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Who should be the Cavs’ backup PG?

Brandon Goodwin, Rajon Rondo, Caris LeVert

It’s been 10 weeks since Ricky Rubio suffered a season ending injury, tearing the ACL in his left knee. He was in the midst of having a spectacular game, putting up 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists, making up for the absence of an already injured Darius Garland.

Picking up 31 year old Rubio leading up to draft night, which resulted in the Cavs selecting Evan Mobley, proved to be a booming success for Cleveland. Only necessitating Taurean Prince and a future 2nd round pick in exchange, the veteran played a key role in the team’s early season success. He’s not with the team anymore, though, and the backup PG role has been a revolving door since.

After he went down with his injury, Koby Altman quickly picked up two guards to add to the roster: Brandon Goodwin and Rajon Rondo. Goodwin, brought in with a 10-day contract, impressed from the get-go, and earned himself a two-way deal to stick with the team for the rest of the season. Rondo, on his way out with the Lakers, was acquired for only Denzel Valentine. Then, soon before the trade deadline, Altman struck an agreement with the Pacers to send the contract of Ricky Rubio to the Pacers, along with the Cavs’ lottery-protected first round pick this season for Caris LeVert.

As the Cavs enter the stretch run leading up to the postseason, JB Bickerstaff will have the opportunity to tinker with lineups and find out what the most effective groupings are in preparation for shortened playoff rotations. Identifying who the primary ball-handler is off-the-bench is a necessity. Darius Garland is brilliant, but he can’t play all 48 minutes, nor should he.

Levert, Rondo, and Goodwin are all potential options when it comes to running the 2nd unit. Who’s most deserving of the title?

Why Caris LeVert should be considered

The former Brooklyn Net was shipped to Indiana in the James Harden deal that also brought Jarrett Allen to Cleveland. Now the duo is reunited in Ohio, LeVert’s old stomping grounds. The Cavs have been playing Caris off-the-bench, so he doesn’t receive many minutes alongside the 7-footer. Especially now that Allen is out indefinitely  with a broken finger.

The question with LeVert is different than the one with Rondo and Goodwin. He’s going to be a member of the playoff rotation when healthy, no matter what. It’s just a matter of whether he’ll be a primary ball-handler as the de facto PG, or a secondary ball-handler at the SG or SF slot.

Standing at 6’6″ with a versatile skillset, the swingman can legitimately play the one, two, or three. Given Cleveland’s roster makeup, the best case for him to play backup PG has more to do with his teammates rather than himself. Goodwin and Rondo have done their best to keep the second unit afloat, but they’re not good enough or consistent enough to make the playoff rotation for any normal team.

Before the All-Star break, Caris LeVert started one game for the Cavs at PG out of necessity. It happened to be his best game since being traded. He’s a more than capable floor general in a pinch.

Why Rajon Rondo should be considered

The wily 36 year old is still chugging along in the most talented basketball league in the world. This far into his career, significant physical limitations are restricting him from having a dynamic impact. For a player who has never been much of a jump shooting threat, that can make it hard for him to pull things off in the halfcourt.

He remains elite at performing entry passes, and for a team with a number of big bodies, he does a phenomenal job of getting them the ball when they have a mismatch down low. As a Cavalier, he’s hit his three-pointers at a good clip, but that will likely begin to dip a little.

Rondo is one of the smartest players in the NBA. He routinely makes cheeky plays defensively and takes full advantage of any holes in the opposition in transition. However, many of the things that he does are responses to advantages that were already created, rather than ones that he’s creating. He doesn’t do that much anymore.

When the Cavs grow stagnant in the halfcourt, Rajon Rondo can’t do much to aid them there, but he can run sets to a T, and adds a veteran presence to a young team.

Why Brandon Goodwin should be considered

26 year old Brandon Goodwin has been a G-League lifer before signing with the Cavaliers, but he’s made the most of his opportunity for a team short-staffed at the PG position. The 6-foot guard hasn’t been all that consistent, but his peaks have generated positive results for the team.

Despite being the smallest player on the team, Goodwin is a guy who can actually penetrate the paint and stir up the defense in the halfcourt. He’s got a comfortable handle, and the ability to score at all three levels, pairing that with his burst and jump shot. He’s not the most efficient at putting the ball in the bucket, but for a team such as the Cavs who struggles so much to generate good looks, you can live with it.

Brandon is the type of guy who you don’t have to ask to bring the energy, it’s just a given that comes along with him whenever he takes the floor. He plays very aggressively on defense, but his physical profile clearly limits him. Plenty of the impact plays he’s made in the wine & gold have been because of him outhustling the other team. That’s the stuff that’ll get you on the good side with your head coach.

Brandon Goodwin is the least experienced of the bunch, and goes through his own assortment of ups and downs. At his best, he’s made a clear positive impact for the team when they’ve needed it most.

Verdict

It’s impossible to predict who will earn the title of being Darius Garland’s backup for the rest of the season, but the most likely order of three guards in terms of best fit for the role is:

  1. Caris LeVert
  2. Brandon Goodwin
  3. Rajon Rondo

Caris LeVert brings the most to the table talent-wise, and allows the Cavaliers to play their better guys, rather than sacrificing one’s rotation spot for a lesser player at the guard position. Plus, in future seasons if Collin Sexton returns to Cleveland, backup PG will likely be his long-term role with this team. It should also be his role for the playoffs this season.

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