The early-July NBA free agency frenzy is now over, but solid players still remain on the market. Channing Frye has been Cleveland’s only free agent signing this far, but the Cavaliers have three roster spots open. Those should be filled with good young players with the ability to contribute right now and the potential to develop in the future. Former Lakers and Bulls guard David Nwaba fits this description, and his rumored interest from the Cavs is well deserved.
Nwaba has had an unusual journey to the NBA. Unlike the vast majority of players, he graduated from college before entering the league. After finishing his sociology degree at California Polytechnic State University, Nwaba tried out for the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA G-League and was awarded a roster spot.
In 20 games to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016-2017, Nwaba averaged six points and 3.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game. Despite his solid rookie performance, the Lakers waived him in July 2017.
Two days later, David Nwaba signed with the Chicago Bulls, with whom he played in 70 games, starting 21. He averaged 7.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 23.5 minutes per game. During the offseason Chicago extended to Nwaba the qualifying offer, but have since rescinded it, making him an unrestricted free agent. The Bulls could still bring him back, but the Cavaliers should make sure they don’t have the chance to.
At this stage in free agency, expensive, long-term contracts are incredibly rare. At 25, Nwaba is old for a third-year player, which may limit the amount of money that a team is willing to offer to him. Cleveland could give him a consistent role similar to what he played last year, something around 20 minutes per game.
A two year contract worth $12 million seems like a fair deal for boht parties, and it would give the Cavs flexibility to either move on from Nwaba if he doesn’t play well, or extend him if he does.
Nwaba is not a fantastic offensive player, as evidenced by his 35% clip from beyond the arc on 0.7 shot attempts per game. Shooting is not his strong suit, but he is a solid slasher. Defense is where Nwaba provides his value.
At 6’4″ 210lbs with a seven foot wingspan, Nwaba has the physical stature to be a terrific defender. That can be said for many players, but Nwaba also gives consistent effort on defense, and is a master at affecting opposing players’ shots. Nwaba would instantly become Cleveland’s best perimeter defender.
Defense on the wing is something the Cavs have struggled with ever since Iman Shumpert’s body began to break down in 2016. By all indications, the Cavaliers want to make the playoffs this year, and great defense is a major part of competing.
With J.R. Smith turning 33 this season, Kyle Korver celebrating his 38th birthday, and Cleveland almost certainly not a challenger for the Eastern Conference title, the Cavs should be looking to give younger players more minutes on the wing. The addition of Collin Sexton may force head coach Ty Lue to give Jordan Clarkson more playing time at shooting guard, and if Rodney Hood is retained, he and Cedi Osman should be the primary two-guards.
That is, unless Nwaba is signed. Neither Hood nor Osman is an elite defender, and they could each receive significant minutes at small forward, as the departures of LeBron James and Jeff Green have left Cleveland without a default starting three. Unless another move or two is made, the rotations at the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward positions should look like this:
PG – Collin Sexton, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson
SG – Cedi Osman, David Nwaba, J.R. Smith
SF – Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver
Osman, Clarkson, and Hood should be able to easily move between multiple positions during a game. Sexton, Hill, Nwaba, Smith, and Korver are slightly less versatile. This is not to say that Nwaba cannot fill in at other positions; in fact, he would likely defend the opposing team’s best scorer, as long as they are a guard or small forward. Even at 6’4″, he would be a better option to guard Jayson Tatum or Kawhi Leonard than Hood or Osman.
Nwaba wouldn’t help Cleveland’s spacing much, but he wouldn’t be relied upon to provide an offensive boost. That burden will fall to Sexton, Hood, and Ante Zizic primarily. However, since of those three, only Sexton is an above average defender, the Cavaliers would need to improve their team defense, and adding Nwaba is the best way to do that.
David Nwaba is a young player who is already an excellent defender, and he won’t cost much to sign. That is not a common occurrence in today’s NBA, and the Cavs should jump at the chance to sign Andre Roberson-lite. Nwaba would make a positive impact on Cleveland’s push for a playoff spot this season.