The Cavaliers Should Install Isaiah Thomas In The Bench Role When He Returns [Opinion]

Thomas shaking LeBron Hands

After getting annihilated by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers knew they had to find talent in the offseason to compete.

Despite losing Kyrie Irving in the offseason, Cleveland gained talent acquisitions to boost their championship aspirations. The Cavaliers shocked the world by trading Kyrie for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and an unconditional first-round pick next year. However, the transaction before the IT trade will play a big factor in his role for this upcoming season.

In addition to this ludicrous summer, Cleveland signed the youngest MVP, Derrick Rose, to a one-year deal. Why would the Cavs sign Rose and IT? Both players are familiar with injuries. However, one player will start when the season starts and maybe that player will stick to the starting role.

The Logic Behind The IT Trade

Let’s back up. The Celtics wanted to trade Thomas because of the hip injury he suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals. The front office had some sort of knowledge about how severe his hip injury could be, that’s why they wanted to trade him.

Also, Thomas’ contract is coming to an end and, knowing how great he played over the past two seasons, he would ask for a big contract. It can be inferred that the Celtics didn’t want to pay a large amount of money to a 28-year-old who is coming off a bad injury that could alter his level of play.

In an alternate world, a well-run NBA organization may trade a healthy all-star without a definite return date. However, we’re not living in an alternate reality and the Cavs organization clearly aren’t the Chicago Bulls. Logic dictates that the Cavaliers organization doesn’t trade a healthy Irving for an injured Thomas without a definite return date unless they already knew they had their starting point guard on hand, i.e Rose.

Apparently, the Cavaliers organization and Rose’s peers disagree with the sports media’s canned narrative that, “Rose is washed up/not the same player.” According to Thomas, “Rose is really good and his peers know that.”

Rose and Thomas fighting for the ball by the bench

IT knows Rose is great, but he might come back sooner than we may think.

Thomas told ESPN he is “not damaged.”

“There’s never been an indication that I wouldn’t be back, and there’s never been an indication that this is something messing up my career. Maybe I am not going to be back as soon this season as everyone wants me to be, but I’m going to be back, and I’m going to be the same player again.”

Thomas, at 5-foot-8, is coming off a hip injury that’s been keeping him from participating for six months and counting now, a severe injury. At 28-years-old, how can Thomas have the same explosiveness when he returns? For example, after Rose’s big injury, he didn’t have the same speed or explosiveness that we once saw in 2011-2012. It’s unclear if Thomas will like this idea, but the Cavaliers should install Thomas to the bench role when he returns.

Why Would/Should The Cavs Make IT The Sixth Man?

There are some indications on why IT would come off the bench when he returns. One, Rose’s performance would play a big part in why IT will come off the bench when he returns. In addition, Rose will be able to grab head coach Tyronn Lue’s attention first because he will be the starting point guard at the beginning of the season. Rose is coming off his best season, stats-wise, since the ACL injury back in 2012.

Before you continue to read, Rose did have some bad parts in his game last season, but that comes with him rehabbing from his other nagging injuries. Rose’s spot up shot is below average, according to Synergy stats. Rose’s spot up was 12.3 percent with 151 possessions, he scored 121 points in those possessions. Also, Rose’s catch and shoot stats were below par; as you know, in order to play on a team with LeBron James, you’ll have to know how to catch and shoot the ball when you are open. Rose scored 0.6 points per game, with an efficiency field goal 32.1, and shot 20 percent on the catch and shoot, per NBA Stats. Rose has a problem with catching and shooting because he dribbles friendly.

Despite being miscast in the triangle offense and as the third scoring option, Rose averaged 18.7 points on 47 percent shooting, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds. Rose is not the modern day type of point guard because he cannot shoot threes. Rose shot a low 21.7 percent from the three, but he took 0.9 three-pointers per game. A lot of NBA geniuses say Rose doesn’t have the ability to pass the ball, but Rose was never surrounded by real shooters in his career. Rose is now in a position where he could pass the ball and his teammates will put the ball in the basket. Cleveland shot 38.4 percent from the three (second in the league) and the Cavs as a team shot 47 percent from the field (fifth in the league).

