Season-in-Review: Cavaliers' Second Unit

May 15, 2013
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Luke Walton + Shaun Livingston
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/GettyImages

Season Overview: With the Wine and Gold weathering another injury-plagued season – losing a combined 171 games to injury in 2012-13 – the team’s second unit was frequently different from week to week. But through the second half of Cleveland’s season, the Cavs bench was one of the team’s true strengths.

The rookies took their turn coming off the bench. Tyler Zeller started the season with the second unit and Dion Waiters finished the season there after returning from an injury. In a mid-season stint with the second unit, Waiters notched his first 30-point game, scoring 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter against Sacramento – becoming just the third Cavalier (after Mike Mitchell and Derek Anderson) to net 30 points off the bench.

About a week after Dion’s breakout game, GM Chris Grant made the biggest move of the season, trading little-used forward Jon Leuer to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first-rounder. Selby was assigned to Canton, but Speights and Ellington joined holdover veterans Boobie Gibson, Omri Casspi and Luke Walton – along with CJ Miles (signed in the offseason) and Shaun Livingston (inked on Christmas Day after his release by Washington).

Speights went on to tally at least 10 points and five boards in his first seven games in Cleveland, a first in franchise history. In his 38 appearances off the bench, Speights averaged 10.2 points and 5.1 boards as a Cavalier.

Ellington came off the bench for most of his first two months in Cleveland. But injuries forced the former Tar Heel into the starting lineup for the final 15 games. He did well in those starts, averaging 11.3 points per contest and netting double-figures in 10 of the 15.

Overall, the second unit’s point production increased exactly 10 points (26.0 ppg-36.0 ppg) after the duo arrived.

CJ Miles was the group’s most consistent performer all season. He came off the bench in 52 of his 65 appearances, averaging 11.2 ppg – second-best mark in his career. The Dallas native also canned 126 treys on the season, his career-best. His best single-game performance with the second unit came on December 29, when he became the first Cavalier in team history to hit eight three-pointers off bench – going 8-for-10 from long-distance against Brooklyn.

Luke Walton was also one of the second unit’s rocks all season. He brought some much-needed veteran leadership to the young Cavaliers and was the team’s best distributor off the bench – averaging 4.5 assists per game after January 22, leading all Eastern Conference bench players during that span.

Cleveland got other contributions from their reserves sporadically all season. During an early season run, Daniel Gibson notched double-figures in six of eight games off the bench. Omri Casspi had a similar run early in the season before being sidelined by an emergency appendectomy. Kevin Jones spent much of the season between Canton and Cleveland, but showed some serious promise in the final few weeks of the season.

The Cavaliers will be adding more depth this offseason, between the Draft and free agency. Some members of this year’s second unit will return and some will not. And Mike Brown’s rotations are certain to be different than Byron Scott’s. More change is on the way for the Wine and Gold. And that includes who’ll be coming off the bench next November.

Highlight: The Cavaliers’ most successful month in Byron Scott’s tenure was this past February, when the squad went 7-5. In that month, Cleveland’s reserves averaged 41.6 points per contest, sixth-best in the NBA during that span.

Lowlight: During a particularly cool stretch in early January, the Cavs second unit averaged only 20.6 ppg over a ten-game span – and went 3-7 in that time.

Odds and Ends: Around Thanksgiving, Luke Walton – one of the second unit’s rock solid performers and winner of the Austin Carr Good Guy Award – described his family’s holiday traditions on Cavs.com. One of those traditions is an odd form of Trivial Pursuit in which Luke’s famous father, Bill Walton, makes up his own questions and gives odd gifts for correct answers.

“My parents provided the presents – my dad and my step-mom – and everybody who played was eligible,” recalled Luke. “But there was a catch. One time, I got a heavy box and I was all excited. I opened it up and it was every NBA team’s old media guides from the previous year. They were wrapped up. It was whatever stuff he had. One time, it was a box of power bars.”

By the Numbers: 29 … games out of the Cavaliers’ final 39 that the bench combined to score at least 30 points. During that stretch, Cleveland’s reserves also averaged 15.5 boards and 9.9 assists per contest.

Looking Forward: It’s impossible to forecast what’s next for the Wine and Gold’s reserves, as that group will certainly take on a completely new look in 2013-14. The biggest question is which players will – and will not – return next season.

Quotable: Former head coach Byron Scott on the second unit keying a 21-5 run as the Cavaliers overcame a 20-point third-quarter to beat the Bucks on January 25 …

“It’s pretty simple. I told my guys to thank the second unit. They won the game for us. It’s that simple.”