The Cleveland Cavaliers were very fortunate to sign Dwyane Wade before the start of the 2017-2018 NBA season. Despite being 36-years old, he’s still more than capable of being a quality scorer and playmaker. With that pedigree, it was initially reported that he would start alongside Derrick Rose in the Cleveland backcourt. Unfortunately for Wade and the Cavaliers, that did not work out well. In the first three games of the season, the veteran guard has averaged only 5.7 points while shooting just 28.0 percent.
He has looked out of sync in most offensive sets, because he’s played what would be the least amount of minutes per game in his career (courtesy of Basketball Reference). Volume shooters like Wade need touches in their sweet spots on the floor, and it’s not as if he is getting bad looks. Cleveland has a number of players who need the ball in their hands in LeBron James, Kevin Love, and others, though, and a change needed to be made.
With Isaiah Thomas not available for the Cavs for a while, and Wade being a high-usage player, playing considerable minutes with Rose proved to be a big spacing issue. To Wade’s credit, he was unselfish enough to recognize things had not been working in that way, knowing his skill set. Wade explained to Cleveland.com reporters today the reasoning to him wanting to lead the Cavaliers bench.
That being said, this wasn’t a completely out-of-the-blue scenario. The Cavs have a more capable three-point shooter in J.R. Smith as a starting replacement, and Wade came to Cleveland to win, not accumulate statistics. Tyronn Lue was a big fan of that unselfish, team-first mentality. Here’s a bit of how he expressed that, courtesy of Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.
“To watch him with that first unit, we see how it worked out and he came to me and just said, ‘What you said was right. It’s a better fit for me in the second unit, ‘” Lue said. “For a future Hall of Famer and a guy that’s won three NBA championships to come to the coach and see what’s best for the team, that’s big time.”
Taking that into account, the Cavs should be much better off. Wade has a net rating of minus-7.9, according to nba.com. With his skill set mostly being that of a slasher and mid-range pull-up specialist alongside Rose, it’s killed the Cavs offense and cutting has been stymied as a result.
With Rose active in the first two games of the season, Cleveland’s starting lineup consisting of Rose-Wade-James-Jae Crowder-Love had a net rating of minus-21.7, courtesy of nba.com’s advanced stats. That’s not what Lue and the front office were looking for this year.
With Smith now inserted as the starting “three-and-D” shooting guard, Cleveland’s first lineup should be in better shape when Rose returns from an ankle injury suffered against the Milwaukee Bucks. Smith is not someone who needs the ball in his hands much in isolation and pick-and-roll sets, and he is a career 37.3 percent shooter from three.
That spaces the floor, and opens up more cutting lanes for Crowder and driving lanes for James. In addition, Wade’s second-unit passing will be much more of a weapon for Cleveland, because his driving ability should open up baseline and diagonal cuts for Jeff Green. Along with that, Wade will be able to feature Kyle Korver coming off screens from Tristan Thompson, too.
Lastly, this could tangibly help Cleveland’s locker room dynamics, because Smith is now in the starting lineup again, and he may have been a bit off while coming off the bench.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN touched on Smith being “hurt” by his initial benching in favor of Wade on Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson’s “Road Trippin'” Podcast in a recent article, and one would think he could be more relaxed going back to a starting role. Perhaps, now things be a bit more routine for Smith and the Cavaliers for a little while.
The bench experiment with Wade should be interesting, as he’s only appeared off the pine 11 times in his NBA career(courtesy of the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor). It remains to be seen how the Cavaliers fair with their guard rotation until Isaiah Thomas returns from a hip injury.
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