Saying Alonzo Gee has been a great surprise for the Cavaliers this season might be the understatement of the season. Playing terrific defense, and being explosive on offense at times, Gee has been a catalyst for the Cavaliers' bench bunch, and has got people rumbling about making him the starting small forward.
Now isn't the time for a switch.
First things first, the way coach Byron Scott uses his rotations, it really doesn't matter who starts and who comes off the bench. As the season has gone on, Scott has started to give more minutes to players who are playing better in each game. With the early struggles of Omri Casspi, Gee has been a major beneficiary of that extra time.
Scott will still make sure that the first and second team both get their minutes in each game, but when it comes to crunch time, the best players will play. With the way Gee has stood up to some of the best offensive players in the NBA, the Cavaliers' coach can't afford to take him out in the waning moments of the game.
That still doesn't mean he should start.
Omri Casspi is still a young player, and he's already going through a tough mental stretch. All of Cleveland's sports teams have seemingly experienced the promising young player who gets mentally wrecked by their circumstances. Benching Casspi at this point might do just that to the young forward.
This past offseason, the Cavs thought highly enough of Casspi to trade former first-round pick J.J. Hickson to the Sacramento Kings to bring him to Cleveland. The coaching staff and front office should be patient with the young man and let him fight through this slump without further damaging his current mental state. By sticking with him as the starter, they give him a needed vote of confidence.
Regardless of his current numbers, Casspi is still a more well-rounded offensive player than Gee. Gee is a smart player, and is playing better than he ever has in the NBA. It says something that Casspi can put up similar numbers as Gee while being in a slump. It says that when Casspi finally breaks out of his slump, he will be able to add some serious pop to the team's offense.
Alonzo Gee is in a perfect spot right now. Playing alongside Tristan Thompson, he has made the Cavaliers' second unit a stout defensive group. With Ramon Sessions creating opportunities offensively, Gee is also able to get good, clean and comfortable looks at the basket.
Making him a starter may add pressure to change his game. He may start forcing shots and trying to do more because of his promotion. Gee is also a young player who is currently in a groove. Why mess with a good thing when it's working?
My opinion might be different if the Cavaliers were going to compete, not just to make the playoffs, but to make some noise in the playoffs. The Cavs very well could be in the playoff race when the season is coming to an end, but they're not in a position to compete for anything other than a playoff berth.
If they were a serious contender, then Byron Scott would have to consider cutting the playing time of a slumping Casspi for the sake of wins. But they're not a serious contender, so Scott can keep working his rotations the same way and let these young players learn, fight through slumps and grow together.
Building a team who will one day compete for championships is an intricate process. It requires patience and the ability to allow players to grow together, even if the success on the court isn't always there.
Alonzo Gee is turning into a very solid option off the bench, and a go-to guy at the end of games for the Cavaliers. He also brings a tough, physical and gritty atmosphere every time he steps on the court. With the second unit, he can work on all areas of his game as he will touch the ball more. Then, when he is brought in with the first team later in games, he adds that toughness that becomes a huge boost during crunch time.
Keeping him on the bench to start games doesn't mean that he's not currently playing well enough to start. He certainly is.
Keeping him on the bench to start games allows him to grow and work on weaknesses, and it allows him to be a spark for the starters during the time they need it most.
That is why the Cavaliers should continue to bring that spark off the bench.