The Cleveland Cavaliers started the season with a pretty crowded backcourt situation, with two point guards, two shooting guards, and one combo guard. The issue with these 5 players is that not only are they all rotation players, but they are also all arguably starters as well.
5 Starters for 2 Positions
And when you have 5 guys who can all play 35 minutes per game competing with each other, well, things can get crowded pretty quickly. And when players start losing playing time, their egos get hurt, they get less touches, they can’t get in a groove, and they could even lose salary.
Patience is a Virtue
When the season started, I was surprised that Mathew Dellavedova signed a 1 year deal for just $1.1 million. I was concerned that the crowded backcourt would cause him to play sparingly, and that his minutes, touches, and percentages would all go down. In fact, I thought he should have taken the multiyear deal he was being offered, rumored to be 3 years for 8 or 9 million. Seems that I was wrong.
Delly has somehow pulled off a very good season so far. Now, when I say “somehow”, please don’t get upset at me Aussie fans. The reason for my surprise has been his 26.3 minutes per game, which is a 6 minute improvement from last season. And considering the Cavs depth chart at the guard position, it was surprising that Delly is getting all this play. Irving, Williams, Smith, and Shumpert are all arguably better players than Delly, with evidence simply being their higher contracts.
The question now is the following: How did Delly, a point guard who shot 36% from the field last year, emerge as a solid first guard off the bench/spot starter who is now shooting 42% from the field, 43% from 3, and 4.8 assists per game?
Playing Time Decoded
The easy answer is playing time. After a gritty playoff performance, former coach David Blatt learned to trust Delly, and rewarded him this season with more minutes than anyone expected. Of course, those minutes came at the cost of others, namely, Shumpert and Williams.
Iman Shumpert has only been getting 24 minutes per game, and with a new $10 million a year contract, that has got to be a disappointment. Sure, he’s been coming back from injury, but his 38% from the floor and 32% from 3 are definitely letdowns.
Mo Williams Ain’t Happy
Mo Williams is more of an issue, as he actually publicly complained about his playing time under Blatt, and is likely disappointed with his mere 20 minutes per game. Considering that he is playing on a 1 year deal, similar to Delly, and will be seeking a multi-year contract this coming summer, well, his playing situation probably stings a bit. Things haven’t gotten much better under new coach Tyronn Lue, with Williams averaging just 11.8 minutes per game in February.
JR Smith has surprisingly gotten 30 minutes per game. And that will continue as long as he can continue knocking down 40% from 3. Kyrie Irving is playing a shade under 30 minutes per game, and that has more to do with keeping the miles off him, as his health is crucial toward the Cavs making a deep playoff run. Without him, they have no chance at winning the Finals this summer.
Extremely Delicate…Handle with Care
As you can see, the Cavs guard situation is delicate. Sure, there are times when Shumpert might play some small forward, thereby allowing for some more breathing room among the guards’ playing time, but as the playoffs approach and rotations shorten, someone is going to get squeezed out. And now that there is talk that the Cavs are waiting to scoop up Joe Johnson (assuming he is cut by the Nets), then the playing time will decrease even more.
Delly Isn’t Going Away
In terms of Delly, I think he is safe. His defense is something that translates well in the playoffs, and he is a much better on-ball defender against point guards than Mo Williams is. For better or for worse, his aggressive style of defense definitely helps the Cavs. For that fact alone, Delly is guaranteed to get a minimum of 20 minutes per game. The fact that he is stroking over 40% from 3 is pure gravy at this point, as he makes himself more and more valuable to a team that is in win-now mode more than ever.