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Discussing the 8-9 essential players to Cavs' playoff rotation

lebron james tyronn lue

After the midseason additions of Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, and Larry Sanders, the Cleveland Cavaliers are now one of the NBA’s deepest teams. However, with most NBA teams only playing eight or nine men in the playoffs, what could the Cavs’ postseason rotations look like?

Kay Felder is just a rookie, and doesn’t really provide the Cavs with any impact they can’t already get from other players, so his playing time will be slim to none.

James Jones is only on the team for locker room morale, so he won’t get much time either.

DeAndre Liggins is a great wing defender but with JR Smith and Iman Shumpert doing that as well, there isn’t much room for Liggins as he isn’t very good on offense.

So that leaves us with 13 players. Larry Sanders is the wild card here as he could be immensely useful in the playoffs, but is still getting back into shape. He’ll eat into Tristan Thompson’s minutes if he’s able to make an impact.

At point guard, Kyrie Irving is an extremely important piece, as evidenced by his Finals performance last year. He should get at least 35 mpg because his offensive skills and passing abilities are indispensable.

Deron Williams is the backup. Last year, Matthew Dellavedova saw his role in the Finals dramatically decrease to the point where he was only on the court to provide some defense while Irving would rest for a few minutes at a time. Deron Williams is not a good defender, but he provides the 2nd unit with more offensive punch than Delly, and Williams is able to play with LeBron James as well, running the floor. Williams should see a healthy dose of playing time early in the playoffs to spell Irving, but should see his minutes decrease as the Finals approach, and if the Cavaliers do make it, Williams would get minutes similar to Dellavedova last year.

At shooting guard, JR Smith had a fantastic playoffs run last season, but has been injured for much of 2017. He should be back into a rhythm in the playoffs, and provides the Cavs with lethal shooting along with excellent defense.

Despite Smith’s return to the starting lineup, Iman Shumpert has also secured a pivotal place in the rotation. Providing good defense with solid shooting, he should play crucial minutes on the defensive end and speed up the pace when second units struggle. In addition to his career high field goal percentage, Shumpert has developed veteran habits like hitting contested shots and finding baskets at the rim.

Kyle Korver will rotate between his most comfortable shooting guard position as well as some small forward to squeeze in another shooter for space. That said, Korver is one of the worst defenders in the NBA, so the undersized lineups may not outweigh that tradeoff as defenses always attack the 35 year old. While minutes usually isn’t a concern for Korver, injuries have kept from about two weeks worth of basketball this season. In addition, it’s difficult to see him doing well without LeBron James on the court, so when rotations become tighter expect Korver’s playing time to be intertwined with James’ minutes.

As for the best player in the NBA, LeBron James will see at least 35 minutes per game. Who backs him up is very important. Last year it was Richard Jefferson, who played extremely well in the playoffs while providing great veteran leadership. Unfortunately, Jefferson has taken a step back this season, and may not be playable for extended periods of time in the playoffs.

This is where Derrick Williams comes in. He could end up being the x-factor for the Cavs. He is young, quick, and very athletic. His speciality is slashing to the basket and scoring inside, but he’s been shooting fairly well since signing with the team. When he puts effort into defense he’s very good, as he can guard most forwards, pick up guards admirably. With the Warriors undersized in the paint, Williams could be very important in that Finals matchup. Expect to see him supplement Jefferson’s place as James’ second unit replacement.

Kevin Love seems to be finding his place with the team, and as long as he doesn’t get hurt(knock on wood)in the playoffs again, he should continue to be one of the offensive focal points of the team. He’s arguably Cleveland most significant performer from deep (Obviously Korver is the best shooter, but there’s a reason why LeBron assists Kevin Love threes more than anyone else on the team). His rebounding prowess combined with his ability to stretch the floor makes him a unicorn that will help Cleveland avoid surrendering offensive rebounds and depending too much on Irving and James. Love should garner at minimum 30 minutes per game. The only reason why we hesitate to say 35 is because he has historically missed entire fourth quarters due to his pick and roll defense.

Channing Frye is practically a Kevin Love Lite, as he provides great three-point shooting off the bench as a big man who can grab rebounds, although Frye’s defense is unfavorable. He should still play a role in the postseason, but not as large due to Derrick Williams’ presence

Aside from Larry Sanders, Tristan Thompson is the only player on the team really capable of playing the true center position. Thompson is a great defender, solid on offense, and one of the league’s best rebounders. He matches up extremely well with the Warriors, as well as the Celtics and others, and keeps those teams from getting second chance points. Thompson should see at least 35 minutes per game, and probably more, unless Larry Sanders is able to contribute significantly.

While not being able to play Sanders wouldn’t be devastating to the Cavs, Sanders would be a shot in the arm for the team. He would add another elite rebounder, while being 2 inches taller than Thompson. He’s an athletic marvel, and an elite defender, known for his great blocks. He’s a matchup nightmare for teams like Golden State, as their primary big men, Zaza Pachulia and Draymond Green, are bad fits to take on Sanders. He’s too quick for a traditional center, and too large for an undersized PF to guard. If Sanders is healthy and in shape, he would be a fantastic addition to the rotation.

When the Cavaliers played the San Antonio Spurs on March 27th, we got a glimpse of some possible playoff situations, despite the fact that the Cavs were without two key players and got blown out.

All starters logged over 26 minutes, with LeBron James leading the team at 30. Because of the blowout nature of the game, these numbers are considerably lower than if it was a real playoff scenario. The playing time for key bench members is also flawed, due to the fact that Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert, two of the Cavs’ most important role players, were injured and did not play. We can still get a general idea of what the bench will look like however.

Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson both played 22, which makes sense given the fact that they were both significant contributors during last year’s Finals run. Frye’s role is dependent on Kevin Love’s impact, as Frye brings many of the same offensive skills and defensive liabilities. Jefferson could see his time diminish as Derrick Williams logged 18 minutes, and provides better defense and more athleticism along with a better driving presence.

James Jones played 14 minutes solely because of the game’s uncompetitive nature and won’t see time near that in the playoffs.

Deron Williams played just 14 minutes but should see his time increase in the playoffs, as Irving will need to be spelled and Williams is a better floor general.

DeAndre Liggins saw eight minutes and Kay Felder played for seven. Again, this is because of how the game went. Liggins provides excellent defense but minimal offensive impact, and as Shumpert and JR Smith are already great defenders with significantly better offensive games(especially Smith), there really isn’t a place for Liggins. Because of Felder’s inexperience and significant size disadvantage(which will make him unplayable against taller guards such as Shaun Livingston), he will see minimal playoff time, if any.

Since that blowout, Cleveland waited out the rest of its sickening start to March, which was the first month a LeBron James team lost at least 10 times since his first month of NBA basketball in his rookie year. Since losing nine of 15, Cleveland has won three straight against Eastern Conference playoff teams. Tyronn Lue has some big decisions to make on who will be part of the playoff rotations. Some good players will get left out, but this is a good problem for the Cavaliers to have.

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