How Luol Deng's Arrival Shakes Up Cleveland Cavaliers' Rotation
Deng has led the NBA in minutes the past two seasons and isn't afraid to take on a large workload. Given the Cavs' lack of talent at the small forward position, he may get just that.
For too long, head coach Mike Brown has been bouncing players in and out of the starting lineup and rotation. The second half of the season is quickly approaching, and Cleveland needs to have a set rotation in order to develop some chemistry for a potential playoff run.
Here's a breakdown of what the new rotation should look like with Deng, including playing time for each guy and a couple rookies finding a new home in Canton.
All stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Starter: Anderson Varejao, 30 minutes
In his first 17 starts at center, Varejao has put up 9.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in 32.2 minutes per game. The production is solid, but the minutes scare me.
The last three seasons have seen Varejao get overused and eventually limp off the court. Mike Brown needs to do a better job than Byron Scott of monitoring Varejao's workload. He should be on a 30-minute maximum, if possible, to help preserve him for all 82 games.
Primary Reserve: Tyler Zeller, 18 minutes
Zeller looks much better and more aggressive this season; there's no doubt about that.
He's put on some weight and doesn't let opposing centers push him around quite as much. He and Dion Waiters have begun to develop some nice pick-and-roll chemistry in the second unit, which has been great to see.
In the month of January, Zeller is averaging a solid 5.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 15.7 minutes. However, he's got a bad habit of picking up quick fouls and needs to be more disciplined on defense. Getting Zeller up to the 18-20-minute mark would be huge, as it would mean extended rest for Varejao.
Reserve: Henry Sims, 0 minutes
Simply around for some insurance at this point, Sims is a nice young big with limited upside. He could definitely use some time to develop with the D-League's Canton Charge, but Cleveland also needs him around in case something happens to Varejao or Zeller.
Don't expect much playing time for the former Georgetown Hoya unless something serious happens.
Starter: Tristan Thompson, 34 minutes
Slowly but surely, Thompson has been getting better month by month. He's as durable a player as the NBA's seen, and minutes should be plentiful for the third-year forward.
With Varejao no longer coming off the bench, we should see Thompson's playing time only increase. The only way Anthony Bennett takes minutes from Thompson is if his mother was playing NBA 2K14.
With 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds in January, the Cavs need to ride Thompson as much as they can.
Primary Reserve: Earl Clark, 14 minutes
Brown began the season with Clark as his starting small forward, then moved him to power forward, then back to small forward, and, well, you get the picture.
The bottom line is, Clark has no business playing the 3. He's much better suited to being a backup 4 behind Thompson, rebounding and knocking down the occasional jump shot. According to 82games.com, Clark has a PER of 8.1 as a small forward, but 14.2 as a power forward.
He can't handle the ball or create offense for himself. Keeping Clark with limited minutes and putting him on the floor with players like Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters would be for the best.
Reserve: Anthony Bennett, 0 minutes
Bennett has all but fallen out of the rotation since the trade for Deng.
Cleveland has two options: sit the first-overall pick on the bench where he'll never develop, or send him to the D-League where he'd likely thrive and gain his confidence back.
This is a no-brainer to me, but the Cavs' brass have been stubborn, possibly viewing any ticket down as an admission of their own mistake.
Bennett will never get better by watching an NBA game versus actually playing in a D-League contest. The sooner Cleveland sends him down to regain his shot and overall confidence, the better.
Starter: Luol Deng, 33 minutes
Deng has logged at least 37.9 minutes a game in each of the past four years. For a guy who's played all 82 games just once in nine seasons, this is way too much. Cleveland needs to be careful with Deng's minutes, as we don't want to go back to the Alonzo Gee experiment by injury necessity.
Deng brings so much to the table and can really help out young players like Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson with his experience on the court. He and Anderson Varejao together in the starting five gives Cleveland two relentless defenders and veterans the rest of the young guys can look up to.
Keep Deng healthy and happy now, before he hits free agency this summer.
