By, Josh Stonberg
Two new superstars to pair with Kyrie Irving, a new coach in David Blatt, and talented, young players on the bench. Cleveland seemed primed to be the NBA’s next dynasty, but the key word there this season has been seemed. An underwhelming 19-15 start for the preseason Eastern Conference favorites has shocked everyone. Murmurs of Blatt’s job security disappearing and Lebron James possibly opting out after year one of his second stint have been floating around, and on Monday, GM David Griffin knew he had to do something quick.
The Cavs traded for J.R Smith, Iman Shumpert and a first round pick while giving up Dion Waiters, a second round pick, Lou Amundson and Alex Kirk (not that anyone cares about those last two guys). So the question now is could this be enough to get Cleveland back into the championship conversation? Griffin took care of the Cavs biggest problem, which was guard Dion Waiters. The relationship between Waiters and all-star point guard Kyrie Irving was rocky before the year began, and clearly has not improved as this season nears the midway point. Waiter’s issues this season did not end in the locker room; the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft was averaging career lows in points per game (10.5), assists per game (2.2) and shooting percentage (40.4%). Known to be an offensive threat, Waiters’ fit on the Cavs was so bad that he was actually bringing down the effectiveness of the offense while he was on the court. With Waiters and his abysmal 25.4% three point shooting on the court the Cavaliers offensive rating was a mere 101, significantly lower than the 109.4 offensive rating achieved with Waiters off the court.
In getting rid of Waiters, the Cavs acquired two intriguing players from the Knicks. The first, J.R Smith, is a very similar player to Waiters. The 2012-2013 6th man of the year is averaging 10.9 points per game on 40.2% shooting. These are his lowest numbers since the 2005-2006 season when Smith was on the New Orleans Hornets. Remember when they were called the Hornets? Anyways, this may be a good fit for Smith. Unlike New York, who relied on Smith’s scoring due to a lack of offensive options, the Cavs have more than enough premier scorers to be fine when Smith’s sporadic rough patches occur. The hope for Griffin and Blatt is that Smith does not clash with the team’s superstars (Irving, Love and James) as Waiters did. The more interesting piece in terms of on court production will be Iman Shumpert. Known for his defensive prowess, Shumpert should help lower the Cavs defensive efficiency of 105.4, seventh worst in the NBA. Shumpert is also capable of knocking down three pointers, and though he is only shooting 34.8% from deep this season, he shot over 40% from behind the arc only two seasons ago.
Though this trade will help the Cavaliers, in order for them to be considered as championship contenders their star players will have to step up. J.R Smith and Iman Shumpert are solid additions to the team’s depth, but these guys are not going to win their team a championship. Lebron James is averaging less points per game (25.2) than any year after his rookie season, and his field goal percentage (48.8) has fallen to his lowest since the 2007-2008 NBA season. He is also on pace for a career worst 15.1% in turnover percentage. Even worse, James’ woes have not been solely on the offensive side of the ball, as his defensive rating per 100 possessions is the highest of his career (107). His win shares per 48 minutes, which takes into account both offense and defense, is his lowest since his rookie season. Its unfair to place all the blame on Lebron though, as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have also struggled to find their grooves so far this season. Kevin Love’s win shares per 48 minutes (1.59) are significantly lower than his three last seasons where he was active for more than 20 games. Kyrie Irving’s 19.2 player efficiency rating is well below his career 20.6 rating and is also the lowest of his career. Only time will tell if a dose of J.R Smith and Iman Shumpert is the cure for the newest big three’s early season woes.