The night before the trade deadline, there was an expectation that the Cleveland Cavaliers would make a move but no one could have expected them to trade six players and a first-round pick for four players in return. They remade their roster and it felt like the scene in the Godfather when Michael Corleone settled all the family business. The Cavs traded in older players for younger and more athletic ones. It has only been two games but the fit has looked great and more importantly, the chemistry on the bench has looked so much better.
Let’s look at the pieces the Cavs got in their trades.
George Hill (acquired from Sacramento in three-way trade between Utah and Sacramento with Iman Shumpert heading to Sacramento)
There is no question before this trade that Hill was not having a great year in Sacramento, but it is hard to blame him. In his nine seasons before this one, Hill only missed the playoffs once so it is not surprising he wasn’t motivated with the Kings. That said, he is going to be a great running mate for James. Hill is a strong on-ball defender, in his first two games he cut down driving angles on Kyrie Irving, drew a charge on Jayson Tatum, and slowed down Russell Westbrook when he came off a ball screen.
Offensively, he can be a secondary creator when on the court with James. He is capable of creating for teammates off the bounce, like the lob he threw to Tristan Thompson or hitting JR Smith for a three off of a pick-and-roll. Hill also doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands to be useful for the Cavs; he’s a knock down spot up shooter hitting 44.9% from three and 50% from the corner three in particular.
Rodney Hood (acquired from Utah in the same three-way trade that sent Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder to Utah)
Hood is a young 25-year-old, he’s been inconsistent for the Jazz but when he is on, he’s good. This season he’s shooting the best he ever has from three at 39.5% in his four-year career. At 6’8” he has the size and length to help defend wings like Paul George. He can be everything the Cavs were hoping Crowder would be and more.
Jordan Clarkson (acquired from Los Angeles for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and the Cavs 2018 first round pick)
Clarkson can explode on any given night off the bench for the Cavs. Unlike with the Lakers, he will have a more defined role in his new situation. In Clarkson, the Cavs are hoping he can replace some of the scoring that they thought they were going to get from Thomas once he got healthy. Although not known for his defensive skills, Clarkson can make plays, like he did in his debut against the Celtics on that end when he applies himself.
Clarkson got picked off by the screen but stayed with the play, got the steal and went coast to coast for a layup in transition. He is another player the Cavs have that can create for themselves in pick-and-rolls like when he crossed-back on Patrick Patterson for a layup, as well as creating for others like when he drew the defense and dumped off the ball to LeBron in transition for a layup. His three-point shooting has been on fire in the two games with the Cavs hitting an unsustainable 57.1% but even when that regresses (and it will) can still knock down big shots that’ll put a smile on James’ face.
Larry Nance (acquired from Los Angeles for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and the Cavs 2018 first round pick)
For Nance, this trade is a homecoming, being from Akron, Ohio and playing for his father’s old team. (Side note, it would be really cool if he wore his dad’s number 22) Nance might be one of the most athletic guys James has ever played with. He is a ball of energy, something that the Cavs haven’t had a lot of this season.
Nance is going to really help bolster the backline of that porous Cavs defense. He is great at coming from the weak side to either block or alter shots like he does on Jerami Grant in the post or on Paul George’s drive. Offensively he is limited but he is a great roller who can finish at the rim just about over anyone. Even when he doesn’t get the ball on the rolls, it forces the weak side defender to leave their man to tag him, which creates open shots for his teammates. Watching him develop some chemistry with LeBron is going to make a few amazing highlights and new posters.
Offensively the Cavs are keeping it simple since the trade they have inserted a Princeton set when Clarkson is in the game to give him an opportunity to attack off the dribble. They have also started to use the weakside action more out of their elbow series, which they were able to get Hood an open three against Oklahoma City. As time goes on, Tyronn Lue will be able to introduce the rest of their playbook piece by piece.
Defensively the Cavs are trying for what feels like the first time this season. The example below was one of their best pick-and-roll rotations all season, as Al Horford slipped the pick, Smith rotated over from the low weakside to take him just as the ball got there. James zoned up the weakside ready to take either weakside guy if the ball went there. Since they were in such good position, the Cavs were able to force a turnover and head the other way.
It has only been two games and these guys are shooting at an unbelievable rate, partly because of the excitement of playing for a contender for some of these guys for the first time in their career. The measure of this team won’t be tested until they face adversity, which will come.
One thing is very clear though; the energy around this team has done a complete 180 after these trades. The guys are having fun again even coach Lue cracked a smile in his post-game presser in Oklahoma City. Whether these moves were enough to get them to the finals and/or keep LeBron James in Cleveland beyond this season remains to be seen but for the first time in a long time, there is some optimism in the Land.
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- Inside the 24 hours that changed the Cavaliers’ season by Adrian Wojnarowski from ESPN
- Photo Credit: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki