Almost at the halfway point of the Cavs’ season, the Cavs’ rotation has appeared to solidify into a consistent nine man unit. Gone are the days of inconsistent minutes for Anthony Bennett and Earl Clark, as well as any minutes for Alonzo Gee or Andrew Bynum. Dion Waiters has appeared to settle in as the default sixth, Luol Deng has assimilated into the starting small forward, and the Cavs have started to play Tyler Zeller more. That being said, let’s look back at some of the Cavs’ most common and best lineups of the first half of the season, and figure out which ones should continue to be used as the season goes on. For that sake, we’ll ignore Bynum lineups lest we be reminded of that nightmare, and try to incorporate Luol Deng, although he’s only played four games for the Cavs so far. Also, only lineups that have been used in at least five games and/or played at least 20 minutes together will be used, to eliminate small sample sizes.
(All lineup stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats)
Most Common Lineup
Kyrie Irving/Jarrett Jack/Dion Waiters/Tristan Thompson/Anderson Varejao (132 minutes in 22 games, +0.4 Net Rtg, 50.7 TS%)
Unsurprisingly, a three-guard lineup is the most common non-Bynum lineup the Cavs have used this season. However, this one still somewhat infuriates me at times. The Cavs have stopped going with these five as of late, only playing them together in three of the last ten games, but it’s still been common. Kyrie and Jack aren’t playing well together this season, and this group, while being better than average offensively this season, hasn’t been great defensively. Soon I’d assume that this group will be overtaken by the new starting lineup, or perhaps the starters with Dion in instead of C.J. Miles. However, this group will still get some run, particularly at the end of quarters, when the Cavs want to spell Deng or use this lineups admitted quickness advantage to try to push the pace.
Most Efficient Offensive Lineup
Irving/Waiters/C.J. Miles/Thompson/Varejao (35 minutes in 9 games, +30.8 Net Rtg, 56.8 TS%)
The sexy efficiency numbers (123.5 points/100 possessions scored) of this group makes you wonder why we haven’t seen these guys together more. On paper, this should be one of the Cavs’ better two-way lineups, with Waiters and Miles providing adequate perimeter D, and the best defensive frontcourt available. Granted, you can’t play Miles and Waiters big minutes together against a team with conventional small forward options, but against a team that likes to run small, this would be fine. This lineup is also slightly influenced by Miles’ nova Philadelphia game from a few weeks ago, but I still think this group could be good together in a larger role. They shoot the ball well, don’t turn the ball over, and allow the freedom for each player on the court to do what makes them effective.
Most Efficient Defensive Lineup
Irving/Jack/Waiters/Clark/Varejao (22 minutes in eight games, +18.9 Net Rtg, 51.9 TS%)
A product of small sample size, more than anything. This group squeaked in because they’d played so many games together, but isn’t worth playing more than the sparing time they’ve gotten so far. Yes, this squad has only given up 61.7 points/100 possessions in 22 minutes, a pretty great number. And yes, they limit threes pretty well against smaller lineups. But this squad turns the ball over on 25.8 percent of their offensive possessions, an astronomical rate, and having that many chuckers on the floor is an issue offensively. So while they’re performing well defensively, I’m not sure that’s sustainable, and offensively this group isn’t worth allowing for big minutes.
Most Efficient Lineup Overall
For all the reasons outlined above. This is an excellent two-way lineup that shoots the ball particularly well and provides excellent spacing for Kyrie and Dion to work.
Best Shooting Lineup
Irving/Miles/Deng/Thompson/Varejao (58 minutes in 4 games, +14.6 Net Rtg, 59.1 TS%)
Hey, the current starters! This is looking like an excellent squad so far, one that is shooting 50 percent from the field, nearly 62 percent from three, and gets to the line effectively. Deng has really helped the spacing of the Cavs offense with his fluid motion around the ball, and he’s created opportunities for Kyrie to pass off more often, allowing for better finishing at the rim as well. They haven’t figured it out defensively so far, giving up about the team average for points, but this group shoots well and scores consistently regardless, which we saw in the Portland game in particular.
Best Three-Point Lineup
Jack/Matthew Dellavedova/Waiters/Thompson/Varejao (34 minutes in 8 games, +19.6 Net Rtg, 50.5 TS%)
Shooting a cool 5-8 from deep in eight contests for a 62.5 percent clip. Unfortunately, also shooting 41.4 percent on two-pointers.
Worst Offensive Lineup
Irving/Jack/Miles/Thompson/Varejao (33 minutes in 11 games, -18.8 Net Rtg, 40.9 TS%)
40.9 percent for a TS% is ghastly. That’s really, really pathetic. This group only scores 81.9 points/100 possessions, and this is another group that just sucks at ball control. Jack tries to take the reigns to often when he plays with Kyrie, and the resultant spacing throws things off for Kyrie and C.J. Miles. It’s an average defensive group, but this backcourt combo can’t score, and I think its use will become sparse as the season grinds on.
Worst Defensive Lineup/Worst Overall Lineup
Irving/Jack/Alonzo Gee/Thompson/Varejao (25 minutes in 11 games, -42.7 Net Rtg, 47.5 TS%)
This is a cow getting blown up with a rocket launcher. Not only are you pairing Irving and Jack again, but you’ve also replaced C.J. Miles with Alonzo Gee, a far worse player on both ends of the floor! The result is zero players who can guard any wing worth anything on offense, and an offense so clogged that the other team can simply gear up on Kyrie/Varejao pick-and-pop because that’s all you can run out of this set. And we saw this in 11 different games!
Play These Two Together More!
Miles/Waiters (93 minutes in eight of last 10 games, +21.5 Net Rtg, 57.5 TS% over this stretch)
Miles and Dion have played very well together, especially of late, where Miles has been the 3 in the Cavs’ bench sets that are basically “Dion! Go score!” lineups. They also played well when paired in the Jazz game in that long stretch where the Cavs went bananas offensively. I mentioned before that Miles is probably the Cavs’ best three-point defender, and Dion is slowly becoming the Cavs’ best defensive guard. These two are fun to watch together, and I hope we keep seeing Mike Brown go to this as his primary wing pairing when Deng isn’t on the floor.
Stop Playing These Two Together!
Clark/Jack (90 minutes together in seven of last 10 games, -22.6 Net Rtg, 47.7 TS%)
I wish that Brown would quick pretending like Jack and Clark on the floor at the same time is a good idea. You can’t work with two of your five guys being the “I have the ball, therefore, SHOT NOW!!” type, and it’s shown when the Cavs go to their bench that these two don’t work well together, especially when Waiters isn’t on the floor to take command of the offense away from Jack. The result is a lot of missed long-range shots, and some bad defense being played as well, especially because Jack’s backcourt mate is usually Irving or Delly.
So, in conclusion: The Cavs have some pretty solid lineups available, and are playing them together more often, particularly the Waiters/Miles wing combo and the new starting lineup. Kyrie and Jack should never play together, and there’s plenty of experimenting still left to do this season to find the perfect rotation. We’ll re-examine this after the trade deadline next month, in order to get a more accurate picture of how Deng fits in with all of this. Let’s hope the lineups we’ve seen a lot of on this road trip continue to play together, because it finally looks like, especially offensively, the Cavs are finding some consistency in who they are playing together