The Cleveland Cavaliers are directly in the middle of the whirlwind of the news that Andrew Bynum is either suspended indefinitely from the team, or is on the trading block, or both. While that story will certainly play out over the next few hours, there’s another interesting tidbit that will take place as well.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have to play basketball. So where do they go from here?
Bynum had been starting for the Cavaliers, and had been averaging 20 minutes per game on the season, and 22.6 minutes in the month of December. He’s averaging 8.4 points, 5.3 boards and 1.2 blocks per game since the start of the year, and 9 1/2 points, 6 1/2 boards and a block since the start of the month.
The numbers certainly aren’t special in and of themselves, but when taken into account what his presence has meant for the team on several levels, including supplementing Anderson Varejao, his presence has certainly been important on the court.
Varejao, as much an injury concern as Bynum, has averaged almost 29 minutes a game, putting up 7.9 points and 8.8 boards a game on the season. When you put the two together as one center, you have some pretty elite numbers: 17 points, 14 boards and two blocks a game. You can also credit Bynum’s presence for allowing Varejao to play fewer minutes, thus keeping him healthy.
While Andrew Bynum has been a surprise, it’s not like he’s been a star, and for stretches, he’s not been a very good basketball player. Perhaps getting Zeller more playing time allows this team to get better in the long run, and perhaps they lose a few more games this year and get a better pick next year.
What does this mean for Varejao? I’m hoping that it doesn’t mean his minutes are going to go up, but it’s likely. Even if the Cavaliers utilize Tyler Zeller a bit more, I can’t imagine that he’s going to give the Cavaliers 20 minutes of the type of basketball that Bynum was able to give. That could be a problem. My hope is that Mike Brown will keep the Cavaliers fragile center at 25 minutes or so a game, and just deal with whatever issues that come with him NOT being on the court for the rest of the game. That’s something I’d rather deal with than having him gone for the season as well.
What does this mean for Tyler Zeller? Obviously Zeller is the winner in the playing time sweepstakes with Bynum gone. He’s only played in 17 of the Cavs games this year, and he’s only averaging 8 minutes a game. On the year, he’s averaging three points a game, and two boards. It is interesting to note that his minutes have increased substantially over the past week, as he’s been given ten-plus minutes a game in all three, and playing extremely well. He’s gone 9-f0r-13 with seven boards during that stretch, and while you are surely going to lose a presence in the paint, Zeller is more mobile, better in transitions, and perhaps fits better with their multi-guard sets. Look for the paint to clear out for Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
What does this mean for Kyrie Irving? I don’t know if Bynum being suspended helps the team in the grand scheme of their game-planning, but it certainly helps out Kyrie in the sense that he should have a bit more clearance underneath for his penetrating game. Obviously, centers will now be more apt to collapse into the paint, but the general freedom overall will likely allow Irving to flow more. In the big picture, I’m not sure this helps the X’s and the O’s, but it will be interesting to see what happens offensively with this team. I don’t even want to talk about Kyrie’s defense in this regard. I have seen improvements, but a lot of that can be placed upon the presence of Bynum when he’s on the court. Of course, he’s not on the court a lot, so perhaps it’s not going to be that big. It’s not like the Cavs D has been all that impressive of late anywyas.
What does this mean for Dion Waiters? I have to imagine that everything that I said about Kyrie goes along with Dion as well, although his minutes with Bynum were fewer and far between. My hope is that this will help the general chemistry of the Cavaliers. Perhaps this will allow the stars to gel a bit more in an us against the world sorta mentality. Nobody is going to believe that this team can play better after this, and everybody is just going to chalk this up to “another black mark” on the Cavaliers this season, after the mess with the players-only meeting. I think we’ll see Dion’s play improve after the Bynum dismissal, and it’s really not about analytics. It’s more about mentality.
What does this mean for Tristan Thompson? It has been interesting and erratic watching Tristan Thompson play alongside Andrew Bynum. In many games, it’s worked, and in many games, it hasn’t. Here’s what I know. Tristan Thompson isn’t a center, but he can play there, and I think we’ll see that over the short term. Over the long term, Thompson is a really good four, who will have to step up his game now that the massive Bynum isn’t clogging up the middle. I don’t think Brown will lean on Thompson as a center though, as Scott did last year. Obviously, this should open up the lanes a bit for Thompson, but it will also put both bigger bodies on him, as well as double teams. Defensively, he’ll get muscled by centers if he has to defend them, but he does that now anyways, and is a good defender. I honestly think Thompson can improve without Bynum in the lineup, or at least, be forced to.
What does this mean for Earl Clark? This could be the best thing that happens for Clark, who’s been both really, really good at times, and really, really bad. With Thompson likely playing a few minutes at Center, Earl Clark should get more playing time at the four position. It does make you wonder if this Bynum move has been in the works over the past few days, based upon the fact that Clark was already announced as moving back to the four slot. We’ll see if he can play, because his minutes are going up.
What does this mean for Anthony Bennett? This is exactly what the Cavs and Bennett needed, to be honest. He’s been terrible, and as terrible as he’s been, I have wanted him in games. Let him suck. Let him struggle. MAKE HIM FIGURE IT OUT. Now, perhaps Bennett can start to develop his game with 15-20 minutes at both the three and the four slot. If he is terrible, now is the time to vet that all out. In a worse-case scenario, perhaps you realize he’s not going to be all that good, but perhaps he still has enough value to move him, if you want to. At least this will give the Cavs the opportunity to see if their #1 pick is worthwhile, or truly the worst #1 pick over the past 20 years, as Steve Orbanek mentioned in a piece earlier this year. Either way, look for an increase in Bennett minutes, and get ready to rejoice, or continue to shake your head.
What does this mean for team chemistry? This is the most interesting piece to all of this, to me. When news of the players-only meeting came out, the FIRST player I thought of was Andrew Bynum, and how he fit into all of that. As a 26-year old with seven years of experience, he would be considered a veteran presence on this team. When he wasn’t mentioned as being a factor, I chalked it up to his growth, but still thought it was strange. I do wonder how many issues that the Cavaliers have had with Bynum over the past few weeks, and haven’t mentioned for fear that it would send Bynum careening into Bynum-land, that enigmatic place that he’s found himself in all too often. I wonder how many egg shells this team has had to walk on since the Cavaliers signed Bynum, and I wonder how upsetting this has been to the big three of Irving, Waiters and Thompson, who may have felt cut off at the “knees.” I wonder how upsetting this has been to Anderson Varejao, who has been with this team since 2004? I’m sure we’ll get a bit of this information in the coming hours and days, but perhaps we’ll see it more on the court.
What does this mean for Mike Brown‘s game plan? Well, when you are a defensive-minded coach with a center like Bynum, this is bound to shake up your game plan a bit. Obviously, you can’t set up your perimeter knowing that you have that safety valve behind you. This is where things could get tricky. Of course, the Cavs have given up 100 points in seven straight games, so perhaps this is a non-issue as well. Offensively, it’s not going to hurt, but I’ll be curious to see if this forces Brown to attack more defensively. Bynum has looked lethargic defensively, so maybe, in the end, this is a bonus.
Overall, Bynum’s effectiveness isn’t really questioned. what is is just HOW effective he was, and how much the team can now open up both offensively, and defensively. I have to imagine that the defense gets a little worst at first, and that perhaps, the offense gets a little better. Overall, I can’t imagine this hurts team chemistry in the long haul, and it should allow the current roster more opportunity.
Perhaps this isn’t as bad a move as some people thing. Enter the land of irony, as sometimes you can add by subtracting.
Let’s just hope that Bynum can be moved for a piece that can either help this year, or a draft pick for the coming years.