The Cavalier’s bench has had an up-and-down year, but will be asked to provide much more if Cleveland is to make a championship run. The bench is not entirely short on talent or experience, so the potential is there for them to make a huge impact to finish the regular season and in the playoffs.
Here are five ways that the Cavs can get the most out of the players coming off the bench.
5. Do Not Play Tristan Thompson And Timofey Mozgov Together
Tristan Thompson has become one of the best bench rebounders in the NBA, and one of the best offensive rebounders in the entire NBA. He doesn’t bring much other than that on the offensive end, though, and when he shares the court with starter Timofey Mozgov, the court shrinks. The hot streak the Cavs have been on has been largely the result of the perimeter players playing to their strengths, and when Thompson and Mozgov play at the same time, there is less room on the floor for LeBron, Kyrie, and J.R. Smith to operate. This isn’t an easy thing to do with a 3 man rotation at the power forward/ center position, so Coach Blatt will need to be creative with LeBron and James Jones (at the 4-spot) to make the inside game work better.
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4. Play James Jones Earlier in Games
James Jones has played inconsistent minutes for most of the season, but lately it seems like he has been on the court at some very important times of close games. He is absolutely at his best when he is spacing the floor and shooting 3s, so getting him into the games early will help him find his rhythm to knock down shots later in games. His presence on the court largely depends on matchups, but if he sits until the second half before coming in, his likelihood to produce on offense will go way down.
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3. Play Delly as a Stretch Shooter, Not as a Pick-And-Roll Guy
For all of the criticism that Matthew Dellavedova has taken this year, he has kept his head down, played hard, and not complained once. The Cavs need to understand what he is and what he isn’t. He is not a playmaker, and not particularly effective in the pick-and-roll. He is, however, a threat to make 3s. His stats don’t show that he is a great shooter because of some mid-season struggles, but he is someone who opposing defenses should be reluctant to help off of. If his minutes are used to give Kyrie Irving a breather, then he should be in the game with LeBron, who can do most of the ball handling while he spots up or plays off the ball.
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2. Go Versatile AND Big as the Same Time
Consider this lineup: LeBron James, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson.
There are four three-point shooters on the court. There are four great athletes on the court. The perimeter players can switch every screen. The post players can switch every screen. This is a lineup that could be devastating for opponents to defend and to score on for short spurts throughout the game. LeBron can assume the point guard responsibilities, and everyone else can play their most natural positions. There isn’t a team in the East that can exploit this matchup if the Cavs play to their strengths, because even if a player is beat off the dribble, the help should be athletic enough to recover.
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1. Solidify the 4th Quarter
Cleveland’s fourth quarter lineups have been a mystery so far this year. Coach Blatt has built his reputation overseas by winning championships with inferior talent, and sometimes it seems like sitting his most talented players makes him somewhat more comfortable. Our bench players have played critical roles late in games, and for the most part it has worked very well. A lot of this depends on matchups, but rather than us adapting to another team’s strengths, it would be nice to see them have to adapt to ours. Timofey Mozgov and Kevin Love have each sat out entire fourth quarters recently, and even Kyrie Irving sat out the fourth quarter against Milwaukee (although that was due to the incredible run the Cavs put together with Delly on the floor). The results are very difficult to complain with because we have been winning consistently, but the playoffs will require something different, and our best players will need to be on the court.