Grading Cleveland Cavaliers' Newcomers So Far

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2015

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 25:  Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the game on January 25, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

After looking shallow, lethargic and uninspired following injuries to LeBron James and other key players earlier this month, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed a shot of life.

They ultimately received three.

J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov were all acquired by the Cavs in early January, coming over in two separate deals centered around Dion Waiters and a 2015 first-round pick.

So far, the additions have proven huge for the Cavaliers, winners of eight straight games.

Here's how each new player is fitting in, and grading out, in Cleveland.

Iman Shumpert, 6'5", 212 pounds, SG/SF

Jan 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert warms up before the NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Stats: 17.3 minutes, 4.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.5 steals, .500/.364/N/A, 10.4 PER

We've only gotten a small glimpse of Shumpert thus far, as he's appeared in just four games following a return from a separated shoulder.

The Cavaliers have wisely kept him on a minute restriction, so he's played games of 10, 14, 18 and 28 minutes while working his way into the rotation.

Head coach David Blatt had this to say to Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group following Shumpert's first game:

I thought Iman came in and did a great job tonight. He was on a 10-minute restriction. He used every one of them in a great way. We talked a little bit about the rotation before the game tonight and you can see there are minutes for him there as well as the others who had been playing in the most recent streak. He's going to give us a lot and I was happy with what I saw from him.

Shumpert is still very much trying to find his place in an offense with so many moving parts already in place. Anything the Cavs can get from him on that side of the ball is an added bonus.

With James and Kyrie Irving, Shumpert is going to spend the majority of his court time playing off the ball. He'll get some open looks from beyond the three-point line, and he should be able to pick up a few baskets per game in transition or off cuts to the hoop.

His solid shooting from the field (50 percent) and three (36.4 percent) is a nice sign thus far.

Defensively, Shumpert has already been a monster.

Jan 23, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert (4) defends Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 129-90. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Well-known for his ability to effectively guard three different positions on the perimeter, Shumpert has lived up to his reputation. In his first four games, he held opponents to just 23.1 percent shooting from deep. This marks a drop-off of 15 percent from the player's season average, per NBA.com.

It's this kind of suffocating defense that should eventually land Shumpert the starting shooting guard job in between Irving and James. The Cavaliers will look for him to take pressure off James defensively, allowing the latter to save his energy for the offensive end.

Shumpert's continued adjustment alongside the Cavs' existing stars will be key to his success moving forward.

Grade: B

Timofey Mozgov, 7'1", 250 pounds, C

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 28:  Timofey Mozgov #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers on January 28, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Stats: 27.5 minutes, 9.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, .532/N/A/.710, 16.9 PER

Enough good things cannot be said about Mozgov.

While some questioned whether general manager David Griffin gave up too much by trading the Denver Nuggets a pair of 2015 protected first-round picks, the move for the 28-year-old Russian appears to be brilliant thus far.

Mozgov is doing everything the Cavs need him to.

Already leading the team in blocks (1.2 per game), Mozgov is doing a great job of making opponents think twice before driving the lane. He brings a toughness that Cleveland lacked inside, evidenced by his skirmish with Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins on Jan. 25.

As Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com points out, the addition of Mozgov has allowed the Cavaliers to change their entire pick-and-roll defense.

Without giving away the farm, the change was explained by a person familiar with the Cavs’ defense as Cleveland now “downing” side pick-and-rolls (also known as “icing” or “bluing”) and forcing the ball handler toward the baseline, where there is a defender waiting and taking up that space. The Cavs used to “show” on side pick-and-rolls, asking the defender down low to come up to the point of the screen to try to disrupt the action with his presence before hastily retreating back to the lane. The new scheme doesn’t ask for as many constant rotations out of the Cavs, though it does allow the ball handler to get closer to the hoop, which presents its own challenges.

Cleveland used to "show" far more often with Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao because they aren't considered strong rim protectors. The team's goal was to keep the ball-handler away from the basket and avoid favorable matchups with the Cavs' big men inside.

Now, it's almost as if the Cavaliers are daring opponents to drive the lane.

Before Mozgov arrived, Cleveland was allowing 99.5 points on 46.9 percent shooting from the field, per NBA.com. In the eight-game win streak with Mozgov as the team's starting center, they've tightened this amount to 98.3 points on 42.8 percent. The latter figure, if stretched over the course of the season, would rank second in the NBA.

Toughness is a big attribute that Mozgov brings to the table, telling Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group: "I just try to do what I can do. I don't try to do anything different. I just try to be big, try to play strong, try to protect the rim and most importantly try to play hard every time. I just try to make it a little tougher on guys."

Offensively, "Timo," as teammates refer to him, has been a pleasant surprise. He's shooting a career-high 53.2 percent from the field, and he is an impressive 50 percent on two-pointers beyond 16 feet.

He moves extremely well for his size and likes to pin opponents in the paint as soon as he runs down the floor. This occasionally leads to an easy two points, as his frame is tough for most other big men to contend with.

At the end of the day, the Cavaliers need Mozgov to enforce the paint, something he's done an excellent job of so far.

Grade: A-

J.R. Smith, 6'6", 220 pounds, SG

Jan 25, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Stats: 33.2 minutes, 14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, .400/.361/.818, 12.2 PER

In some weird, unforeseen way, Smith and his sometimes erratic personality have fit in with Cleveland perfectly.

"This is definitely the most fun I’ve had in an NBA locker room," Smith told Brendan Bowers of SLAM. "This team is the most fun. Especially, right from the start. We all clicked right away."

Thought to be the Cavaliers' new sixth man after the departure of Waiters, Smith has actually excelled in a starting role. He has the ability to handle the ball if needed, but he fits better as a floor-spacer and shooter next to the team's Big Three.

In 11 games as a starter, Smith is averaging 15.3 points on 37.6 percent shooting from deep. His the ability to knock down catch-and-shoot three-pointers is an important fit with this team. So far, Smith is shooting an impressive 41.7 percent, via NBA.com.

"He's a confident guy, confident in his ability and rubs off on a lot of guys on this team," James told Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "For us to have such a weapon like him to consistently make shots is huge for us. I was excited when we were able to acquire him."

For all the warning about headaches and late nights that Smith could bring, he's been nothing but a model citizen so far.

Part of this, for better or worse, has to do with Cleveland compared to New York City. For what Northeast Ohio lacks in nightlife, it also cuts down on the distractions that have plagued Smith throughout his career. He touched on this in a recent interview with TNT's David Aldridge:

I got my brother here with me, so we're in the gym every night, playing one-on-one, or whatever the case may be, as well as me getting my rest. I think this is the best situation for me, 'cause there's nothing but basketball. There's nothing you expect but basketball. There's nothing, there's no going out, there's no late nights. There's video games, basketball and basketball.

While he may eventually get moved to the bench in favor of Shumpert, Smith is doing everything the Cavaliers have asked of him.

Cleveland's offense is more dynamic and dangerous with him in the lineup, ripping off 104.9 points per game since Smith arrived. If he can become a more consistent scorer and work on creating extra space before shooting, Smith could eventually become an A-plus acquisition.

Grade: B+

Greg Swartz has covered the Cleveland Cavaliers for Bleacher Report since 2010.

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

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