3 Rim Protectors Cleveland Cavaliers Should Be Pursuing

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3 Rim Protectors Cleveland Cavaliers Should Be Pursuing
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

With the addition of LeBron James and Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers won't need much. The offense should be one of the very best in the league, even when accounting for time to jell.

There's shooting at multiple positions, talented isolation players, offensive rebounding in spades with Love and Anderson Varejao and the world's best player in James.

While there isn't a whole lot that the Cavaliers don't have the potential to do, including winning an NBA title, it's important for general manager David Griffin to nitpick a bit. The Chicago Bulls still loom as a formidable foe, and if you're stacking up the Cavs with them, the defense is nowhere close to what Chicago can bring.

Here's Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk with more on Cleveland's needs:

Rim protection is going to be an issue against the elite teams. Chicago has it and the Cavaliers are going to need it against them in the East if Derrick Rose and his slashing game return to form. They are certainly going to need it against the ball movement in San Antonio, or the slashing of Russell Westbrook and how the Thunder get to the rim, or the lob-city attack of the Clippers with Chris Paul.

Elite teams get easy buckets, getting them at the rim and generation open looks from the perimeter (ideally three). Then they knock them down. If you can’t defend that, you can’t win a ring.

That will be the Cavaliers biggest challenge. Griffin knows it.

Elite rim protection doesn't come cheap. Centers are almost always paid at a premium, and teams are usually pretty hesitant to let go of big men that can serve as defensive anchors. 

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Varejao is plenty serviceable as a rebounder and pick-and-roll defender, but the Cavs do lack length and shot-blocking. You can survive without those things defensively if you're lights-out on the perimeter and in defending the pick-and-roll, like the Miami Heat were, but the weaknesses of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters as individual and team defenders is going to create some issues on that end.

The good news is Griffin isn't ignorant to what could be a big problem come playoff time.

Here's what Griffin said on Fox Sports Radio on the Jay Mohr Sports show:

I have concerns (on) ability to protect the rim, and that’s not just a Kevin (Love) question. I don’t have any concerns about Kevin’s ability to be in the right place at the right time. He's been really open about the fact that he’s bringing a focus to that end of the floor that maybe he didn’t do before.

Improvement from Love will certainly help, but his lack of length and explosiveness will never allow him to be much of a deterrent at the rim. He's best off carving out space for misses than chasing shots anyhow.

The Cavs did well to secure rookie big man Alex Kirk, who could help in this regard, even though it's highly unlikely he'll see enough minutes to make a significant contribution.

Here's Chuck Myron at HoopsRumors.com:

Kirk is a rim protector, as his 2.7 blocks per game this past season for the Lobos show. The Cavs have been sniffing around for someone who can play that role, reportedly offering a first-round pick for Timofey Mozgov, though Kirk will likely have to beat out a veteran or two to serve in that capacity for significant minutes in wine-and-gold this year.

The 22-year-old also averaged 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in 32.0 minutes per game in his junior year this past season at New Mexico. Kirk managed only 0.4 blocks per contest over 15.4 MPG across five summer league appearances, but Cleveland is seemingly confident that the larger sample size of his college performance is a better indicator. Kirk joins 15 others who have a contract or an agreement with the Cavs, though only 10 of them are known to have fully guaranteed deals, as our roster counts show.

With Kirk unlikely to be the answer, and with Tristan Thompson, Love and Varejao all lacking rim protection abilities, let's take a look at three players the Cavs may want to pursue at some point.

 

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets

As previously mentioned, Mozgov could be a target for the Cavs according to what Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports said on WFAN Radio in New York, as noted here by Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders:

Mozgov is a mountain of a man who just soaks up space in the paint, and his 7'1" frame allows him to send away shots at a solid clip. In his first four years, Mozgov has averaged 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes while pulling in 10.1 boards as well.

Mozgov is also a better scorer than he seems to get credit for, as he has a nice little jump hook and a pretty soft touch around the rim. It's no surprise that Cleveland would be interested, even if he isn't the small-ball center James had success with in Miami.

While a late first-round pick seems fair on the surface for Mozgov, Denver might not feel they can let him go. JaVale McGee is coming off season-ending surgery, and he's never been able to play big minutes anyway due mainly to foul trouble and coaching decisions. Mozgov may be viewed as necessary, and losing him for a pick would certainly put a dent in any hopes Denver has of returning to the playoffs.

Still, keep this one filed away for the trade deadline. If Cleveland still hasn't addressed their need and if Denver appears to be out of the race, this could spark back up again.

 

Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Kosta Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies

Another Western Conference team with a solid shot-blocking big man in a backup role is former Denver Nuggets center Kosta Koufos. This would be a homecoming of sorts for the former Ohio State center, and his raw size and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes are pretty similar to Mozgov.

Koufos is a better offensive rebounder than defensive rebounder, so it would be interesting to see how that would work next to a frontcourt that should already leverage that advantage on the offensive glass quite a bit. 

Koufos is by no means a star, but he's provided some solid production and really helped the Grizzlies stay afloat last season when Marc Gasol went down with injury.

Would the Grizzlies ship out their insurance policy? Again, this is a team with playoff hopes, so it might be a challenge. That said, the front office of Memphis likely values a late first-round choice more than Denver does, even if it would leave the team without a starting center candidate in 2015 if Gasol bolted in free agency.

If there was another piece on the roster the Cavs were willing to give up that the Grizzlies wanted in addition to a first-round pick for Koufos, maybe this could work.

 

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks

The frontcourt in Milwaukee sure is crowded with the addition of Jabari Parker, who projects to be a small 4 at the next level. With Ersan Ilyasova on contract along with John Henson, Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia, this could be a time crunch of sorts.

Should the Bucks want to deal Henson? Probably not, but if Sanders and Ilyasova bounce back, it's probably not out of the question.

Henson would be a steal for the Cavs as a mobile, lanky big who could really unleash as a shot blocker with Love, Varejao or Thompson protecting him on the boards. Henson has averaged 15.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes in his first two seasons, and there's plenty of room to grow. 

If Henson could finish with his right hand and reliably knock down shots from 15 feet, he could become a legitimate double-double threat every night that provides elite rim protection thanks to his incredible length. 

A first-round pick probably wouldn't be enough for Milwaukee to deal a cheap, productive asset like Henson, but perhaps a swap of Dion Waiters for Henson could make both teams happy.

What's more likely is that Henson would need to fall out of favor with the Milwaukee coaching staff and management, making him available at the price of a future first-rounder. Don't rule that out.

 

Ultimately, the Cavs should have some solid options to pursue when looking around the league for a shot-blocker.

Again, those kind of players may be harder to pluck away than you might imagine, but if history is any indicator, the Cavs will be aggressive on the trade market all year long. 

 

Advanced stats are provided courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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