Mastrantoni: The Chris Grant Puzzle

There’s this game that Cavaliers fans like to partake in where they cite the players they would have drafted in place of Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett. 

Here’s mine just for fun: Jonas Valacinunas, Jeremy Lamb, and Nerlens Noel.  This at times is tiresome since it has been going on ever since Tristan struggled to begin his NBA career, but ultimately it's a game that is inevitable. 

It is the best way Cavaliers fans have to judge Chris Grant’s performance as general manager up to this point because any attempt to point at the Cavaliers win totals is easily deflected by the fact that the Cavs were/are rebuilding. 

Grant has been a staunch supporter of the “build through the draft” ethos that many smaller market NBA teams have adopted. 

Each of the individuals Grant has selected in the top 4 of the NBA draft seems talented enough on their own, but when the four names are put into a starting lineup, it starts to look a little messy. 

Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving

 Despite the fact that with time these two could learn to complement each other very well, Irving and Waiters are by no means a natural fit next to each other on a basketball court at this point in their careers. 

Much of this stems from their development as players thus far. The majority of their basketball lives have been spent as the best player on their teams and the primary ball handler when they’re on the court.  This makes them both somewhat of control freaks. 

They both seem to suffer a sort of separation anxiety without the ball because they have been conditioned to believe that the best way for their teams to win games is for them to make the majority of the decisions on the court.

Without trust in each other, nor in their team’s offense, they both tend to force drives or shots they might not have otherwise for fear they might not get a chance over the next few possessions.

Seeing as they are still both quite young there is no reason they can’t overcome this, especially since they both have the requisite skill set to play off the ball effectively, but it is going to take some maturation from both sides. 

Case in point, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James spent their first season in Miami playing isolation basketball, much like the Cavaliers, but now the Heat offense is rolling as Wade has begun to find a large portion of his offense off the ball.

By seemingly not factoring fit into his drafting equation and instead focusing solely on talent, Grant has placed a higher degree of difficulty on his coaches by handing them a 1,000 piece puzzle instead of a much easier 300 piece one. 

The reason the John Wall/Bradley Beal combo in Washington has seemed to perform better than the Waiters/Irving combo isn’t because of talent, but because Wall, while still being the team alpha dog, is a pass oriented point guard who likes to move the ball, and Beal is a highly skilled shooting guard who had to be pleaded with by his coaches in college to take more shots and who seems to have little qualm with a teammate dictating the offense on most of the possessions while he sets up as a shooter. 

This is how they both naturally play the game.  Hopefully Waiters and Irving can both learn to give up a little of themselves for the other; they’d both benefit for it. 

The Entire Frontcourt

The Cavaliers don’t have a legitimate starting NBA small forward and they are an Andrew Bynum experiment failure away from not having a legitimate starting NBA center. 

The Cavaliers also have two power forwards they selected in the top 4 of NBA drafts who were both selected at a time when one of the Cavaliers best players was a power forward in Anderson Varejao. 

If Bynum doesn’t work out this season the Cavaliers are going to be left with two big holes to fill this coming offseason in small forward and center. 

Sure they will have cap space, but they will not necessarily be able to attract any high caliber free agents, particularly if they don’t improve significantly. 

The failure to present Kyrie and Dion a reasonable small forward to play alongside surely has also caused some of their frustration as the Cavaliers have little in the way of floor spacing and opposing teams are apt to just clog the paint and challenge these two guards at the rim rather than respect the Cavaliers outside shooting.

Meanwhile, assuming Bennett isn’t a bust, it is hard to see Bennett and Tristan Thompson being the PF/C combination of the future despite the talent they both possess. 

It should work in stretches, but teams with actual offensive centers will abuse the lack of size here.  Bennett currently is riding the bench because of the glut of personnel at his position and he isn’t being given the opportunities to play like other lottery picks are given. 

I’m not sure Tyler Zeller, another first round pick, was ever expected to be a long term starter on this team, but he can’t even get on the court.  Not only that, but the Cavs seem intent on changing Zeller, who in college excelled on the fast break and in the post, into a pick and pop PF/C at the NBA level. 

Yup, more square peg-round hole stuff.

The Final Piece

Ultimately that is what seems to be the main problem with this Chris Grant tenure. The details. 

Building through the draft is definitely a plan fans across the NBA can be sold on, but what exactly is he building? 

One can just look to the Sacramento Kings as a team who has acquired a lot of talent but hasn’t been able to translate that talent into wins because the pieces don’t make any sense.

To that point, it’s the reason they allowed one time Rookie Of the Year Tyreke Evans leave in free agency.

Basketball is about the whole of its core, not individuals. 

Putting together a team isn’t a process of just slapping the five most talented guys on the court and telling them to go win basketball games. 

Players need to be put into roles they are comfortable with and capable of performing in.  Coaches can give teams an identity to an extent, but in the end a coach has to cater his system to the players he’s given. 

The general manager is the one who should be deciding how he envisions his team to play and then grab a coach who is in line with that vision. 

Grant seemingly doesn’t possess any sort of vision in terms of how he wants his team to play basketball seeing as he has been involved in hiring two stylistically different coaches in Byron Scott and Mike Brown

Hence that is why it is hard to say if Grant has a plan beyond acquiring talent, however he evaluates it, and then just letting the coach figure the rest out.

Joe Mastrantoni, writes for "The Defend Cleveland Show". This is a special for Newsnet5.com.


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