Primary Reserve: Sergey Karasev, 5 minutes
Playing time for Karasev has actually gone down since the beginning of the season, which is kind of a shame.
The sweet-shooting Russian rookie is still very much a mystery. He's totaled just 138 minutes this season, scoring 33 points during that time. Cleveland could benefit by playing him with Irving and Waiters, two players who draw double-teams on their way to the basket. Karasev thrives on the open three-ball, something he'd see a lot playing with those two.
Some time in Canton would also be beneficial, as the Cavs' backcourt is pretty crowded at the moment.
Reserve: Alonzo Gee, 0 minutes
This may be Gee's last season in the NBA, which is unfortunate due to his hustle and work ethic.
The truth is that he's just not that great of a basketball player. Gee's defense is NBA-worthy, but his being unable to create any kind of offense is a killer at the wing position.
Gee provides nice insurance at this point but is almost guaranteed not to see his team option picked up this summer.
Starter: C.J. Miles, 20 minutes
Miles has been on fire in 2014 and deserves a starting spot going forward.
In six January games, Miles is averaging 19.8 points while shooting 58.3 percent from deep. He recently set the team record with 10 three-pointers against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Putting a shooter like Miles in the backcourt next to Kyrie Irving only makes sense. The two play well off of each other, which allows Dion Waiters to take control of the second-team offense.
Primary Reserve: Dion Waiters, 32 minutes
Waiters has a serious shot at winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award. He's been very good as a reserve, putting up 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists a night.
Whether or not he remains in this role in the future is anyone's guess. But for now, if the first-team offense is scuffling a bit, it's nice to have a weapon like Waiters coming in to provide a spark.
While he and Irving are better when the other is on the bench, we should still see Waiters in at the end of close games over Miles. When push comes to shove, you want your best players out there, period.
Not just their second-leading scorer, Waiters is also the Cavs' best trade chip, should they choose to go that route. Mike Brown needs to keep his minutes up, with a slight increase from the 30 he's currently getting this season.
Reserve: Carrick Felix, 0 minutes
Another rookie best suited for the D-League at this point, Felix has played just 26 total minutes this season for Cleveland.
A second-round pick in 2013, Felix has the potential to be a strong defender, which he should be working on in Canton. With the guard-heavy roster the Cavs currently employ, he'll be hard-pressed to find many minutes available.
Starter: Kyrie Irving, 35 minutes
Irving is currently getting a career-high 35.1 minutes a game, a good number for the All-Star guard.
The Cavaliers need Irving to be more of a distributor, something he's done a better job at recently. We all know he can score the ball, but idling around five or six assists a game just isn't enough.
For the first time since he's been in Cleveland, Irving has a good amount of talent around him. He can now play more like a true point guard, instead of worrying about trying to drop 30 every night.
Primary Reserve: Jarrett Jack, 18 minutes
The veteran leader of the backcourt, Jack also needs good playing time to leave his mark.
Coming off the bench with Dion Waiters, the Cavs need Jack to pass first, pass second and start to think about shooting third.
His 5.0 assists per 36 minutes are Jack's lowest total since 2008-09. Cleveland needs him to do a better job of getting his teammates involved and stop taking so many contested step-back jumpers.
Cavs fans everywhere are currently nodding.
Reserve: Matthew Dellavedova, 1-15 minutes
I want to put this variation of minutes on Delly for a few reasons.
First, he needs to get playing time. The Cavs are 6.6 points better on offense per 100 possessions with Delly on the court and give up 3.0 more when he's on the bench, per 82games.com.
He seems like the kind of guy who's happy with whatever he can get, but the truth is that the rookie from Australia has earned minutes with this team.
If Mike Brown ever sees Irving, Waiters or someone else not giving a full effort, he should feel confident replacing them with Delly to get their attention. This may be for a short period or 30 minutes. Whatever it takes, Dellavedova has been great for Cleveland and needs some time on the court.