The newest addition to the Cleveland Cavaliers is shooting guard Kobi Simmons. This would normally be a relatively meaningless signing, as Simmons was an undrafted two-way guard last season. But that’s just the thing; he is yet another guard, bringing Cleveland’s total to nine, 60% of the entire roster.
Usually, an NBA team will carry seven guards but not this year’s Cavaliers team. With so many mouths to feed, how will the rotation possibly create enough playing time for everyone?
Spoiler alert: it can’t. There will be multiple players who ride the bench, even though they are certainly capable of contributing to a team. Even before adding Simmons, David Nwaba, and Sam Dekker, the Cavs were going to have multiple players see time at two positions. It’s a positive that Cleveland has these versatile players, but even still, some will be left on the outside looking in.
To determine who these unfortunate team members are, we first need to figure out what the starting lineup is going to look like. As it stands, there is only one lock for the first unit; All-Star power forward Kevin Love. Whether he plays the 4 or the 5 will affect which of Cleveland’s other big men see the court more than others, but we are focused on the back-court right now.
The Cavaliers have two true point guards in George Hill and Collin Sexton, as well as Jordan Clarkson, who is expected to take on more of a combo-guard role this season. Hill has also played shooting guard in his career. The likely starter is Hill, although Sexton will see plenty of minutes early on, and could overtake Hill before the All-Star Break.
At the 2-guard, in addition to Clarkson and Hill, Cleveland has Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver, Cedi Osman, J.R. Smith, Nwaba, and Simmons. Hood and Osman are two of the Cavs’ five most talented players, so they should both be starting, one at SG and the other at SF. Osman has about 10lbs on Hood, so he would probably be a better fit on the wing.
So our starting lineup looks like this:
PG – George Hill
SG – Rodney Hood
SF – Cedi Osman
PF – Kevin Love
We still have six players to fight over the remaining minutes. Sexton will be the backup point, at least to start. Jordan Clarkson will be the third-stringer, and he won’t be the primary backup behind Hood either.
Korver is aging, but he remains one of the NBA’s elite shooter. He will continue to be a situational nightmare for opposing teams, but his time in Cleveland could be drawing to a close. In addition to Korver, other names who could be on the move include Hill and J.R. Smith.
While Korver and Hill in particular can be key players on a playoff team, the Cavaliers may be better off trading them at the deadline and stocking up on future draft picks to aid in their current pseudo-rebuild.
While Korver and Hill will have large roles while they play for the Cavs, Smith may not. Since the 2015-2016 season, his play has significantly dropped, and at 33 years old, it’s not as if he’s a young player with potential who just needs more time to develop. Smith could quickly find himself behind players like Nwaba, Clarkson, and maybe even Simmons on the pecking order.
Speaking of Nwaba, he should be the first shooting guard off the bench. He’s not a great shooter, but he is a solid interior scorer, a good rebounder, and an elite defender. With some sub-par defenders seeing significant minutes, Nwaba will be counted on to guard the opposing team’s best player.
At small forward, the Cavs traded for Sam Dekker this offseason, adding another young player to their plethora of wings. Dekker wasn’t a starter in Los Angeles, and he will most likely remain a rotational player in Cleveland.
With a 28% three-point percentage and an average of 6.1 points in 32 games with the Grizzlies last season, Simmons doesn’t present any skills that are better than the players ahead of him. He is purely a depth signing, but since he is only 21, he still has potential. These are the types of players the Cavaliers should be filling the end of their roster with, rather than veterans who will play even less and don’t have as much ability to improve.
The rotation at this point will be:
PG – George Hill, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson
SG – Rodney Hood, David Nwaba, J.R. Smith, Kobi Simmons
SF – Cedi Osman, Sam Dekker, Kyle Korver
Smith and Simmons will likely play the least, while Korver and Clarkson, even though they are technically third-string, will consistently see the floor. The problem is, even excluding Smith and Simmons, the Cavs have only 144 minutes to split among eight players.
Evenly divided, each player would play 18 minutes per game, which is not enough for a starter, or even a sixth-, seventh-, or eight-man. Tyronn Lue has his work cut out for him as far as balancing the rotation goes. These ten players will make the job difficult enough, and on top of that, Lue has to manage minutes for rookie Billy Preston, as well as the big men, where Ante Zizic and Larry Nance Jr. need time to develop more, while Love and Thompson are the more established players.
Rotations have been a major part of Cleveland’s four straight Finals runs, but now they will play a different role. This season, Lue must balance competing for a playoff spot with developing younger players. It will be a challenge, and Lue will be under plenty of pressure to do the job well. Even still, the pressure is much less than it has been for the past four years, and that will make this season all the more interesting.