There is no question that the Cleveland Cavaliers are a very young basketball team. The third youngest in the NBA according to age.
Pretty much on a nightly basis, the wine and gold start two rookies (Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller), two second year players (Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson) and a free agent who they found in the D-League in Alonzo Gee.
That’s not a recipe for success.
After the injury to Anderson Varejao, there was little help off the bench. C.J. Miles has been inconsistent, although better lately, and Luke Walton had moments where his veteran leadership made a difference.
However, as the Indians have found out in recent years, in order to provide leadership and a steady hand, the older players have to play on a night in night out basis so the younger guys like learn.
Since Christmas Day, GM Chris Grant has brought in some productive, experienced players to help coach Byron Scott, and the difference has been noticeable.
Shaun Livingston was claimed on waivers that day, and since his first appearance on the floor for the Cavs, the team has gone 8-10, a much better record than the 7-24 mark prior to his arrival. He’s averaged just 4.8 points and 3.2 assists since joining the team.
However, it’s not just the numbers. His experience and feel for the game has made a great deal of difference because Livingston knows how to play. Scott uses him frequently in crunch time.
He’s not the player he was before a devastating knee injury, but he understands how to play, something the young Cavaliers need to understand.
Then, Grant picked up two more veterans in Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington from Memphis.
Speights gave Scott another quality big man to use behind Thompson and Zeller, a good shooter from outside and a solid rebounder. Most nights, the big man is on the floor during the fourth quarter of close games.
Ellington is a bigger version of Boobie Gibson, who can match up size wise defensively with other #2 guards. Being just a shade over 6’ (and that might be generous), Gibson has become a good defensive player, but just doesn’t have the height to match up with bigger guards.
The other thing that the former Grizzlies bring is winning experience. Memphis won a playoff series a year ago, and both Speights and Ellington are used to winning. There is no question is our mind that for most players, winning is learned.
Young guys, even a player as good as Irving, usually don’t know how to play winning basketball in the NBA. Irving has shown the ability to be tremendous at the end of games in terms of making shots, but he has to understand what needs to be done defensively and when to take chances with the basketball.
Now Scott has someone to turn to in tight games, guys that have played in playoff games and know what to do when games are on the line.
The young players have veterans to look up to and to learn from. And they are out there on the floor doing it, not just sitting around talking about it.
Fans all look at the incredible talent the players like Irving, Thompson, Waiters, and Zeller have, but every team needs players like Livingston, Speights, and Ellington too.
Now that the Cavaliers have them, the proof is showing up in the win column.