Ranking Every Cleveland Cavaliers Player Since the Trade Deadline
Still led by LeBron James, the Cavs no longer have a Big Three to revolve around, but they are perhaps deeper and more talented overall than at any time since James' return in July 2014.
Kevin Love rejoined the team last week after rehabbing a broken left hand, marking his first appearance with the trade deadline additions of Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and George Hill.
Nearly 20 games since the major roster shake-up, Cleveland's best players and lineups are beginning to rise to the top. Excluding those on 10-day and two-way contracts, here's how all 13 players stack up heading into the season's final stretch.
All stat lines are from after the trade deadline only.
13-10: Zizic, Calderon, Smith, Osman
13. Ante Zizic, C
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 5.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 80.0/0.0/76.9 shooting, minus-0.4
Zizic recently got extended minutes for the first time all season because of injuries to fellow big men Love and Tristan Thompson. The 21-year-old rookie proved he could handle some backup duties with his ability to play pick-and-roll and finish around the rim.
He gives the Cavaliers good production (19.0 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes), and at 6'11", 250 pounds, he has the build of a traditional center. Still, defense has been an issue, and we won't see him unless more injuries occur.
12. Jose Calderon, PG
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 5.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 50.0/52.4/85.7 shooting, plus-2.3
Calderon has had the biggest roller-coaster role on the team, going from starter to reserve to not playing at all for extended periods of time, all without complaint.
He's been an outstanding shooter this season and is the team's only true pass-first point guard. With a full, healthy rotation, Calderon will likely go to the bench again, even though he's probably earned rotation minutes.
11. JR Smith, SG
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 8.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 41.5/39.5/78.6 shooting, minus-0.3
If you remove his name and history with the team and look at Smith's stats and lack of defensive focus, you'd be hard-pressed to say the 32-year-old belongs in the rotation.
The starting shooting guard on the 2015-16 championship team has fallen that far, and the Cavs have finally benched him for Kyle Korver. The good news? Smith was really good in the early stages of the 2017 playoffs when locked in, providing hope he can flip his own switch again this time around.
10. Cedi Osman, F
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 7.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 51.4/40.6/47.1 shooting, minus-0.4
Although his playing time was rare early in the season, Osman started nine games at small forward following the roster shake-up at the Feb. 8 deadline.
He responded with 8.6 points and 3.0 rebounds on 53.6 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from three in those contests. Osman can guard four positions and is a fireball of energy whenever he steps on the court.
9-6: Green, Thompson, Hood, Korver
9. Jeff Green, PF
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 44.1/28.0/87.2 shooting, plus-4.3
When Green's phone lit up this past summer with a recruitment text, he didn't know who it was from. After reading the entire message, he saw LeBron's name at the bottom, asking him to come to Cleveland.
It's been a successful signing, as Green has been a productive bench member on a minimum deal. As long as he stays away from the three-point line (23.9 percent over his past 15 games), he can be effective as a 6'9" slasher and attacker in transition.
8. Tristan Thompson, C
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 6.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 54.1/0.0/25.0 shooting, minus-2.2
Calf and ankle injuries have caused Thompson to miss 24 games this season after he saw time in all 82 regular-season contests over four years (2012-16). Per Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, the calf injury may have lasting effects: "Thompson's calf injury was fairly severe. He tore a muscle in there and has said repeatedly—and told me again the other night—he'll likely never be 100 percent healthy ever again. The calf may explain why he has looked slow and lacked explosion on so many nights."
Thompson has perhaps lost his starting center job to Nance for good, but he can still be a solid backup capable of cleaning the glass. In two games back from an ankle injury, Thompson has hauled in 20 rebounds in just 31 minutes.
7. Rodney Hood, G/F
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 10.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 42.1/32.7/81.3 shooting, minus-0.4
In a perfect world, Hood would take the starting shooting guard spot and keep it throughout the 2018 playoffs. The 6'8" wing has seen a drop in his shooting and his role from his days with the Utah Jazz.
"I don't feel like we've seen everything that he can do," acting head coach Larry Drew said, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. "In our system, we allow you to play. We want you to be you. He was really good [Sunday], just from an aggression standpoint and attacking the rim and looking for his shot at the three-point line. But no, he's just scratching the surface."
Hood should eventually claim the starting job and a jump in these rankings.
6. Kyle Korver, SG
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 10.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 47.3/48.2/90.5 shooting, plus-5.8
Even at age 37, Korver has been a high-level contributor.
He's fifth in the NBA in three-point shooting, and his percentage leaps to 47.5 when he shares the court with James. Given his outside attack and adequate performance on the league's 28th-ranked defense (109.7 points allowed per 100 possessions), don't be surprised if Korver stays in the starting lineup while Hood becomes more comfortable in his role.
