Real Time Analytics

Cleveland’s Big Issue

Credit: CBS Sports

How can the Cavaliers fill out their roster to become the championship favorites?

It is well understood that defense is important to winning in the NBA. However, some of the most important aspects of defense, scheme and continuity, are largely intangible to the public. Although defense remains the most difficult aspect of basketball to measure, there has been some recent progression the past couple years with the NBA’s Player Tracking, amongst other analytics. Using these new measures, we can build a better understanding of defense and, especially rim protection in the NBA

There is a newly constructed NBA team who currently faces a huge question on defense — the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the additions of LeBron James, Mike Miller, and (potentially) Kevin Love, Cleveland is one of the best teams in the league already. However, they are incredibly thin in the front court, specifically at the center position. So what should the Cavaliers do? Sign a rim protector who can play (at least) 24 minutes per game to pair with Varejao. Historically, top defenses have been built around the likes of Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Ben Wallace, and Kevin Garnett, so the importance of rim protection has always been there. 

You need rim protection to win late in the year, and considering Cleveland wants to be winning late in the season, they should either trade or sign someone who can do it. 

The first name that comes to mind is the best rim protector in the league, Roy Hibbert. The Pacers are reportedly shopping him and just offered him to the Suns in a deal that would send Goran Dragic to Indiana in return. This offer demonstrates that Indiana doesn’t have a good grasp on Hibbert’s trade value right now. He is a beast on defense, but with his offensive game in shambles, it’s unlikely they will get anything close to Dragic in value back in a trade. 

However, there is a trade that probably could work for both teams and make the Cavaliers better — trade Kyrie Irving for Roy Hibbert. Yes, you read that correctly. And yes, you are right to think, “the Cavaliers would never do that” because they wouldn’t; but they should. The Cavaliers offense will be great with James and Love with or without Iriving. If they could land one of the best defensive players in the league, they should try. But alas, this will never happen, so I must move on. 

Roy Hibbert’s backup in Indiana is another option for Cleveland, and would be considerably cheaper. According to NBA Player Tracking, Ian Mahinmi held opponents to just 44.5% shooting at the rim while defending 5.2 shots per game. For a frame of reference, of players who played more than 65 games and more than 25 minutes per game, Hibbert held opponents to a league leading 41.4% at the rim (other top guys like Ibaka and Robin Lopez held opponents to 43.9% and 42.5%, respectively). 

According to Nylon Calculus rim protection analysis, Mahinmi compared favorably to other top defenders in the league. Simply, Mahinmi was really good protecting the rim when he played. His last season in Dallas, he was a good overall player, averaging 11.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per-36 on 58% TS. Cleveland could try to get him from Indiana with a package of Waiters and a future pick. 


John Henson is another possibility for Cleveland, and could come at a similarly cheap price. Henson was Milwaukee’s best player last season, but his trade value does not match his production level — with Larry Sanders coming back, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s growth, and the addition of Jabari Parker, the Bucks’ front court is awfully crowded.

In the same mold is Bismack Biyombo, who played incredibly well for Charlotte in limited minutes last year, but may see even less time next year with Cody Zeller getting more minutes and Noah Vonleh coming aboard. In addition to being one of the best rim protectors in the league last season, he rebounded extremely well and scored efficiently. Cleveland should give Michael Jordan a call and see what the price would be.

These above trades could be too difficult to pull off, and the Cavaliers may not want to part with any of their current players, so they may have to go the free agency route in order to complete their roster and improve their defense. 

Emeka Okafor did not play a single minute in the NBA last season due to a serious neck injury. If it is determined that he is healthy, he would be a decent and cheap option for Cleveland. He has been a decent defender in the NBA and you could do worse than a platoon of Varejao and Okafor. Another possibility is Ryan Hollins. Though his reputation is spotty at best, Hollins was a productive player for the Clippers last season. His offensive game is very limited, but he would barely touch the ball playing with James, Irving, and Love.

As it currently stands, the Cavs are already one of the few contenders in the league. Acquiring one of these rim-protecting centers would go a long ways to improving their defense and their championship aspirations.

Edited by Sam Wittenstein.

Of the following players, who held opponents to the lowest FG% at the rim?
Created 8/11/14
  1. Bismack Biyombo
  2. Roy Hibbert
  3. John Henson
  4. Ian Mahinmi

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