The Cleveland Cavaliers have a strong top four in Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Outside of that however, it appears that the rest of the team is sinking the potential of one of the best teams in the NBA.
The starting five for the 2023 Cleveland Cavaliers is one of the best in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating; That usually finds a team amongst the top of the league and competing in the title race. The Cavaliers however, despite looking otherworldly dominant at times, are fourth in the East. They are not considered to be a real title contender. And while the Cavs themselves pushed back against this season being a title or bust year, it feels like Cleveland could be better situated.
Any frustration comes from the veteran-filled and very underwhelming bench unit. A bench consisting of talented veterans like Caris LeVert, Ricky Rubio, and Danny Green should amount to some solid relief for a Cavaliers starting unit that brings an elite level of consistency night to night.
The Cavaliers while playing at one of the slower pace of plays in the league may not have many shot opportunities but the starters currently rank 15th in points per game amongst starting units since Jan 1. The bench however ranks 28th in the league in points per game (~26 PPG) during that same span. It often feels with the Cavaliers’ offense that if they don’t have one of the star guards on the floor along with the reserves the offense will stall as there is no one willing to shoot the ball like those two.
February more specifically is where this lack of bench production appears most glaringly. Since the game against Chicago on Feb. 11, the Cavs bench has scored over 20 points four times and two of the games have asterisks to them. The bench scored 34 points against the Hawks which the Cavaliers were blown out of that game early on therefore starters were not played their normal minutes. The bench also scored 37 against the Detroit Pistons on March 4, which was also a blowout. This time however, the Cavs’ got to a dominant lead around the beginning of the third quarter. If you remove those two outliers the bench has scored below twenty points in every game since Feb. 11.
An apparent issue with the bench is that there are not many willing shooters on the bench. When Kevin Love was in Cleveland last season, his shooting volume was a huge boost for the team. This season, while his numbers were down in terms of efficiency, the value of his attempts were still present. Now, with Love released, the Cavaliers find themselves with a massive void. The logical solution that was hinted at by the Cavaliers’ staff is that Dean Wade would get the Love minutes. At the time, that seemed reasonable as Wade had looked the part which earned him a three year contract extension. Now, coming off an injury, replacing a sixth man of the year finalists’ role is proving to be a challenge. Wade is passing up shots frequently and is currently in a cold spell from beyond the arc as well.
Wade is far from the only problem however, the Cavaliers are also in the process of rehabilitating two of their key bench players as well. Both Rubio and Danny Green are coming off ACL tears and while Rubio looks to be back for the most part, Danny Green looks to be running through quicksand and struggling to create off-ball separation. It appears the staff is aware that this would be the case when the reunion of Green and the Cavaliers was announced. That does not change the fact the Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing that Green needs.
If the Cavs wanted to turn to a shooter, they could run out Cedi Osman. (They’ve tried Dean Wade, but he’s not performing well of late.) Unfortunately, Osman is a defensively liability and isn’t fully trusted by the coaching staff. Cedi might not be the most efficient shooter (36% on three-pointers this year) in the world, but his willingness to shoot is a plus.
All of these bench issues add up. It feels lately for the Cavaliers that if Garland and Mitchell are not having a good shooting night the team’s offense will be nonexistent. With the playoff looming and only two players capable of generating their own shot efficiently and often, the team looks to be closer to a first round exit than a chance at making some noise in the postseason. In the playoffs when seeing the same team up to seven times in a series where one can adequately prepare to stop the dynamic scoring duo the Cavaliers currently have, someone on the bench will have to step up to the call. The question many in Cleveland have is “who will it be?”.