatility. Defensively, Larry Nance Jr. is the one guy who does this at an above-average to a high level. (BBall Index’s rates him as a ‘B’ in positional versatility and an ‘A’ in role versatility.) Kevin Porter Jr. earned a ‘B’ in both categories, but he fouls too much and is too unproven to be considered truly versatile. Cedi Osman earned a B and A- in each category, but has historically struggled to defend bigger wings. Ideally, he can stay versatile by defending twos and threes and instead of threes and four. Everyone else ranks as a C- or lower.

If there’s a promising aspect for the Cavs’ versatility, it’s on offense. Collin Sexton can score on and off-ball, which makes him an interesting piece to consider. Porter Jr. and Garland have a similar upside too, while Osman’s whole offensive schtick is his ability to do multiple things well. Especially while the Cavs don’t have a guy like Doncic (or, more notably to the team’s recent history, LeBron) leaning into that will help. Throw teams varied looks and attack in different ways is one way to make things easier.

And look: there’s no way to get around this: the Cavs need to make things easier on themselves. This is one of the worst teams in the league record-wise with a bottom-five offense and a bottom-five defense. Having options, and having players who can do more than one thing well, is a way to that.

To the Cavs’ credit, they’ve gone after players in the draft who are versatile or at least have the potential to be. Even if players like Drummond and Kevin Love aren’t flexible, having players who are can help a teamwork around weak links. Ideally, that’s part of the growth Cleveland gets next season.