Can Spencer Hawes Be Floor-Stretcher the Cleveland Cavaliers Desperately Need?

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Can Spencer Hawes Be Floor-Stretcher the Cleveland Cavaliers Desperately Need?
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

NBA teams will typically pay a premium for size and shooting.

The Cleveland Cavaliers landed both at a discounted rate, plucking stretch center Spencer Hawes away from the Philadelphia 76ers in a deadline deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

True 7-footers are something of a dying breed in today's downsizing league. Those boasting a 39.9 three-point percentage as Hawes has this season have never come around in large quantities.

If nothing else, the Cavs landed a specimen who stands out as unique even in a league defined by larger-than-life measurements and athleticism. In exchange for spare parts—forward Earl Clark, center Henry Simms and a pair of second-round picks—that's a pretty decent pull.

Hawes' impact should be something far greater than that, though. Even if he bolts as an unrestricted free agent over the offseason, he's still a decent investment for his ability to spread the floor for this backcourt and his strengthening of this frontcourt.

 

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Despite posting head-turning numbers in Philly, Hawes' stat sheets raised eyebrows more than anything else.

Playing in a contract season on the league's fastest team (102.47 possessions per 48 minutes), he was a breakout performer in the fantasy world and the producer of empty stat sheets everywhere else. The 25-year-old posted career highs in points (13), rebounds (8.5) and assists (3.3), yet the hoops community received his "emergence" with rolled eyes and a dismissive smirk.

Of course he's putting up numbers, we said, who else on that team would?

We were right in saying it, too. Well, almost.

Philly's roster was an unsightly blend of D-Leaguers in NBA jerseys, checked-out veterans, Thaddeus Young and Michael Carter-Williams. Sixers coach Brett Brown ran his undermanned squad ragged, leaving anyone with a pulse in striking distance of inflated production.

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Hawes' stats come covered in salt grains, but not all of them are deceptive. Brown's free-wheeling system helped rediscover a three-point prowess that had been all but forgotten. The big man arrives in Cleveland with 81 made triples in 2013-14, nearly double what he'd made during his first three seasons combined in Philly (43).

That three-point stroke makes Hawes a completely different player. Without it, he's a below-the-rim center who struggles keeping his 245-pound frame upright against the bigger bodies banging underneath the basket. With it, he's a borderline invaluable offensive weapon.

With the dribble penetration games of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Hawes can give this offense the jolt defensive-minded coach Mike Brown seems incapable of adding on his own.

"He's a player we look at really being a good complimentary fit to what we do from a front-court standpoint, in terms of floor spacing, in terms of passing, basketball IQ," Cleveland's acting general manager David Griffin said of Hawes, via Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer. "The additional floor spacing complements the really special talents we have from a ball-dominant penetration side."

That's the key for both Hawes and the Cavaliers in this trade. The big man doesn't need to be special; he simply needs to make it easier for Irving and Waiters to play at that level.

Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

Irving and Waiters are both offense creators, although the former does a better job of using that gift to help his teammates in addition to himself. Over 37 percent of each player's offensive plays (38.8 for Irving; 37.8 for Waiters) are pick-and-rolls, via Synergy Sports (subscription required). Another 16-plus percent (16.5 and 17.7, respectively) are isolations.

With quickness, handles and the ability to finish through contact, they should be handling this volume of dribble-drive offense. Where the Cavs have had problems, though, is freeing up the real estate needed for these players to penetrate.

Cleveland is 15th in three-point shooting (35.6 percent). No one on the roster can match Hawes' percentage, and only C.J. Miles is clearing the 38 percent mark (39.3).

The wings need to be helping with this effort, but the frontcourt experiences the worst of these logistical issues.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Anderson Varejao is comfortable in the 10- to 19-foot range (46.4 percent), but that's more of a last-resort option as opposed to a weapon. Tristan Thompson loses most of his effectiveness once he moves outside of five feet from the hoop (40.1 percent). Tyler Zeller's shown the ability to hit that 10- to 19-foot shot (55.3 percent), but 72 percent of his field-goal attempts have come from within nine feet of the cup.

