Above anything else this season, the Cavaliers have been having problems with their bench. The disparity in the ability from the starters to the bench is so bad that it is like a whole other team replaces the starters when they go out of the game. There are outliers (Daniel Gibson, Tyler Zeller and Samardo Samuels), but as a whole the bench is a problem. If the Cavaliers are going to be competitive at all this season, coach Byron Scott needs to figure out a set rotation that he can stick to. The sooner that gets figured out, the better off the Cavaliers will be.
Take the Oklahoma City game from Sunday as an example. After three quarters, the score was 79-73 in favor of the Thunder. At the start of the fourth, Donald Sloan was playing in place of Kyrie Irving, and Jon Leuer was in the game in place of Anderson Varejao. The Cavs’ two best players sat out, and until the lead got extended to 12, coach Scott left the two out. But at that point, Oklahoma City had taken over, and even with those two in the game, the tide could not be turned. To put it simply, the Cavaliers had a chance to win that game, but the bench blew it.
In the modern NBA, you need a bench to contend. A team has to be eight or nine players deep, and be prepared for foul trouble on any given night. The Cavaliers simply do not have that. Granted, the Cavs will not contend this season – we knew that coming in – but I think they can be competitive. All they need is a bench to hold their own when Irving, Varejao and Dion Waiters exit the game. Assuming the roster does not change, here is how I would organize the roster this season position by position.
Current Starter – Kyrie Irving – 34.7 minutes per game
Back up – Donald Sloan – 10.7 minutes per game
Suggestion: To be blunt, Irving is on a whole other skill level than Donald Sloan. The drop off between the two is so large that Sloan is hard for me to watch. When he runs the offense, I have next to no faith that things will run smoothly. The problem is this: Irving cannot play 48 minutes a game – like every other NBA player, he needs an adequate back up. My suggestion for point guard is this – playing Irving 38 minutes a game and experiment with a backcourt of Dion Waiters and Daniel Gibson when Irving is out of the game. I believe Waiters to be capable of bringing the ball up floor for short stretches at a time, and Gibson can help when necessary. This limits Sloan’s time, and also lets the Cavaliers have their best three guards on the floor at all times. Unless the Cavaliers sign a veteran point guard like Carlos Arroyo, I think this is the best option if they are looking be competitive right now.
Current Starter – Dion Waiters – 28.1 minutes per game
Back up – Daniel Gibson – 21.6 minutes per game
Suggestion: Besides the frontcourt, shooting guard has been the strongest position on the team. Waiters has exceeded all expectations, and outside of Portland’s Damian Lillard, has been the best rookie in the NBA thus far. Also, Gibson has been the best player on the Cavs bench this season. He is shooting threes at a 44.1 percent clip, and has a solid assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8. My only suggestion for shooting guard is that I think the Cavs should experiment with playing these two together more often. As I mentioned above, it would help limit the time Sloan is on the floor. The skill disparity still exists from Irving to Gibson/Waiters, but it is much smaller than the one from Irving to Sloan.
Starter – Alonzo Gee – 31.0 minutes per game
Back ups – C.J. Miles – 15.8 minutes per game; Omri Casspi – 10.3 minutes per game; Luke Walton – 8.0 minutes per game
Suggestion: I think small forward is the most complicated position on the Cavaliers roster. Miles was stellar in the preseason, but has only shot 23.4 percent in the regular season thus far. Casspi has received inconsistent time, but has shown flashes of ability in the little time he has received. Gee, the starter, is playing the best basketball of his career. For the season, he is averaging 11.7 points per game on 39.4 percent shooing in 31 minutes per game. He hasn’t been elite, but he has been better than his two teammates. But so far, when he takes a rest, the quality of play drops. Right now, with how bad Miles has been, I think it’s time to give Casspi a long look and give him regular minutes. Miles had his chance, and he could have it again, but he has not shown it thus far. Long term, I am not high on any of these players as a starter, but for right now I would use Gee and Casspi at the three. It’s odd that what is arguably the Cavaliers deepest position is also the one of most concern.
Starter: Tristan Thompson – 31.9 minutes per game
Back ups – Samardo Samuels – 17.8 minutes per game; Jon Leuer – 17.3 minutes per game (but only three games played)
Suggestion: I really like how Coach Scott has been giving Thompson a lot of minutes. He has shown improvement since last season, and the starting frontcourt of Thompson and Varejao has been really good thus far. The issue is that I also really like Samuels. I think he is a good player off the bench, and I would like to see him get more minutes. To an extent, I’d also like to see Leuer get more time as well, especially if Zeller will be out for an extended period of time. Leuer, while not a very physical player, can shoot from the outside better than his teammates. For now, I can live with how power forward is being handled. Varejao plays there as well, so minutes are limited. I am just curious to see how Samuels and Leuer would play if given extended minutes.
Starter: Anderson Varejao – 34.5 minuets per game
Back up – Tyler Zeller – 18.5 minutes per game – currently out with concussion and broken cheekbone
Suggestion: Until Zeller got hurt, I really liked how the center position was being handled. Varejao has been playing out of his mind thus far, and Zeller was providing quality minutes. I’m looking forward to Zeller coming back, and I hope it happens soon. The combination of Varejao and Zeller gives the Cavaliers two players who are good down low, and also play hard for every minute they are active. Out of every position on the roster, this is the one whose depth I have no worries about. Once Zeller comes back and is adjusted to playing a protective mask, I expect the duo to thrive as they were before.
My biggest problem with the Cavaliers is their depth. The disparity of the talent from the starters to the bench is really concerning to me. I don’t have expectations that the Cavs will make the playoffs this season, but what if they do? A deep bench is a major key to winning a championship, and even if the Cavs have hopes of getting past the first round, they’ll need a bench.
Lastly, here are ten suggestions I have to improved the Cavaliers bench.
- Play Irving 38-40 minutes a game. Play Dion Waiters at least 29 and Anderson Varejao at least 32.
- When Irving is out, play Waiters and Gibson together to avoid using Donald Sloan for long stretches.
- If they don’t use Waiters/Gibson at the point, look into signing a veteran like Arroyo.
- If they do not look at Arroyo, try Jeremy Pargo instead of Sloan.
- Use Samuels and Leuer more consistently.
- Play Casspi instead of Miles = for now.
- When Zeller comes back, play him 20+ minutes per game.
- Rest Varejao and Waiters to start the fourth, but make sure they are in the last six-plus of the game.
- Rest Irving mid way through the third quarter so he can play at least 10 minutes in the fourth.
10. Never take out Irving, Waiters and Varejao all at once. Never.