With his debut in the books, the Caris LeVert era has officially begun for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a modest debut for the 27-year-old, with 11 points and two assists off the bench in a win over the San Antonio Spurs. That’s not to say that his presence wasn’t felt, because that most certainly was not the case.
The Cavs have desperately struggled to get ball handlers on the court this season. With their backcourt decimated by injuries all season long, a heightened responsibility has been placed on guys such as Cedi Osman, Evan Mobley, Brandon Goodwin, and Rajon Rondo. None of those guys are suited to lead an NBA offense in 2022. Bringing in LeVert is a stellar fix, but it doesn’t come without its own problems.
How does he fit with this team? What is the right way to use Caris LeVert with these Cavs?
At 6-foot-6, 205 pounds with the versatile skill set he possesses, the Ohio native can play 1-3. The coaching staff doesn’t seem to be sure yet in which way they’ll put his skills to use, and per Camryn Justice of News 5 Cleveland, LeVert is fine with whatever the decision is. There’s a few different ways JB Bickerstaff could choose to utilize his newest addition as he attempts to mesh him in with the rest of Cleveland’s successful roster this season.
Options for Caris LeVert
The case for sixth man Caris LeVert
In his first game donning the Wine & Gold, this is how Caris was deployed. He led all reserves with 28 minutes. Bickerstaff has been very meticulous about retaining the chemistry both the starters and second unit have shown this season for Cleveland. For example, he has largely kept Kevin Love, Cedi Osman, and Ricky Rubio (when he was healthy before this trade) on the bench this season, even when injuries pop up. Despite the trio’s very successful seasons, he has opted to give fringe rotation guys like Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens the call-up.
The starting lineup, when healthy, has been heavily dominated by Darius Garland and has yielded very successful results. Garland has a newfound sense of confidence in his third year that Cavs fans have been yearning to see him embrace ever since the moment he was drafted. Caris LeVert injects some much-needed on-ball skills for the Cavaliers, but there’s a reasonable worry level that the reps he demands could be problematic to the rhythm the starters have going already.
Darius Garland scored or assisted on 17 straight Field Goals for the Cavaliers tonight.
A stretch of just under 17 minutes from midway through the 2nd through the end of the 3rd.
They started the run with 35 points. Ended it with 79. pic.twitter.com/Eg7cJstN7K
— Brayden Todd (@BraydenBallin) January 16, 2022
As a reserve, LeVert could fill in the gaps of any non-Garland minutes for the Cavs, instead of Rondo/Goodwin being the lone playmaker. Just because someone doesn’t start, doesn’t mean they can’t finish games. Bickerstaff could very easily swap out a starter with LeVert when it’s crunch time.
The case for starting SG Caris LeVert
If there is one fatal flaw among the starters for the Cavs, it would be the lack of shooting. Garland is a good shooter and whoever starts at small forward out of Lauri Markkanen or Dean Wade carries the title of floor spacer, spending the vast majority of the time floating on the perimeter, gunning from deep. But the trio of Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen provide little-to-no value spacing the floor, despite Okoro spending most of his time parked in the corner.
Caris LeVert is no flamethrower from deep, but he would certainly be a more capable spot-up shooter than the defensive-minded Okoro. Teams have been starting to wear down the uber-effective Darius Garland-Jarrett Allen pick-and-roll by crowding the paint and daring the Cavs to shoot. The former Pacer could also help alleviate some of the ball-handling, shotmaking, and facilitating duties off of Garland, as well.
The DG-JA duo hasn’t been as effective recently as it has been all season.
Teams are crowding the paint and daring the Cavs to shoot. Specifically Okoro.
These are all of his halfcourt shots from last night. Watch where Okoro’s man is. They’re completely ignoring him. pic.twitter.com/y1ONS3EwbS
— Brayden Todd (@BraydenBallin) January 31, 2022
Cleveland is used to staggering minutes between it’s starting backcourt members. That was always a part of what made Sexland work (Garland + Sexton). It shouldn’t be too hard to situate it so that you can have 48 minutes with at least one of DG and LeVert on the floor, even with both of them starting and finishing games.
The case for starting SF Caris LeVert
Removing Okoro in favor of LeVert with the starters makes sense offensively, but the unit would likely suffer a bit defensively. Ever since being drafted No. 5 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Auburn product has consistently been guarding the other team’s best guard/wing for the Cavaliers. Moving him to the second unit would be an adjustment. Darius Garland, although improved this season, and Caris LeVert have never been known as great defenders.
If you want to get the Cavs’ newest addition in with the starters, perhaps that could mean substituting him in for a frontcourt position, rather than a backcourt one. He has the size to play and defend the 3, so it would be an interesting proposition. Cleveland would lose more shooting in the first unit, but having another guy who can make stuff happen off the dribble, as stated above, is a very useful attribute to have at your disposal.
It’s pretty spectacular that the Cavs finally have a guy not named Darius Garland who can collapse the defense and make the kickout feed to the open shooter pic.twitter.com/cynEfvuBPK
— Brayden Todd (@BraydenBallin) February 10, 2022
Defenses have begun trying to trap Garland when he has the ball in his hands, so him being able to dump the ball off to LeVert, rather than a Wade, would be particularly helpful. LeVert’s ability to play small forward is especially intriguing in the scenario that Collin Sexton makes his return to the team, and the team could have the potential to play three dynamic ball handlers, scorers, and playmakers all at the same time.
Whatever the case is, the Cleveland Cavaliers brought in a strong offensive weapon into the fold in Caris LeVert, one that Koby Altman and Co. hope can help push this team over the edge into title contention. Now JB Bickerstaff has the rest of the season to experiment with the roster and craft his ideal rotation as the Cavs appear set to make a playoff appearance sans LeBron James for the first time in 24 years.