The small-ball, downsizing era has been magnified a great deal by the Golden State Warriors and their famed Death Lineup with playmaking forward Draymond Green at center. It’s inspired others who have the capability, such as the Thunder, Spurs, and Cavaliers, to seek out versions of their own super-small death lineups to counter.
For the Cavs, putting Kevin Love at center was an enticing option because of his floor spacing offensively, and it’s been successful for them. The main issue emerges on the defensive end. Love just isn’t built to keep up with the likes of someone like Draymond Green in transition or in the two-man game defensively. Putting Love at the five has it’s lucrativeness, but the Cavs know they can’t sustain it.
From ESPN’s Zach Lowe:
“It sounded good to a lot of people,” Jim Boylan, a Cavs assistant, told ESPN.com, “but it’s something we haven’t been able to take advantage of. It’s easy for teams to scheme against. They switch and we’re stuck with an isolation.”
The Cavs are impossible to guard with Love at center in supersmall lineups — that LeBron-Love pick-and-roll becomes harder to switch, at least until the other team goes small too — but those Cleveland lineups have zero chance on defense. “Kevin at center just hasn’t been effective for us,” Boylan said.
And then, this comment from Lowe:
The Cavs’ depth on the wing probably isn’t strong enough, especially on defense, to out-Warrior the Warriors in a small-ball battle — even if they got radical and played LeBron at center.
This is exactly what I think the Cavs might need to look at — getting radical and playing LeBron at center. It probably wouldn’t come up unless they do face the Warriors in a Finals rematch, and if that’s to be the case then they’ll probably need to get a little drastic in order to win.
The lineup I’m picturing isn’t entirely sexy, and matching up with the Warriors five would still be difficult, but it would help the Cavs with tempo and spacing offensively.
Irving-Dellavedova-Smith-Shumpert-LeBron. You could swap Channing Frye for Iman Shumpert, which might look more like Frye is at center instead of LeBron, but it would be close enough. It’s not like LeBron can’t man the duties of the five spot in spurts, especially when cross-matched with another forward-at-center like Draymond Green. They might as well give it a go.
More from Lowe:
Mozgov has been bad since a knee surgery. Frye has been fantastic, and he’s taller and longer than Love, but he has thrived mostly against backups. It’s fashionable to nominate Frye as a better fit next to LeBron — a low-usage shooter who tries hard on defense — but I’m not convinced those alleged benefits are worth trading out Love’s versatility on offense.
The Cavs have learned to choose between Mozgov and Tristan Thompson when facing smaller lineups. Having both on the floor together becomes a liability on both ends of the floor, which points to one obvious solution of using LeBron more at the four. But if the Cavs want to shake things up and introduce some unpredictable versatility, they might want to consider the idea of using LeBron James at center in some situations.