Known for being a stalwart defender during his time with both the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, Crowder was envisioned as the final piece to allow the Cavs to compete with the Golden State Warriors, helping LeBron James play more of a “free safety” role on defense, which helped them in winning their first ever NBA Championship. Something else Crowder brought to the table was the fact that he was a reliable three-point shooter with the Celtics and will get plenty of open looks when playing with the trigger-happy Cavaliers. Heading into the 2017-18 NBA regular season, things seemed like the Cavs were going to end up as the big winners in the Irving trade.
Fast forward to past the mid-way point of the season and the Cavs are currently sitting at third place in the Eastern Conference with an overall record of 27-18 while Irving, who is an MVP candidate so far this season, and his Celtics are considered one of the top teams in the NBA with a record of 34-13. On paper, a starting five of Isaiah Thomas, JR Smith, LeBron James, Jae Crowder, and Kevin Love should easily be the top team in the East and the combination of Smith, Crowder, and James should be one of the top defensive units in the league.
Instead, the Cavaliers starting five really only has three contributing players in James, Love, and Thomas and two huge detriments in both Smith and Crowder. As of January 22, the Cavaliers currently rank second to last in overall team defense, only above the rebuilding Sacramento Kings and they are constantly assaulted by teams from beyond the arc, with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George being the latest to take advantage of the Cavs’ defense by scoring 36 points and connecting on five three-point attempts:
While George is arguably the fourth best small forward in the game (behind King James, Kevin Durant, and the Greek Freak), the reason he was able to so easily exploit the pourous Cavs defense is because of how all three of James, Smith, and Crowder defended George and allowed him to light up the Q. While CavsNation writer Sam Penix paints a pretty clear picture of how Smith is more than likely on his way out of The Land, the Cavs should not try to unload Crowder in any trade deal just yet.
The main reason for this is the fact that Crowder can still score, at times, for the Cavs (unlike Smith who cannot make a shot to save his life) and has a much more favorable contract as he is set to make $21,917,475 over the next three seasons while Smith is set to make $13,760,000 alone. So instead of moving Crowder in a trade to land players like George Hill or DeAndre Jordan, head coach Ty Lue should instead consider moving Crowder to the bench to serve as James’ primary backup.
The thing is with Crowder, he has played out of position the entire season since joining the Cavs at power forward and that is not his natural position as he is a small forward by trade. With Crowder now playing off the bench and at his natural position, the Cavs would be able to hopefully rest James a bit more for a long playoff run and finally have a proper backup to the King. Another issue with Crowder playing out of position is the fact that opposing teams can exploit him by putting natural power forwards, that can increase the physicality beyond Crowder’s comfort level.
The other problem with Crowder’s stint with the Cavs thus far is the fact that he has been unable to repeat his success from last season and currently averages 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.2 blocks and is shooting at a 31.3% clip from beyond the arc, all lower than his career averages. With him now coming off the bench, Crowder would be able to find his rhythm again after struggling through a chaotic Cavaliers season by taking advantage of lesser opponents and return to form from the player he was a season ago.
Instead of starting Crowder, Cavs coach Ty Lue should call up his best friend in Jeff Green to join the starting unit alongside Kevin Love at power forward. While the Cavaliers would lose a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Green, they would finally have a player that has been a spark for the team this entire season as Green has been reliable on defense, has been a serviceable three-point shooter, and has also served as a player to be a key member in the clutch:
Unfortunately for members of Cavs fandom, it looks like no changes will be happening to the Cavs starting unit after their latest blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder:
Tyronn Lue says he eschewed the film session – not wanting to dwell on the negative – and instead used practice time to put the Cavs through their paces defensively and do 5-on-5. In terms of changes, Lue said he will not shuffle the lineup but he does plan to practice more.
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 21, 2018
Right now the biggest thing holding the Cavs back is the fact their starting unit is so mediocre due to the play of both Smith and Crowder. This could easily be remedied by Lue replacing Smith with either Dwyane Wade or rookie swingman Cedi Osman and replacing Crowder with Jeff Green. The Cavs cannot and should not wait for the front office to make some kind of last-second deadline deal to fix the teams’ problems when the obvious answers are staring at the team right in their face. Perhaps another blowout loss, this time to the always-elite San Antonio Spurs, will send a message to Lue and Crowder that a change needs to be made.
By the end of the regular season, the Cavs will yet again have solved their current myriad of problems and will be heading into the NBA Playoffs as the favorite to win the Eastern Conference for the fourth year in a row. But until then, Cavs coach Ty Lue should elect to make the change of sending Jae Crowder to the bench to help instill confidence in the team and right the ship after the team has seemed to lose its edge after their Christmas Day loss to the Warriors. It will definitely help in the long run and put the team’s defensive woes back on track.