How Should the Cleveland Cavaliers Manage Minutes in the Season's Final Weeks?
As the Cleveland Cavaliers enter into the twilight of the 2012-13 season, one can't help but start to focus on next year.
With just six games remaining, it's important to start to lay the foundation for next season. From here on out, the focus should be on playing big minutes to those players who are either young, inexperienced or both. The Cavs have precious time left to make big decisions on some players, and therefore should base their rotation around making these decisions.
Here is how the Cavaliers rotation should be laid out over the next two weeks to help set themselves up for success in 2013-14 and beyond.
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Many Cavs currently find themselves sidelined due to various injuries. Here are the players who are currently out and may not play again this season:
- Dion Waiters, SG: Knee
- C.J. Miles, SG: Concussion
- Daniel Gibson, SG: Shoulder
- Luke Walton, PF: Ankle
- Anderson Varejao, C: Knee, Lung
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Starter: Tyler Zeller, 25-30 minutes
The season is definitely wearing on Zeller, and he's commonly overmatched by bigger, stronger opponents. Still, the Cavs are thin at center and view Zeller as a key player to build around in the future.
With the transformation Tristan Thompson has gone through from year one to year two, here's hoping Zeller can do the same next season. The Cavs should continue to give him at least what he's been averaging, if not a little more.
Reserve: Marreese Speights, 30 minutes
Speights holds a player option for next season, so we could conceivably be watching his last few games as a Cavalier. This is a shame, as Speights has played very well whenever he's been given the opportunity. In 33 games with Cleveland, Speights is averaging 20.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes of play.
Unfortunately, he's never played 36 minutes in a single game with the Cavs and has only eclipsed the 30-minute mark once. If the Cavs want to re-sign Speights, playing him low minutes in the next few games certainly won't help persuade him to return.
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Starter: Tristan Thompson, 30 minutes
Thompson has been magnificent the past couple of months. Since the All-Star break, Thompson has put up averages of 11.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.
It's clear all those practices and games playing alongside Anderson Varejao have really begun to pay off. Thompson's work ethic, hustle and man defense have all been very impressive as the season has gone along.
The question now is just how good the 22-year-old can be. The Cavs should continue to keep his minutes at 30 a night or higher and rely on the rotation of Thompson-Zeller-Speights to fill their post positions.
Reserve: Kevin Jones, 10 minutes
Jones has gotten some decent minutes as of late and could continue to do so as long as Luke Walton remains sidelined. Jones is a solid young player, but has a lot going against him. Despite being a rookie, he's already 23 years old and is a bit undersized as a 6'8" power forward.
Jones won't get great minutes and really hasn't done anything to earn them at this point. Still, any extra time he can get would be a big plus, as we've yet to discover what Jones can become.
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Starter: Alonzo Gee, 25 minutes
Gee has been a workhorse for the Cavaliers this season, starting all 76 games thus far.
His defense has been much improved from last year, but his offense leaves much to be desired. Shooting just 40.9 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from deep, Gee remains the weak link in the Cavs' starting lineup.
His play in the next few weeks could help the Cavs make a decision between players like small forward Otto Porter and center Nerlens Noel in the draft.
Reserve: Omri Casspi, 10 minutes
Casspi's days in Cleveland are numbered. At this point, any playing time he gets is strictly out of necessity.
A free agent this summer, Casspi just never panned out for the Cavs and almost certainly will not be re-signed.
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Starter: Wayne Ellington, 30 minutes
Ellington has slid into the starting lineup due to Dion Waiters' knee injury. A solid shooter, Ellington is best coming off the bench and perhaps shouldn't be getting quite as many minutes, as injuries have been forcing him into playing.
A restricted free agent this offseason, the Cavs have the right to match any offer he will receive. While he's earned a new contract with Cleveland, the total money and years will largely depend on his play over the next few weeks.
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Starter: Kyrie Irving, 35 minutes
Irving has battled back from a shoulder injury to return to the rotation when many thought he was done for the year. Still not likely to play on back-to-back nights, there's no sense in pushing Irving too far with so few games left.
His minutes will remain high in the games that he does play due to the rash of injuries the Cavs have had at guard. It's important that Irving continue to work on his distributing as he did against the Orlando Magic on April 7 (10 assists), as he averages almost an entire assist more per game in wins than in losses (6.4 to 5.5).
Reserve: Shaun Livingston, 30 minutes
Expect big minutes for Livingston down the stretch as he sees time at both guard positions. A free agent this summer, Livingston has definitely earned himself another contract with the Cavs due to his steady play running the second unit.
His play alone would warrant big minutes, and the need for a reliable backup shooting guard after Ellington doesn't hurt either.