The influx of new faces on the roster has led to an upheaval in the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ starting frontcourt. According to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, the Cavaliers are slated to use recently acquired forward Jae Crowder as their starting power forward this season, a move that displaces low-post big Tristan Thompson.
Four-time MVP LeBron James is affixed to the starting small forward position, which means that Kevin Love shifts up to center. Tyronn Lue has experimented with Love at the 5 in situational or small-ball lineups before, but this appears to be a more permanent, necessary shift to make room for Crowder, who arrived in the Kyrie Irving deal.
Following Saturday’s practice, Lue spoke with the media and was transparent about what Love offered playing center:
“Spacing opportunities, spacing the floor. Being able to play through the elbows with multiple guys. We’ll see.” Lue said.
This move makes sense considering the effect Isaiah Thomas’ injury rehab will have on the Cavs in the short term. Assuming Thomas returns at some point down the line, this gives the Cavs a versatile starting lineup teeming with 3-point shooting threats in the frontcourt.
Love previously shot 37.3 percent on 6.5 attempts per game, while Crowder averaged 5.5 attempts per game and shot 39.8 percent from 3-point range during his final season in Boston.
“Tristan is a very dynamic roller, guy that plays a lot as a dunker,” Love told the media after practice Saturday. “Myself, I have to play inside-out, mix that up and really take what the defense gives you. But it gives us a different look. I mentioned different dynamics out there on the floor with different lineups, and we’re so deep now that [Dwyane Wade] and a lot of guys similar in size at that 4-5 spot, we’re going to see guys playing interchangeable.”
Until then, supplementing James with catch-and-shoot frontcourt players will be of use to counter a backcourt devoid of shooting. The opening night backcourt is expected to consist of Derrick Rose and Wade playing heavy minutes. Both Wade and Rose shot well below the league average 3-point shooting percentage of 35 percent.
Like every other move made this offseason, it’s a decision predicated upon matching up with the Golden State Warriors for a possible fourth straight meeting in the NBA Finals. Thompson was the odd man out after an ineffectual showing in last summer’s Finals. Replacing Irving’s dynamic scoring ability will be much easier said than done, but the Cavs appear to be adjusting as well as a team can, and the hope is that Crowder’s two-way versatility pays dividends in a Finals rematch.
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