As the NBA offseason plows ahead we’re taking some time to pause and assess the work each team is doing, building for the present and future. Today, we’re looking at the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
What’s on the agenda for a team that just pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in sports history? Figure out how to do it again. With a restrictive financial situation, here is what the Cavaliers have pulled together so far.
Inputs: Kay Felder (PG, NBA Draft pick No. 54); Mike Dunleavy (SF, traded from the Chicago Bulls)
Outputs: Matthew Dellavedova (PG, signed with Milwaukee Bucks); Timofey Mozgov (C, signed with Los Angeles Lakers)
Retained: Richard Jefferson (SF/PF, signed for two years, $5 million)
Pending: J.R. Smith (SG, unrestricted free agent); LeBron James (SF, unrestricted free agent)
LeBron James has already committed to returning, although the details of his next contract have yet to be finalized. It seems like J.R. Smith will be back as well. The Cavaliers will definitely miss both Dellavedova and Mozgov — who provided size, defense, and depth — but those losses are small in the macro sense.
Getting Jefferson to come out of his one month of retirement was a coup as his ability to play the small ball four opened a lot of possibilities in the Finals. Dunleavy is another huge pick-up — a quality shooter and passer. Although he was primarily used on the wings in Chicago he did play quite a big of small ball four with the Indiana Pacers a few years ago, which is something else Cleveland could experiment with.
Kay Felder, who the Cavaliers bought into the second round to select, seems universally adored already. If he wasn’t 5-9, he would have been a first round pick for sure. He has played well in Summer League but it remains to be seen if he’ll actually be useful off the bench as a rookie. The Cavaliers are also reportedly nearing a deal with Chris Andersen who could help provide more depth.
3 Big Questions
To really dig deep on Cleveland’s offseason, I’m leaning on friends with some Cavaliers expertise. Aaron Ferguson (@Sports_Aaron) is the editor for FanSided’s King James Gospel. Chris Manning (@cwmwrites) is a regular contributor to FanSided and Hardwood Paroxysm, as well as an editor for SBNation’s Fear the Sword. Daniel Rowell (@danieljrowell) is a regular contributor to FanSided, Hardwood Paroxysm, and Fear the Sword.
Aaron, Chris, and Daniel were nice enough to help out by answering three big questions about Cleveland’s offseason.
How important were the Mike Dunleavy trade and Richard Jefferson re-signings?
Aaron Ferguson: Bringing Richard Jefferson back is good for the Cavs and allows them to keep their depth from the Finals, especially in small ball lineups. Dunleavy is the most underrated offseason move, as I wrote about on King James Gospel. Acquiring Dunleavy, who has been a consistently good sharpshooter, allows the Cavs to space the floor with a reliable veteran that has playoff experience. He’s versatile enough to play multiple positions on both ends of the court. The biggest factor is that for a team with very little cap space like the Cavs, acquiring him for Matthew Dellavedova’s trade exception was why it’s the best move of the offseason.
Chris Manning: YUGE. Dunleavy, if his back is okay, is a perfect player for a team that features LeBron James. He can knock down threes, play solid defense and won’t need to much else. Most teams are going to have a really hard time covering lineups where LeBron rolls out there with Dunleavy, Channing Frye, Kevin Love and another shooter. And if Jefferson can keep the magic going it’s even better. Also of note: both Dunleavy and Jefferson make Iman Shumpert’s struggles much more palatable and workable.
Daniel Rowell: I agree, these were important offseason moves to keep the Cavs competitive for all the reasons stated above. I’m just worried about how reliable these players can be. Dunleavy and Jefferson are 35 and 36 respectively. Dunleavy missed 51 games due to a back surgery but was still shooting near 40 percent from three-point range after his rehabilitation. Jefferson was close to the seventh man in the rotation before starting and showing up big in the Finals. The potential is there for each player to make an impact, I just am cautious with my optimism. The Cavaliers have a difficult cap situation and a high tax bill. These moves are great in that context, but when the 2017 playoffs roll around, we’ll have to see if they can keep healthy and make an impact. Also, did Lil’ Kev get a veteran’s minimum I hope?
Are you ready to fall in love with Kay Felder?