Age and defense issues will be a concern from here on out, although his ability to come off screens and catch and shoot may never disappear.
5. Jordan Clarkson, G
2017-18 Stats Per Game with Cavs: 13.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 46.5/39.5/80.0, plus-1.4
NBA scouts whom I talked to following the trade-deadline deals were split on Clarkson's fit in Cleveland. One was worried how his green-light approach would mesh with James, particularly following the failed experiments of Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose.
So far, the Cavs coaching staff has done a good job of staggering time, giving Clarkson nearly 10 minutes a game without James on the court.
While players like Korver rely on James to get them the ball in spot-up opportunities, Clarkson is a rare player who thrives without outside help.
He is scoring 22.5 points and is plus-3.5 per 36 minutes when in the game without James. When the two share the floor, his numbers drop to 19.3 points with only a plus-0.4 rating.
He won't look to get others involved or play lockdown defense, but Clarkson, with his scoring prowess, is a nice fit as the team's sixth man. His motor and ability to push the pace put pressure on the defense even when players like James and Love are sitting.
4. Larry Nance Jr., C
2017-18 Stats Per Game with Cavs: 11.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 58.3/0.0/71.8 shooting, plus-4.9
Despite being slightly undersized at 6'9" and 230 pounds, Nance has mostly thrived as the Cavaliers' starting center.
He's big enough to challenge most bigs at the rim and athletic enough to navigate the perimeter when switched onto a smaller opponent. His long arms play passing lanes well, and only James averages more steals (1.3) on the team than Nance.
In six games as a starter, Nance is averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds while shooting 57.1 percent in 26.1 minutes. He is second on the Cavaliers in offensive rating (131) and win shares per 48 minutes (.221). He is first in defensive rating (107) and is second only to James in box plus-minus (2.9). He's fourth on the team in player efficiency rating (22.6).
While there are holes to his game (three-point shooting, shot-blocking, foul trouble), Nance gives James a reliable lob target at the rim and someone who can run the fast break as a ball-handler or a finisher. At 25 years old and still on his rookie deal through next season, there's no reason why Nance can't be the Cavs' starting center for years to come.
3. George Hill, PG
2017-18 Stats Per Game with Cavs: 10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 45.5/37.9/79.5 shooting, plus-4.8
Nance can make an argument for this spot, but Hill has started to become what the Cavaliers envisioned when they traded for him.
He has been a steady force at point guard with his defense, ball-handling and high IQ. His shooting numbers have dramatically increased after a slow start, up to 50.5 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three over the past 14 games.
Taking the entire 2017-18 campaign, Hill is second on the team to Nance in plus/minus, a testament to his ability to play both sides of the ball. If anything, a larger role would be beneficial for him and Cleveland, as he's the only starter except James who looks to get others involved.
The Hill-James pick-and-roll has worked from day one, as the Cavs' best ball-handlers are a dangerous combination, especially when surrounded by shooters.
With the potential of facing point guards such as Toronto's Kyle Lowry, Washington's John Wall and Boston's Kyrie Irving—assuming he's able to return from his knee injury—in the playoffs, the Cavs will need Hill's defense and knockdown shooting more than ever.
2. Kevin Love, F/C
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 20.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 45.6/48.1/94.1 shooting, plus-12.3
Love's season has had three chapters.
First, there's the period before Thomas returned from his hip injury in January. As the team's clear second option, he put up an impressive 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on his way to being named an Eastern Conference All-Star.
Sharing the ball with Thomas killed Love's production, however, as he averaged just 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest as the third option.
The good news? Love is back to being the team's secondary mouth to feed and the only true star next to James. In four games since his return from a broken hand, Love is averaging 20.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The Cavaliers are 4-0 in those contests, including an impressive win over the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.
With the help of Korver, Love also altered his shot while he was out, and he's made 13 of his 27 three-pointers (48.1 percent) since returning.
1. LeBron James, SF
2017-18 Stats Per Game: 30.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 10.1 assists, 55.5/37.3/68.9 shooting, plus-3.5
James won't win the MVP award, but it's once again hard to argue that anyone is more valuable to his team.
The 33-year-old is on pace to play all 82 games for the first time in his 15-year career and seems to be getting better, while so many others around the league have been lost to injuries or fatigue. He recently joined Karl Malone and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to record 10 seasons or more with at least 2,000 points, per NBA.com.
Love's return should help LeBron. Having a big who can knock down threes at better than 40 percent ensures that opposing centers can't pack the paint against James, who uses his strength to bully his way past defenders to the rim.
With Love back, James is converting 62.7 percent of his shots, including 70.1 percent from inside the arc.
Cleveland's overall depth and some All-Star play by Love is nice, but everything will once again come down to James.