Everybody knows now that Kyrie Irving is for real after All-Star Weekend. Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters also turned heads with their elite performances in the Rising Stars Challenge. But anyone who thinks any of this explains the Cavs recent 8-5 record, missed the real story. The guys behind them on the depth chart are playing like studs.
“When all five of us play like a unit,” said swingman CJ Miles, “It’s really hard to guard.”
Last year, a broken-down Luke Walton was exiled to Cleveland as the Lakers paid-off the Cavs to acquire Ramon Sessions for a playoff run.
Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington were each traded away by the teams that drafted them, while Shaun Livingston managed to hang on an NBA team’s roster for the time in four years after suffering what was deemed a career-ending injury. All three of which were jettisoned this season for little or no compensation.
Miles was benched in Utah as his statistics continually plummeted each season since his first in the league, ultimately signing for a paltry sum in Cleveland.
Fast forward to today: These five have joined forces to form one of the most-productive bench units in the league.
“You know what we do,” Wayne Ellington said about the 2nd unit. “We get after the ball. We help guys on the defensive end and we turn up the intensity.”
“We like to yap at each other and set each other up and have fun out there,” said Luke Walton.
The statistics show more than simple work ethic, as the Cavs bench is averaging 52.58 points a game since the acquisition of Speights & Ellington. They have outscored opposing benches by 91 points in that span (seven points per game) and have only been outscored in three games (two of which were victories in which the starters played longer minutes due to their hot play).
“You have to get adjusted to the role you are playing,” said Marreese Speights, who leads the 2nd unit with 12.5 ppg. “That’s the role I’m playing so I’ve got to play the role.”
“From a point guard’s perspective, it makes my job easier,” said Shaun Livingston. “You love it. I give them the ball and let them go to work.”
As a bench unit, these five have combined to become a dominant unit on the floor together. All the while, they are pushing the Cavaliers young first unit in practices, elevating their play as well, which can be evidenced by the improved play of all three of their lottery picks.
For the Cavaliers, this 8-5 run is a look at next year, where not only will the young starter’s progress, but they maintain the cap flexibility to keep this 2nd unit together another year. And if the last 13 games has evidenced anything, it’s that the Cavs can compete with any team in the league and should be a lock for a return to the playoffs in 2013-14.