With the lane as clogged as it is, it comes as no surprise Irving has had a terrible time finishing isolation plays (37.1 percent), and Waiters has been nearly as bad on pick-and-rolls (39.2). They're just aren't many weapons around them that defenses need to respect.

Hawes' arrival should change things, possibility in dramatic fashion. If he fits the puzzle as well as he seems to be on paper, Irving and Waiters won't be the only ones reaping rewards.

"We’re a drive-and-kick team,” Griffin said, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. “It’s going to make it easier for those guys. Guys like Luol Deng can slash a little easier. There’s room for movement."

There's room to simply breath, something the Cavs haven't had in a while.

There's also some protection in Hawes, a safety net to help from Cleveland's plans of snapping a three-year playoff drought from completely collapsing.

 

Interior Insurance

The Cavs have made it abundantly clear they're ready to put their draft-lottery days behind them. 

Maybe investing the No. 1 pick on a player, Anthony Bennett, who has a 32.6 field-goal percentage 43 games into his NBA career can have that effect.

Hawes is just the latest piece of what the Cavs are hoping will become a playoff puzzle. Between the heavy offseason investment in Jarrett Jack, the dice roll on Andrew Bynum and the attempted quick-fix trade for Deng, Cleveland's been gunning for win-now moves all season.

Hawes' biggest imprint will be left behind the three-point arc, but he could be almost as valuable inside the paint.

Varejao seemed ready to end a three-year run of bad injury luck, but a bad back put him on the shelf on Feb. 9, and he has yet to return. The 31-year-old has played a total of 81 games over the last three seasons, so any trip to the training room has potential to be a long one.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Hawes can serve as Varejao's stand-in for the meantime, but they're probably looking at some shared floor time once the big Brazilian is back in action. If that means fewer minutes for Bennett and/or Zeller, so be it. Bennett's struggling to keep his head above water as it is, and ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst reported the Cavs were considering flipping Zeller at the deadline.

If Cleveland wants to shake this playoff funk, now's not the best time to be planning for the future.

Long-range shooting isn't the only thing Hawes adds to this frontcourt. He's also now become its most intimidating defensive presence, which says a lot about this group—and none of it's good—but even more about how he can help.

Hawes has averaged 1.3 blocks on the season, 0.5 more than Varejao's team-high 0.8 average. Thompson's averaging just 0.4 blocks, less than half of what he had as a rookie (1.0 in 2011-12).

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Hawes is also holding opponents to a 52.3 percent success rate at the rim this season, according to NBA.com's SportVU player-tracking data. That's not a great number by any stretch, but it's better than Varejao's (54.1) and significantly better than Thompson's (58.7).

It's also, perhaps, not indicative of Hawes' best work. He's faced more of those attempts (10.4 per game) than any player in the league and looked as if he'd fallen victim to the midseason malaise that plagued most of the Philly roster of late.

The floodgates shouldn't be quite as open in Cleveland, but Hawes will still be leaned on to provide some sort of rim protection. That's a valuable contribution, whether the big man's a partial-season rental or a piece the Cavs might like to keep around.

 

Stretch-Run Audition?

On paper, Hawes looks like a great fit for this team. As a shooter and defender, he brings elements the Cavs wouldn't otherwise have without him.

Will that translate to having hardwood success?

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It's tough to tell. The pieces seem like they all mesh, but this roster looked too good before his arrival to be fighting for its playoff lives in a watered down version of the Eastern Conference.

If Hawes is limiting the damage at one end and serving up long-range bombs of his own at the other side, this could be a major coup for Cleveland. If he's getting pushed around on the interior and forgotten offensively, this team's problems could go from bad to worse:

The Cavs face an uphill climb to get back in this race. Six straight wins have certainly helped, but Cleveland still needs to leapfrog two teams to join the playoff picture and another two to avoid being a first-round sacrifice for the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers.

The talent's in place to pull it off, and Hawes' arrival has only added to that talent surplus.

Of course, talent has never been the issue.

Chemistry and cohesion have been much greater challenges. No one knows how Hawes will impact those departments.

If he plays a part in helping Cleveland figure things out, perhaps he's found a permanent home. If not, he'll go down as the latest in a growing line of failed fixes for this floundering franchise.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.

 

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