Spotlighting and Breaking Down Cleveland Cavaliers' SF Position

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Spotlighting and Breaking Down Cleveland Cavaliers' SF Position
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As strong and deep as the power forward position appears to be for the Cleveland Cavaliers, small forward may be just the opposite.

Less than two months until the season starts, it's still unclear who the starter will be for the Cavs at their overall weakest position.

Alonzo Gee has manned the spot for the past few seasons, but can he hold off the newest offseason additions?

Earl Clark was signed away from the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Cavs spent two draft picks on wing players Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix.  C.J. Miles is still hanging around but is considered more of a shooting guard than small forward.

What the Cavs lack in quality, they'll hope to make up for in quantity it seems.

Here's a breakdown of what to expect from each small forward on the Cavs this upcoming season.

 

Backup Small Forward/Shooting Guard: Carrick Felix

Felix has a great chance of starting this upcoming season, just not for the Cavs.

A second-round pick by Cleveland in the 2013 draft, Felix will likely see most of his time with the Canton Charge of the Developmental League.

That's not a knock or demotion for Felix, as he should have a real future as a defender and hustle player in the NBA eventually.  For now, he's staring at four to five players in front of him who are more likely to earn playing time this season.

Playing in Canton would give Felix more experience than sitting at the end of a bench would and allow him to get used to playing against a lot of former and aspiring NBA players.

While his defense is nearly NBA-ready, his offense has a long way to go.  Averaging just 7.2 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the field during the NBA Summer League means Felix has a good amount of work to do.

Spending most of his 2013-14 season with the Charge while developing his game would be best for both Felix and the Cavs.

Projected Stats: 1.2 points, 0.4 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 43.3 FG%, 5 minutes per game

 

Backup Small Forward/Shooting Guard: Sergey Karasev

Karasev was the 19th overall pick by the Cavaliers in the 2013 draft.

Perhaps the greatest part of Karasev's game is his enormous potential.  Just 19 years of age, Karasev has led Russia's top league in scoring at 18.7 points per game while playing with BC Triumph.  In 2012, while just 18, Karasev made the Russian national team as its youngest member.

While some European players are drafted on simply their potential alone, Karasev already has a solid game to build on.  At 6'7", he has good size for a wing and should have no problem shooting over other players at his position.

And oh, the shooting.

Karasev has the type of jumper you could watch over and over again.  Think Peja Stojakovic, with that high, smooth release.

Minutes are hard to predict for Karasev right now, given his age and adjustment to the American game.

Expect Cleveland to keep Karasev in town and around a regular NBA schedule to help him get used to life in the Association.

Karasev should one day have a big role in Cleveland and will hopefully have a Stojakovic-like impact in the league.  For now, he'll likely be getting most of his experience during practices and garbage time during games.

Projected Stats: 4.7 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 45.4 FG%, 10 minutes per game

 

Primary Backup: Alonzo Gee

Gee started all 82 games for the Cavs last season but will likely see a change in role for 2013-14.

Gee's strengths are his defensive versatility and hustle.  This screams role player off the bench much more than it does starter for a likely playoff team.

At 6'6", Gee can guard multiple positions, although he didn't guard them particularly well last season.

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

According to 82games.com, Gee allowed a 18.1 PER to opposing shooting guards and a 17.5 PER to opposing small forwards.  Both numbers are well above the league average of 15.  The Cavs were also better defensively when Gee was on the bench, allowing 106.7 points per 48 minutes as opposed to 112.9 with him on the court.

Moving Gee from the starting lineup to the bench would mean the difference from guarding LeBron James to Shane Battier.  Think about that.

As previously mentioned, Gee is a hustle player but can tire quickly because of this.  He averaged 31 minutes a game last season, a tad high for a player of his skill set.  Bringing in Gee off the bench for 20 minutes a night would be about perfect for the Cavs and allow Gee to thrive while guarding less talented opponents than what he's been forced to cover in the past.

Projected Stats: 7.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 43.2 FG%, 20 minutes per game

 

Starter: Earl Clark

Something tells me the Cavs didn't give Clark $9 million to come off the bench.

While the majority of his career has been spent at power forward, Clark has slowly begun to transition to more of a perimeter player.

He really started shooting three-pointers last season for the first time, connecting at a 33.7 percent clip.  While this is by no means a great number, the fact Clark went from a strictly jump-shot and post-offense player to a three-point threat in a single season is impressive.

Starting along playmakers like Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Clark is going to get open looks from time to time on the perimeter.  His ability to knock down the open three will be crucial to his keeping a starting job.

Defensively, Clark was very good against small forwards last season.  He held opponents to just a 12 PER, according to 82games.com.  At 6'10", Clark can smother opponents with his size and cut off their driving lanes.  Given that the average small forward is 6'7"-6'8", shooting over Clark is difficult as well.

Clark is better suited to try to cover bigger small forwards like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, while Gee excels in defending smaller, quicker players.

While neither Clark nor Gee is an ideal long-term solution at the position, the Cavs should be able to get by this year with them while putting the offensive emphasis on surrounding players.

Projected Stats: 7.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 45.0 FG%, 25 minutes per game

 

Conclusion

Small forward is, and has been, the weakest position on the Cavaliers for some time now.

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The good news is that their current group should be much better than the Jamario Moon, Joey Graham and Christian Eyenga three-headed monster of 2010-11.

Clark will be an upgrade in the starting lineup over Gee, and the Cavs have depth in promising rookies Karasev and Felix.

Don't be surprised if at this time next year, Karasev has a hold on the starting job, provided the Cavs didn't make any big free-agent acquisitions.

For now, Clark and Gee appear to be stopgaps until the Cavs can find a reliable solution at the position.  With Irving, Waiters, Andrew Bynum and Tristan Thompson also in the starting lineup, the Cavs don't need a whole lot out of their small forwards, but a quality three-and-D guy would be nice.

The hole in the dam that is the small forward position still hasn't been fixed, but it should hold for now.

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