Rose’s early chemistry and success would keep Lue on his heels about keeping Rose at the starting position. Rose making LeBron happy throughout IT’s absence would keep IT as the sixth man as well. This means that the Cavs going on five-to-seven-game winning streaks stretches throughout IT’s absence and beating great teams would be a success.

When IT comes back from his injury, it will be hard to see Lue immediately insert Thomas into the starting role. The ideal situation to bring Thomas back from his injury correctly would ease him into his minutes and that’s by bringing him off the bench.

How great Thomas can play with the second unit could be the deciding factor. The Cavaliers bench can be a starting five if IT is coming off the bench.

Quick Dribble Notes On Isaiah Thomas In The Starting Lineup

Inserting Thomas into the starting lineup in the middle of the season could cause problems and potentially mess with the team’s chemistry, depending on how great they are playing.

Last year, the Cavaliers never clicked as a unit, mainly because of the chemistry and tension with the front office. However, if Rose can help guide this offense with LeBron, then there will be discussions on why the team should fix something that isn’t broken when IT returns.

If IT were healthy, he’d be the obvious starting point guard. If IT comes back from the injury towards the all-star weekend, he will not be in the same playing shape and up to speed as everyone else in the NBA. Players in the NBA will already have an advantage over IT because of their conditioning.

The Best Part Of Why Thomas Coming Off The Bench Should Be Ideal

Thomas, Rose Bench

Thomas coming in with the second unit could maximize the team’s win percentage and potential. Last year, Cleveland’s bench ranked 29th in differential (-10.5) and 28th in points per game (28.3).

Thomas will certainly help bolster those numbers dramatically if he’s the sixth man. Instead of leaning hard on Kevin Love and LeBron to make plays, Cleveland could lean towards IT at the end of their games when the opposing team’s bench is out there on the floor and the Cavs need more scoring production on the floor.

In every aspect of the game, the Cavs will have an all-star on the floor and a playmaker. Last year, Cleveland was missing a player on the second unit who could create his own shot and be the best player on the court. The luxury of having this option is that IT could close out games with LeBron on every night. IT can still get big-time minutes, but he shouldn’t start the game out on the floor with the first unit. Thomas will easily win the sixth man of the year.

When people hear “IT should come off the bench,” they believe he will not be on the floor. That’s wrong; just because he doesn’t start doesn’t mean he won’t play the second-most minutes. Just because IT is coming off the bench doesn’t mean his fourth quarter stats will change.

Bench Play Is Important In The Playoffs

Bench play is critical, now more than ever. The Cavaliers only have three or four theoretical competitors: The Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, and Spurs. However, if Cleveland makes it to the NBA Finals, they will have to face one of those teams in the West. When it comes to playing the Warriors, they would have a better chance of making it a six or seven-game series. Why? Because the Cavs bench isn’t as good as Golden State’s, so IT off the bench might be the best option to keep up with the Warriors scoring.

In the playoffs, the Rockets beat the Thunder, the Spurs beat the Rockets, and the Warriors embarrassed the Cavs in the Finals, in part because of bench play.

For example, the Rockets beat the Thunder in five games because the Thunder didn’t have anybody to turn to once their starting player, Westbrook, sat on the bench. Houston’s great bench always destroyed the Thunder’s second unit, which gave their first unit momentum throughout the game.

Another example, the Spurs beat the Rockets because of their bench depth. Once Kawhi Leonard didn’t play Game Six, San Antonio had a player off the bench (Jonathon Simmons) to help fill his role and flourish well in it. Yes, the Rockets have a great bench too, but the Spurs had more depth. Therefore, their starting lineup could have fresh legs to close the game.

In the playoffs, Cleveland’s bench averaged 14.4 points per game (15th in the playoffs). There will be no parts of the game in which the Cavaliers would go on scoring droughts if IT is coming off the bench. Every bit of Thomas’ 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game will be needed for the Cavaliers this season, but in a different role.

[Featured Image by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images]