Aaron Ferguson: I don’t need to fall in love with Kay Felder, I’ve been in love with his game for awhile. I’ve seen him play several times during his career at Oakland, and he’s special. As we’ve seen in Summer League, his height isn’t going to be a problem on either end of the court. His ability to make plays at the college level, despite having a poor strength of schedule, and now in Summer League are big. His athleticism has been on display defensively with a highlight block and jumping in the passing lanes to get steals. His dribble-drive penetration will be key to allowing him to get in the paint, and to set up his step back jumper and kick out to shooters. If he was three or four inches taller, he would have been a first round pick, if not a lottery pick.
Chris Manning: I guess? I know he’s explosive, overall talented and a pretty good value pick, but I’m not sure yet he has a role on the Cavs. He can’t really do what Matthew Dellavedova did as a backup last season on defense — he’s too small to guard twos — and the Cavs don’t necessarily need a 100 percent traditional point guard because they have Kyrie Irving and LeBron running the show. I like his potential, but I’m not convinced that he will be playing a meaningful role in the near future. Getting experience with the Canton Charge might be the best fit for him.
Daniel Rowell: *Closes Anthony Bennett Eurobasket profile tab* Um, sure. The Cleveland Cavaliers just won a NBA championship and used their backup point guards, Matthew Dellavedova and Mo Williams, for just 46 and 29 minutes respectively. Granted, Williams and Dellavedova each had their part to play in the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs. I’m excited to watch a rookie get to start his career on a title-defending roster, but kind of like the excitement I have watching Lakers play in the Summer League or when Red Panda does the halftime show. Kay Fedler isn’t going to be a meaningful part of this season, but I’m excited to see what he makes of his opportunity.
Assuming the Cavs re-sign J.R. Smith, what else is out there for them on the veteran’s minimum wish-list?
Aaron Ferguson: I believe the Cavs could go two ways with adding another veteran. I expect J.R. Smith to re-sign with the Cavs, and also expect Felder and Jordan McRae to make the team. If all this happens, the Cavs should look to add a rim protector on defense to play behind Tristan Thompson. Chris Andersen and Larry Sanders both seem to have some sort of mutual interest, and either would be a great addition. If they can’t add another big, they should look to add another combo guard or wing player. Trying to compete with teams that play small makes for tough matchups with the Cavs if they have Irving, Felder and Mo Williams as the point guards. Adding another combo guard that has some size would be a plus.
Chris Manning: Chris Andersen is basically a done deal it seems and I don’t see a need for them to sign another big. A backup point guard would probably top my list if only because Mo Williams and Kay Felder might not cut it. A wing with size would be nice — anyone but Matt Barnes would be cool — but it’s hard to see them finding that guy with how little money they have to spend. In truth, the roster is probably set.
Daniel Rowell: The veteran’s minimum is a whole lot less money than the contracts that free agents have been signing so far this offseason. I don’t know that they will get better offers elsewhere, but Brandon Bass and Randy Foye would be the first two on my wish list. Bass can be a great offensive option in the post and as a rebounder but has slipped away from an earlier track record as a good defender while on the Lakers, perhaps some time on a championship team could help motivate him. And Foye is just a solid backup point guard who could be convinced to be a “ring mercenary” if the Warriors haven’t already tried to get him. The most likely target after Anderson would be another guard. If they can’t convince Foye, perhaps Norris Cole would be ready to make a homecoming.
Richard Jefferson is important
Richard Jefferson, with his defense, shooting, activity level, and positional versatility was huge down the stretch for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over the last five games of the NBA Finals, Cleveland outscored the Golden State Warriors by 9.6 points per 100 possessions when Jefferson was on the floor.
One of the quirks of his effectiveness was that Jefferson operated almost exclusively as a small ball four in the NBA Finals. According to position estimates at Nylon Calculus, Jefferson only played about 12.7 percent of his minutes at power forward during the regular season. He seems to be, at least in this stage of his career, a natural small forward who no longer has the physical abilities to make a positive impact at that position. However, when he slides up a position he still has an edge.
The graph below shows all players who played at least 100 minutes at both forward positions during the regular season and also played at least 20 percent of their minutes at small forward. They are charted by their team’s raw plus-minus per 48 minutes when they were at each position.
Obviously, raw plus-minus is a noisy metric but we can see that Jefferson falls in the quadrant with players who helped their teams as power forwards and hurt them as small forwards. His role will likely be small during the coming regular season, perhaps diminished even further by the addition of Dunleavy, but the Cavs will likely be better served if they limit him to play big in small lineups as much as possible.
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