For the Cleveland Cavaliers, last season’s biggest downfall was their bench during the 2017 NBA Finals. With next-to-no depth, the Golden State Warriors were easily took care of the Cavaliers, winning the series 4-1. One of the biggest reasons the Warriors manhandled the Cavs was through the services of players like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and even Shaqtin’ the Fool MVP JaVale McGee coming off the bench; they exploited the thin Wine and Gold bench while the starters were resting.
During the offseason, the Cavaliers biggest priority was addressing their bench depth so they could hang with their rivals in the Bay. Then-general manager David Griffin and current-general manager Koby Altman were able to do just that with the re-signing of Kyle Korver and acquisitions of Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Dwyane Wade through either free agency or the Kyrie Irving trade. With all of these moves, the Cavs instantly upgraded their bench to allow them to compete with the depth of the Dubs.
But with all of the new acquisitions there were some obvious questions about who would play what roles with the team. To start the season, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson came off the bench, allowing the Cavs to start Kevin Love at center and the newly acquired Wade and Crowder as well. The Cavs ended up sputtering out of the gates with this starting unit, with Wade being the biggest detriment to the starting core. Eventually, Wade approached head coach Ty Lue and asked to instead come off the bench and after nearly one whole month into the season, he has finally found a solid role for the Cavs.
Wade, along with Green and Korver have been the biggest catalysts for a Cavs bench that is massively improved compared to last season. According to Hoop Stats, the Cavs have jumped from the twenty-ninth ranked bench last season to the third best bench in the Association this year, only behind the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Lakers. This has been huge for the Cavs this season, as the bench has kept Clevelandin games after the starting unit falters in the first quarter and because of the before-mentioned Green, Korver, and Wade, the Cavs also have three legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidates playing for them this season.
The first signing the Cavaliers made this offseason was when they re-signed Kyle Korver to a three-year $22.06 million deal as he was one of the key players the team needed to retain from the year before. Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Cavs were looking to Korver to provide three-point shooting off the bench, something he is an expert in due to the fact he has a career rate of 43.1%. Korver has been able to easily provide the three-point shooting and much more for the Cavs as he been on the floor on a regular basis closing out games. Three of his most defining games this season were against the Brooklyn Nets, twice against the Milwaukee Bucks and his former team, the Atlanta Hawks.
In the game against Brooklyn the Cavs, like always, underestimated their opponent and found playing catch-up the entire game with the Nets as they torched the Cavs from beyond the arc. In comes Korver, who gave the Nets a taste of their own medicine and was the reason the Cavs were able to hang with the Nets until the bitter end:
Much like the Brooklyn game, the Cavs also came into a Sunday matinee against the Hawks and soon found themselves getting whipped by a team that was simply playing harder than them from the start. Once again, it was Korver that made shots and shifted momentum with 25 points off the bench. In a game that showed that the Cavs simply did not have their hearts in the game, Korver, along with Wade, would not allow the Cavs to lose and almost pulled the Cavs within victory as they barely fell to the Hawks 117-115. These two performances against the Nets and the Hawks have cemented Kyle Korver as one of the early-on candidates for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
The next key player off the bench for the Cavaliers, Jeff Green, was at one point considered not likely to make the roster as he was only signed to a veteran minimum’s deal and thankfully for Cleveland, he has earned every cent he is being paid to play for the Wine and Gold. So far this season Green has averages of 11.0 points, 1.5 assists, and 2.5 rebounds and his biggest games so far for the Cavs have been against the Brooklyn Nets and most of all the Houston Rockets.
Like Korver before, Green was a spark for the Cavs in their loss to the Nets and helped carry the team as the starting unit struggled against a fierce Nets squad. He filled the stat sheet for Cleveland as he finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and a few rim crushing dunks that looked a lot like the Jeff Green of old before his life-threatening health scare.
But, the biggest game so far Green has by-far been the game against the Rockets as he was the reason why the Cavs hung in with Houston until the very end as he finished with a season-high 27 points to go along with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals. If it were not for the fact that the referees showed biased towards the Rockets and the Cavs could actually box out a team to prevent an offensive rebound, Cleveland would have walked away victorious against a very talented Rockets team. Instead, they squandered Green’s career night and lost 117-113 but the fact that the bench was able to carry the Cavs, who were at one point down by as many as eighteen points, was huge for the team.
Either way, take some time to appreciate Green’s performance against the Rockets as it was just awesome:
This game against Houston gives the Cavs yet another player that could easily walk away with the Sixth Man of the Year award at the end of the season in Jeff Green.
Finally, the final member of the three-headed bench dragon that is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year is newly signed guard Dwyane Wade. As mentioned before, Wade originally started the season as a member of the starting lineup but after a few stinkers, including a game against the Milwaukee Bucks where he only managed to score four points, he asked head coach Ty Lue to join the bench mob, returning JR Smith to the starting lineup.
After the move, Wade almost instantly found his niche with this Cavaliers squad as he finished with 11 points, 3 rebound, and 4 assists against his former team the Chicago Bulls. After sitting out the following game against the Nets, Wade was again great off the bench for the Cavs against the New Orleans Pelicans as he finished with 15 points, 4 assists, and a steal.
But, the best was yet to come with Wade coming off the bench as the game that vaulted him to an easy contender for Sixth Man of the Year was the infamous Hawks game as he finished with a near-triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists:
This game against the Hawks showcased the Wade of old as he, along with Korver, almost single-handedly won the game for the Cavs and as he continues to settle into his bench role and become more consistent, along with the fact that he is a star player coming off the bench, easily puts him in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year.
While the Cavaliers, for the most part, have looked lackluster to start the season, the game against the Rockets appeared to be the tipping point for better things to come. While they yet again had another sluggish start in the first quarter, the bench was able to step up and save the game and even outplayed some members of the starting rotation. The biggest thing right now for the Cavs is to establish consistency and chemistry, which is tough to do with so many new faces and having to do so on the fly. Thankfully for the Cavs, they have three reliable bench options in Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade who all have helped drag the team back from massive deficits. Even though it is early on in the season, the fact that the trio of Korver, Green, and Wade have been playing at such an outstanding level easily puts them in the conversation for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.