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2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers season preview: Dean Wade, the new starting small forward?

Can Drippy Dean keep tall ball alive?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Last season, Dean Wade was a serviceable player for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whether Wade started or came off the bench, he showed that he was never flashy but always reliable. Wade’s success is a testament to how the Cavaliers are utilizing the Cleveland Charge, their NBA G League affiliate. But, with Lauri Markkanen now with the Utah Jazz, could Wade start at the three for Cleveland this season?

Position: Small forward, Power forward, Center

Age: 25

Height: 6-9

Weight: 228 lbs

2021-22 stats: 51 GP, 28 GS, 19.2 mpg, 5.3 points on 45.6% shooting, 2.9 rebounds

At this juncture, the Cavaliers are a team that’s interestingly constructed. They have a ton of talented guards and just as many talented bigs. But, other than Cedi Osman, they lack a true small forward on the roster. Instead, they have a lot of players like Wade, who is traditionally a power forward in a basketball sense, soaking up minutes at the three spot.

A lot of this is due to the fact that last season, like this upcoming season, there was a lack of wing depth. Markkanen slotted in what was called the “Big Ass” lineup by head coach J.B. Bickerstaff alongside Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen and became an offensive wrinkle with three seven-footers on the floor. But, over time, this wrinkle became Cleveland’s core identity and something they found success with.

With it being successful it’s going to be something the Cavaliers understandably carry with them into this season. But, with Markkanen now gone, it makes a lot of sense to have Wade penciled in as the starting three. What Wade can give Cleveland is somewhat similar to what Markkanen gave them last year in terms of three-point shooting. Wade does it as a lower volume, however, with more juice off of the dribble.

What Wade does differently than Markkanen and could better accentuate the Cavaliers instead comes on the defensive side of the ball. While Cleveland had a slightly better defensive rating on the floor with Markkanen instead of Wade, last season it doesn’t quite pass the eye test. Granted, that isn’t always a foolproof way to evaluate things, but, Wade just plays hard when on defense. He’s competent enough on the perimeter to at least slow down his opposition and funnel them toward either of Mobley or Allen. Wade also plays with a ton of energy as well and has active hands, nearly averaging a steal last year.

With more fast break opportunities available with Donovan Mitchell now in tow, those turnovers Wade generates could be essential to scoring for the Cavaliers. Speaking of Mitchell, his presence with Cleveland could also further embolden the argument of Wade starting. The Cavaliers need a low-usage player at the three spot that can be the fifth option on offense and a solid enough player on defense. If Cleveland wants to continue this bigger identity they’ve formed, on top of what they need, then Wade fits the bill.

You can make strong arguments for either Isaac Okoro or Caris LeVert starting in Markkanen’s place as well. The Cavaliers don’t have to be static on how they scheme on either end and likely will hopefully be dynamic.

With that said, that doesn’t mean Wade would be phased out of the rotation entirely if he doesn’t start. He answers a handful of needs the Cavaliers need and is multifaceted enough to play either forward position as well as at center. And while the contract extension doesn’t guarantee him minutes, it just makes too much sense to keep Wade in the fold. Wade could start or he could come off the bench and that makes him somewhat unique in the grand scheme of things. He’s high-quality depth that’s been developed in-house and should be on a fast track to getting more time on the court next year.