There’s no easy way to say it: the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t a great defensive team. Ranking in the bottom portion of team defenses, the Cavaliers need to make some changes if they want to make their way back to a fourth straight finals appearance this season. While many notice the Cavs have ranked high in pick and roll defense, once the ball is passed away from it, the team tends to struggle with those rotations. Most notably, they have given up a lot of three pointers to other teams this season. A lot of that can be assumed by players having to commit to an opponent on the interior. Doing so has usually left a perimeter shooter potentially unguarded and open more due to the Cavs tendency to switch a lot.
Having a defensive anchor in the interior could help this problem, allowing other defenders to worry more about the perimeter that seems to haunt the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, there aren’t many in the league that are likely available for trade right now. One name comes to mind from another competitor that may be looking to add some more suitable pieces: Bismack Biyombo of the Orlando Magic
Would this fix the Cavs defensive problems?
Potentially, but most likely not entirely. Biyombo has garnered a high reputation as a defensive player in the league, but that doesn’t make him the end all solution to any team’s problems.
Bismack Biyombo is an anchor of sorts with potential for his interior presence. A lot can be said about his defense, but Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel believes that “Biyombo has a well-deserved reputation as a defensive force, especially during his successful 2015-16 regular season and postseason with the Toronto Raptors. He is agile — agile enough to switch onto many smaller opponents.
He’s a good shot-blocker and rim protector.” This basically sums up most basketball minds’ opinions on the center for the Magic.
That being said, that defensive reputation translates to being an above average defender that currently has had a lackluster start to the 2017-2018 season. So far, Biyombo is only registering 4.5 total rebounds per game and 1.1 blocks per game. Despite the slow start, he’s also had historical seasons (as recently as 2015-2016) landing him in the top 10 blocks and block percentage categories three years in his career. Along with all the other stats, he was ranked in the top five season in defensive rebounding and defensive rebounding percentage during the 2015-2016 season, per Basketball Reference.
Along with his strengths, come his weaknesses. He’s far from an average offensive NBA player, providing negative plus minus scores due to his historically negative box plus minus his entire career, per Basketball Reference. Put simply, while his defense is his strongest trait, it’s brought done a good amount by his offensive deficiencies.
These are easily concerns that provide huge question marks as to if Biyombo could be the missing piece to the Cavs defense. Sometimes there is an addition by subtraction though, and perhaps a loss in some pick and roll defense is more than made up for with a potentially dominating interior defensive presence. One has to wonder if another one dimensional role player for the Cleveland Cavaliers is what’s needed though, as the team has no shortage. His strength does cover up for a massive hole in the team though, so maybe this would be the rare case where a one dimensional player could help the team. The only problem is what player(s) needs to be dealt to match up with Biyombo’s salary.
The Cavs Could Trade Iman Shumpert And Channing Frye For An Accomplished Shot Blocker Today
This proposed situation likely doesn’t surprise some fans. While the two players have contributed great moments with the Cavs, both have their knocks as well. Shumpert is a player that while regarded as the best defender on the team by some, is one dimensional and vastly overpaid for his value. There can be a lot said about Shumpert, but he is very much at times boxed into the defensive specialist role with a knack for some steals here and there. Having the ability to fill in at point guard has added some value to his abilities as a player, but there will always be a ceiling of potential that Iman hasn’t reached for one reason or another. Shumpert is also on a contract that can end after this season, which would help free up some salary cap space for the Magic while providing a defensive rotational piece for the team.
As for the other party being traded, Frye was a forgotten thought at the start of he season, but is currently seeing a decent amount of minutes for someone who was supposed to be towards the end of the rotation. While being in a similar role as last season, this could very likely be due to injuries to teammates. Although he’s proven himself once again this season as one of the team’s bigs, he still doesn’t provide the consistent rim protection and shot blocking that could help improve Cleveland’s defensive presence. He could also be considered “Kevin Love insurance” as being able to fill into a similar role if an injury were to occur. That isn’t an even replacement though as seen while Kevin was out an extended period, and the Cavs bench has more than enough scoring and big men to make up if a similar case were to arise again this year. While losing one of the chemistry guys in the locker room would be a hard blow to the locker room atmosphere, adding an on court player of need that helps the team win would inherently change things, since winning changes everything for teams. The Magic could also potentially use the three point threat in their team, as scoring is an area of improvement that the Magic would gladly welcome (especially on an expiring contract that will free up space after this season).
Due to the Orlando Magic competing and turning the page this season, this proposed trade could potentially hit a roadblock depending on the Magic’s valuation of Bismack Biyombo. At worst if a trade went through, the Cavaliers would have to throw in a weaker draft pick if Orlando would be unwilling to move Biyombo for Shumpert and Frye. This would likelu not even be the Cavs own first round pick for the next draft, especially considering that trading their pick prevents the Brooklyn pick to be used to potentially trade for an all star level player this season. This would be in the case that Orlando is hesitant to move their backup center and shot blocker, although having some cap flexibility going into an off season next year would help out this team that looks to be on the rise over the next couple of years. The trade helps both teams now, and the Magic in the future due to cap space relief.
On one side of things, the trade wouldn’t hurt the Cavs defensive problems aside from losing a guard that has shown plus on-ball defense. With the motion used in the NBA now, it can be argued that on ball defense may not be quite as important as anchoring the interior defense to protect the paint. That still doesn’t ignore the fact that the trade is a net downgrade offensively while also losing a role player on the team. While no one wants to sacrifice one aspect of defense for another, it may be a necessary trade off to better fix the existing team defensive dynamic. The trade also sacrifices Frye’s size, though Biyombo’s shot blocking and rim protection more than make up for the 2 inch height difference (along with Bismack’s lengthy wingspan).
At the same time, while perceived as a good defender with Toronto, he struggled last season defending and has continued to do so this year. Add that to a negative offensive game as demonstrated by Biyombo’s offensive win shares per Basketball Reference, and the question of whether his skill set and abilities are decreasing becomes a legitimate point. Additionally, it could be a system mismatch with Biyombo and Orlando, but if not then the same concern becomes the Cavaliers problem. These are easily concerns that provide huge question marks as to if Biyombo could be the missing piece to the Cavs defense. It’s an easy trade for Orlando who could get out of a deal that they might not want to be in considering their current situation as a surging team in the Eastern Conference. For the Cavaliers though, it’s a large amount of salary space for a shot blocking big over the next two years (assuming his option isn’t on the books in the last year). Regardless, it would add a true defensive presence to the Cavaliers around the rim.
Ultimately in regards to whether the team should pursue this trade, the Cavaliers may be better off looking elsewhere for the shot blocking center they need. While Biyombo’s size would still keep the option of playing small ball alive for the Cavs with a new option, it may be a better option to hold off. The team can see if Jeff Green can fill into that undersized center role as he’s shown flashes of this seasons. They can also see if Tristan Thompson can come back and have a resurgence on grit and defense. Keeping Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye may also best option for the team, as both players have been contributing good minutes while the team has dealt with injuries this season. There are other options out there for the Cavs as well, with rumors of interest in Greg Monroe being in the mix as a potential trade target along with Jahlil Okafor. Regardless of what happens, Biyombo getting traded would be a massive upgrade to the Cavaliers in the shot blocking and defensive aspect of the game; an area in need of improvement badly for Cleveland.