On Wednesday afternoon, news broke that the Cleveland Cavaliers and free agent guard David Nwaba had agreed to terms on a deal. The exact details are unknown at this point, but simply signing Nwaba is a great move by the Cavaliers. With a logjam at the shooting guard position, how will Nwaba make an impact on the team?
Nwaba is entering his third year in the NBA, although he played in the G-League for much of his rookie season. At 6-foot-4, 210-pounds, he has average size for a shooting guard, but does have a wingspan that is 7-foot. His length combined with his athleticism gives him the physical tools to be a very good defender, but as Cavalier fans know, physical talent isn’t everything.
Last season, Jae Crowder was supposed to be the answer to Cleveland’s defensive struggles on the wing, but he never gave enough effort to be consistently good. Rodney Hood is a very good scorer, but his defense leaves much to be desired, due to a lack of refined technique and, at times, effort.
Nwaba is very different, because he is a gritty, hard-nosed player who always plays hard. Watching the Cavs play last year was difficult at times because they played so lethargically. There was no fire, no passion, no energy. It seemed as if the team had gotten complacent because of how they had breezed through the Eastern Conference the past three seasons.
That complacency almost cost them a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, as both the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics pushed Cleveland to seven games in their respective series. The Cavaliers’ two biggest offseason additions thus far should change that attitude.
Drafted eighth overall, Collin Sexton brings an attitude and a desire to win that the Cavs haven’t seen in a while. His intensity was on full display in a Summer League matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, when he demonstrated a sumo-style defensive stance that forced a miss by Josh Hart. With Sexton and Nwaba on the floor at the same time, Cleveland will have a very good defensive backcourt.
Nwaba’s signing may signal that a roster move is forthcoming. Currently, the Cavaliers have eight guards on the roster; Sexton, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, J.R. Smith, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver, Nwaba, and Cedi Osman. There are only 96 guard minutes available per night, so playing time will be extremely competitive. Hood, Korver, and Osman can play small forward if needed, but their skillsets fit best at shooting guard.
The most likely players of this group to be traded are Hill and Smith, due to their contracts having so little guarantee money for the 2019-2020 season that they are effectively expiring deals. Not to mention that both players can still help a contending team. The Houston Rockets have expressed interest in Smith specifically.
Regardless of whether or not the guard logjam is fixed, Nwaba will see significant playing time. His defense is simply too good to keep on the bench, and as the Cavs don’t have any better options to guard wing players, Nwaba could see himself playing heavy minutes at the 3.
Offensively, Nwaba is a work in progress. He can get to the rim well and is a good finisher, usually with his electric dunks. However, he shot only 66% from the free-throw line last season, and just 35% from beyond the arc on 0.7 attempts per game. Nwaba will need to improve his outside shooting if he wishes to be a large part of Cleveland’s offensive gameplan.
It’s unclear at this point whether or not Nwaba will start. Among Smith, Hood, Korver, Osman, and Nwaba, there are two starting positions. Chances are that Nwaba actually has a better shot of starting at small forward, as Hood and Osman seem to be the frontrunners at the 2.
However, if Hood does not return and/or Smith is traded, that could very well change. Nwaba should still see at least 20 minutes per game, no matter what position he is playing.
The terms of the deal aren’t know yet, but ideally the Cavs would sign Nwaba to a three-year contract, as he is already a good player, but can still develop major parts of his game at just 25 years old. He shouldn’t demand too much money, with something around $5 million per season fair for both sides.
David Nwaba may not be the offensive powerhouse that the Cavs could use, but he is a significant upgrade on the defensive side. His energy and intensity should rub off on his teammates, and he should form a great defensive duo along with Collin Sexton. If the Cavaliers are serious about making a run for the eighth seed this season, Nwaba will play a large part.