We didn’t see it much (just 71 minutes over nine games), but last regular season when Cleveland went with a smaller lineup — 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, and it worked there as well (but less so the rest of the playoffs).
Love said he has played “quite a bit” of time at the 5 with the Cavs’ first unit through the first week of training camp…
“Tristan is a very dynamic roller, guy that plays a lot as a dunker,” Love said. “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. It’s not just going to be on the defensive end in that regard.”
With Irving gone we knew Cleveland was going to lean more on Love, particularly as a playmaker at the elbows, but this is another level from Lue. He’s willing to change the status quo on a team that’s been to three straight NBA Finals — that’s a good thing.
The challenge with Love at the five is defense, but Lue is countering that somewhat by playing Jae Crowder at the four, according to the reports. The Cavs still lack the same rim protection as when Thompson plays, but they benefit at the other end with shooting and floor spacing — with Irving in Boston, Cleveland needs to find a way to get more threes and generate some of that missing offense. This lineup may do it.
This is what preseason is for — try stuff. Then experiment more during the regular season. We’ve seen the best coaches — Gregg Popovich is example 101 — play around a lot with lineups during the season. The goal is to see what works and what doesn’t, plus get different guys used to playing with each other, then during the playoffs the coach has the flexibility to go with whatever lineup is the best matchup for the opponent.
We’ll see if it lasts, but this could be interesting.