Yes, yes they can.
When Derrick Rose, rather, 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose, agreed to a paltry $2.1 million offer sheet with the Cavs back in July, the former Knick was readily apprised of the potential starting job at point guard. When the Kyrie Irving trade finally happened, (and then didn’t happen, and then actually happened), Rose’s starting spot was assumed to be passed to the incoming Isaiah Thomas, though it’s looking increasingly likely Rose will suit up first, with Thomas out indefinitely nursing a hip injury. The five day per week workout regimen Rose followed over the summer, according to a report by USA Today, is just the ticket to instilling team-wide confidence that the ball is in good hands come October.
On its face, the Thomas injury is a complete detriment to the Cavs, if only because of his sheer craftiness and scoring prowess, particularly late in games. With Kyrie gone and Thomas out, the box scores of Cavs games are looking to stagnate, as the chances for 30-plus point games from anyone not named LeBron James are unfavorable.
Where, the Cavs can stay hopeful however, is in both Derrick Rose leading the way as a floor general and the potential for a capable second unit, as far as Eastern Conference benchmarks are concerned.
To the first point, the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers ranked 15th and 16th respectively in pace last year, both squads hovering around 99.5 possessions per game. Slipping Rose into a team that manages the pushing the ball and half-court set ups as well as Cleveland should only extend his game this coming season, especially considering how many miles he racked up on the hardwood in Chicago. After playing only 100 games from 2012 to 2015, the 28 year old Rose has completed two consecutive seasons of 60-plus games – a mark not stellar for a starting job, but one admirable for someone recovering from four knee injuries in as many seasons. Rose also managed a career low 2.3 turnovers per game; while his assist numbers were subpar(4.4) the absence of the triangle offense (and more importantly Phil Jackson) in Cleveland would likely allow Rose create for any of the Cavs’ three point threats or give post opportunities to Tristan Thompson.
Where Rose’s utility shines even brighter however, is in Thomas’ inevitable return. In the basketball world, the starting job is iconic. A booming PA chants five names amidst a flurry of lights, pyrotechnics and raucous cheers. For Isaiah Thomas, a starting gig was only realized as a full time opportunity in Boston, the team that transitioned away from Phoenix and Sacramento’s preference for sending Thomas in off the bench. Where the Cavaliers have leeway, however, is in utilizing minute-watching and restrictions (at least early on) to gauge how IT can jump-start a lacking bench.
Of course, from a monetary standpoint, few would throw their dollars at Cavs tickets knowing the formerly troubled Rose earned a spot over Thomas, regardless of injury restrictions. Consequently, for a team with three consecutive trips to the finals, the Cavaliers have repeatedly been at the mercy of comebacks willed into fruition by their starters and LeBron because of a dearth of capable backup talent. The spacing Cleveland abuses to clear lanes and bury threes is non-existent with their bench lineups, and when Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver and Deron Williams fail to create offensive opportunities, leads are erased posthaste. Experimenting with Thomas coming of the bench is a quick fix for the Cavs, who currently employ Deron Williams and Jose Calderon in the bench’s backcourt until Thomas’ recovery.
In all actuality, with the ball stopping less in the hands of one Kyrie Irving come October, the spotlight is on Kevin Love, who has regained the potential to create his own shot after years of relegation as a catch-and-shoot or pick-and-pop option. Love has a touch soft enough to finesse his way around the rim, while having the range to either lure bigs out of the paint or shoot over the top of a switching guard. From his last season in Minnesota, Love’s catch and shoot frequency has jumped about 12 percentage points to 46%, while his selection of pull ups and shots near the basket have taken a slight downturn as well. Though the Cavaliers rest on their three-point threat from both Love and guys like JR Smith and Korver, allowing Love to revive old facets of his game could be devastating particularly in and against small ball lineups.
Thomas’ injury might be a blessing in disguise; while most would love to see IT suit up come October, the Cavs coaches and front office have the opportunity to form lineups and strategies knowing they’re missing about 30 points per game.
Are the Cavs screwed early on? Let me know @BJTripleOT on Twitter or email BJohnson@tripleot.com