After a sizzling-hot start to the 2022-23 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have gone cold with the season.
The primary reason could simply be chalked up to Donovan Mitchell’s availability. The Cavs went 2-4 in 2023 in games that saw Darius Garland leading the backcourt by himself.
This isn’t to say that the shifty point guard has struggled, as he’s averaged 26.7 points, 10.5 assists, and 2.2 steals per game in those six contests. He’s even improved as a volume scorer since last season, rarely getting himself out-of-sorts as he tries to create space.
Nonetheless, the Cavs should be healthy after the All-Star break. Fully healthy, with Ricky Rubio and Dean Wade — who missed 77 games this season combined — getting into rhythm in their roles.
Looking at their rotation moving forward, there are a couple of fatal flaws that Cleveland must fix after the All-Star to win the 2023 NBA championship.
A 10-man rotation of Mitchell, Garland, Rubio, Wade, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert, Cedi Osman, and Lamar Stevens is solid. However, there’s not enough reliability from a scoring perspective. Even if Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff were to have an 11-man rotation that featured veteran wing Danny Green, the lack of shot-creators and reliable scorers outside of their backcourt is concerning.
Because the Cavs didn’t make a move to significantly enhance their offense ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline, they’ll need to sign veteran wing Will Barton after he reaches a buyout with the Washington Wizards.
Cavs Must Add Will Barton After All-Star To Win 2023 NBA Title
Struggling to get into a rhythm as the sixth option, at best, Barton has fallen out of favor in Washington. Frankly, his underutilization as a two-way playmaker has been dramatic.
However, with the Cavs, Barton can be anything they need. Whether that’s a starter or a Sixth Man. If they need a backup point guard or defensive-minded wing.
The utility of the 32-year-old is what allowed him to be an integral part of the Denver Nuggets’ rotation for years. Playing every position along the perimeter, Barton averaged 14.7 points and 3.9 assists per game for the Nuggets just last season. He also started all 71 games in the regular season before shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range in the postseason.
If he was on the Cavs this season, that scoring average would be tied for fourth with the ultra-efficient Allen. The assist average would be tied for third with LeVert, a player beloved by the Cavs coaching staff. His 3-point percentage would rank second among rotation players, behind only an elite shooter in Garland.
It’s not an exact science. Still, it’s not difficult to see how Barton could be an integral piece of the Cavs rotation.
How Will Barton fits into the Cavs rotation
Of course, adding Barton and giving him such a large role would come at the expense of a current player. Fortunately, the Cavs buyout agreement with fan favorite Kevin Love opens a roster spot. However, Love had long since fallen out of Cleveland’s rotation by the time he was bought out of his contract.
On a practical level, adding Barton would simply mean that some combination of Mitchell, Garland, Okoro, Osman, Rubio, and LeVert will play fewer minutes than they have this season. It doesn’t have to be set in stone though, as any given night one player may be needed more than another. In that sense, adding Barton will stabilize their perimeter attack.
As only Mitchell, Garland, and LeVert have proven to be as capable of scorers as Barton, there’s a genuine chance that he ends up being one of their go-to scorers.
Especially if he accepts a role as a leading playmaker for Cleveland’s inconsistent second unit. A role that he could man alongside LeVert.
As an aside, though the age of small-ball and Death Lineups seems to be at its end, it’s always interesting to imagine what the most dominant offensive group a team can put together is. Especially given the chance that one could always wind up facing the Golden State Warriors in the Finals. A five-man group of Garland, Mitchell, Barton, LeVert and Mobley could be a nice trick for the Cavs to have up their sleeve.