Heading into their Monday night contest with the Orlando Magic, the Cleveland Cavaliers were sitting at a disappointing 5-7 record. Despite having three of the best players in the league—LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving—David Blatt’s group has failed to come together as a complete unit to dominate basketball games.
Sure, there have been signs of greatness—see the Atlanta Hawks game a little over a week ago—but overall the body of work is disappointing. While many have pointed their finger at the struggles of Love and James, there is a bigger culprit to blame.
The Cleveland Cavaliers bench.
Thought to be an extremely improved group with the additions of Mike Miller, Shawn Marion (now in the starting lineup), James Jones, Joe Harris (draft) and Brendan Haywood, the group has disappointed mightily. Not much was expected from Haywood given his last season in the league, and Harris—who has been a pleasant surprise—but the rest of that group was supposed to be key in a deep playoff run.
Now, this isn’t ruling out some of these players coming around and playing at the level expected from them before the season—but it isn’t likely. Miller is at the center of the disappointment, averaging just 1.2 points on 11.7 minutes per night. James’ former Miami running mate, Jones, has played in just two games, logging nine total minutes. Between his time spent as a starter and coming off the bench, Marion is averaging just 5.3 points in 23.8 minutes per game.
To put it lightly, the group is bad.
For those who are expecting them all to turn it around, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it probably isn’t happening thanks to their age. Players like these are supposed to be contributors when you need them down the stretch, and the Cavaliers are not getting much of anything out of them. This puts the Cavaliers second unit at a major disadvantage, forcing James, Love and Irving to play heavier minutes (all averaging over 36 per game) early in the season.
If you want a recipe for disaster, the Cavaliers are currently cooking with it with their three stars playing heavy minutes.
So what can be done to combat this before the train derails? Figuring out what you have in the bench players who are contributing, first and foremost.
Dion Waiters is giving you 9.1 points in 24.1 minutes per night, while Tristan Thompson is providing 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per night. Neither player has adjusted to their new role as of yet, and neither have shown signs of coming around. Waiters looks particularly out of whack, as his propensity to shoot when he gets the ball isn’t going over well with James and company.
After those two, Harris has been a nice surprise as a second-round pick out of Virginia. He has shown the ability to knock down three-pointers and a willingness to defend thus far in the young season. But he has not shown enough to come off a contender’s bench early in the game—which is exactly what he has been doing.
The rest of the bench is rounded off by point guard Will Cherry (depth with Matthew Dellavedova out), and Lou Amundson. If you just said who and what, you get the point—the Cavaliers are in a world of trouble right now.
So is there someone out there who could help?
Well yes, if the Cavaliers are willing to give up assets. There have been a number of rumors swirling in regard to the availability of Minnesota swingman Corey Brewer—a player some think could be had for a future first-round pick. The Cavaliers just dealt a future first in a three-way deal with Minnesota to land Love, but still have other assets available if they would like to make a move.
Able to absorb his deal thanks to a traded player exception, Brewer in the Cavaliers’ rotation would make a lot of sense. At 6’9” and 190 pounds, Brewer would be the perfect defensive-minded shooting guard for this lineup. During his career, he is averaging 10 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
If we are going to the Minnesota well for Brewer, another player the Cavaliers should attempt to wrestle away from Minnesota is big man Gorgui Dieng. A 6’11” and 235-pound center, Dieng is a rim protector in every sense of the word. He is currently averaging 8.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in 23.6 minutes per night, and is forcing opposing teams out of the paint every time he steps on the floor.
If the Cavaliers could find a way to add them, the additions of Brewer and Dieng would instantly upgrade the Cavaliers lineup in a major way. From the much needed defensive help to the scoring increase, both are needs in this offense. Not to mention a glue-guy like Brewer would allow guys like Marion, Miller and Waiters to find their way in the offense.
It is not time to hit the panic button on the season yet, but this Cavaliers bench is a major problem. And the longer general manager David Griffin does not address the problem, the worse things could get for the Cavaliers.