The Cleveland Cavaliers are going small… at least to start games.
We heard this before, but now comes another report — this time from the very reliable Jason Lloyd at the Athletic — that this move is happening — Kevin Love will start games at the five, with Jae Crowder at the four and Tristan Thompson coming off the bench.
Tristan Thompson is expected to come off the bench this year, and Jae Crowder will start at power forward, one source with knowledge of the team’s plans told The Athletic. Kevin Love will slide to center in the new-look lineup. Love’s range will pose matchup problems for a number of centers across the league, while moving Crowder into a starting role will improve the defense and allow the Cavs to switch most pick-and-rolls defensively.
This is a move that puts the Cavs more in line with where the NBA is trending. A variation of it worked last regular season in limited minutes (just 71 minutes over nine games): When Cleveland went with a smaller lineup of Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Channing Frye, and Kevin Love they outscored teams by 29.7 points per 100 possessions. They used it again in the first round of the playoffs against Andre Drummond and Detroit to some success.
The Cavs now will have Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade (or J.R. Smith), LeBron James, Crowder, and Love to start. The bench would be more formidable with Thompson and Smith (or Wade), and improve when Isaiah Thomas returns and pushes Rose to the second unit.
With Irving’s playmaking gone the Cavaliers are going to lean more on Love, especially as a playmaker at the elbows. Plus he can draw bigs away from the basket and create driving lanes (teams can’t switch their rim-protecting bigs on to Crowder because he can shoot the three as well).
The question is how this works defensively. The Cavs lack some rim protection (although LeBron is strong there) and size, but they do become a more switchable team that should handle the pick-and-roll decently. If the defense is good the boost in offense should make up for it.
Good on Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers for trying this in the preseason (and into the early season) — it’s a bold move for a team facing serious roster changes. The worst thing that happens is it doesn’t work, and the Cavs go back to the more traditional lineup they are used to.