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Cavs Come to Camp with Versatile, Accomplished Frontline
As Training Camp tipped off on Tuesday morning at Cleveland Clinic Courts – currently focused on individual workouts until group practices begin on Friday – the initial question for this year’s team is: What is their identity?
Is it their young backcourt – pairing the top picks from two of the previous three Drafts, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland (with a dash of Kevin Porter Jr.)?
The Young Bull is a relentless offensive machine, the smooth-shooting Garland might be the most improved player coming into Camp, and the versatile Porter flashed signs of greatness late last season.
Or is it their accomplished, protean collection of big men – a veteran frontline that brings serious bona fides to the table?
With Tristan Thompson leaving for greener parquets as a free agent, the group still includes Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Andre Drummond and the newly-acquired JaVale McGee.
Love – now the longest-tenured Cavalier – is a five-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer. Nance has gotten better in each of his first five seasons, averaging double-digit scoring last season with extended minutes. Drummond, a two-time All-Star and four-time rebounding champ, has almost 2,100 more boards in his career than the Wine & Gold’s all-time leader, LeBron James. McGee is a three-time NBA Champ and led each of those title teams in blocks that season.
”I still feel like our bigs are among the best in the league,” said Nance after his morning workout in Independence. “Kevin is Kevin – he’s a walking 20-10. Same exact thing can be said of Drummond – last year he averaged what, 17 and 15, and that’s ridiculous. I consider myself a pretty integral part of this team. And then the addition of JaVale who’s got experience, he’s got three Championships and he knows how to win, he’s seen the blueprint and obviously a heck of a player at that.
”So, I still think we’re one of the best frontcourts in the league and I think we’re gonna prove that this year.”
During J.B. Bickerstaff’s successful 11-game run near (what turned out to be) the end of last season, the team was successful mixing and matching their veteran bigs. Cleveland went 5-6 over that run – knocking off some heavyweights like Denver, San Antonio and Miami.
”We feel like we can be versatile in how we play those guys,” said Bickerstaff. “We obviously played the big lineup last year, and we think we can do more of that. We’re fortunate to have that versatility at those positions, and the talent as well.”
”We’re very versatile at the big man position, to the point that you could play us all at the same time if it really came down to it,” added Drummond, opening Camp with a team other than Detroit for the first time since being drafted 2012. “I think Larry, being so versatile – being able to play 1 through 5 – myself, being able to play that 1-through-5 pick-and-roll, and JaVale being able to play that role, too.
”We just have a lot of versatile bigs on our team that can really help our team and boost our defensive rating.”
McGee isn’t the only seven-footer making his Cavaliers Camp debut. The Wine & Gold also acquired four-year vet Thon Maker – the 10th overall pick of the 2016 Draft and a teammate of Dante Exum and Matthew Dellavedova with the Australian National Team.
”Thon is an incredible teammate – he plays hard every possession and really gets after it defensively,” praised Dellavedova. “And I think he’s really versatile on offense – (he can) obviously roll to the rim and dunk and things like that, but he also spaces the floor out to the three-point line. I think it’s a great opportunity for him to come here where defense is going to be the focus and bringing that intensity, and I’m excited to get back on the floor with him and Dante and hopefully start preparing for Tokyo 2021 – get a little head start.
”He’s a great competitor, an awesome teammate and an even better person.”
The Wine & Gold can use all the rim-protection they can get.
The Cavaliers have struggled on the defensive end over the past couple years, and they’ve been the least-effective shot-blocking squad in the league over that time – finishing dead last in blocks for the second straight season in 2019-20, with three teams actually doubling Cleveland’s swat totals.
With McGee and Maker in the fold, along with an improved Nance and a full season with Drummond, Bickerstaff expects to see those numbers improve this year.
Regardless of the shot-blocking stats, the Cavaliers still boast one of the most impressive collections of big men in the East.
”We’re excited about it,” said Bickerstaff. “I mean, you’ve got guys there that were multiple time All-Stars. How many teams can say that? We’ve got guys who’ve led the league in statistical categories, who’ve put up record numbers. Now, how do we use that strength to benefit the group?
”And there’s depth there. Larry has helped us tremendously. JaVale McGee is a guy who’s helped teams win titles and he protects the paint. I think he benefits our young guys in a major way – his ability to protect them on the defensive end of the floor and roll to the rim and take pressure off them in pick-and-rolls. And then obviously Dre can do those things as well.”
On Friday, when the Cavaliers are able to practice as a team, their identity will begin to take shape. And they’ll discover how that group of veteran big men fits in with the young backcourt moving forward.