Iman Shumpert: The Straw Who Stirs The Cavs’ Drink

Last year, America’s Worst Newspaper ™ upgraded its NBA coverage to get real writers (Chris Haynes and Joe Vardon, as opposed to Mary Schmitt Boyer and Elton Alexander), and it has immeasurably improved the quality of the coverage.

Aside from being smarter and more experiences, both guys are tougher. Unlike Terry Pluto (who is always looking for the silver lining in the dark cloud) or Bill Livingston (who retired 20 years ago, but still fulminates dyspeptic cliches for pay), Haynes and Vardon can spot problems and call attention to them bluntly.

Today Haynes ridicules one of the alibis the team has been floating: “We’ll be perfect when we get healthy!!!”

Now you could maybe argue that it’s hard to look good without a 3-time All Star point guard. It’s not a very good argument, since Kyrie Irving has:

  • Missed 15 games in 2011
  • Missed 13 games in 2012
  • Missed 11 games in 2013
  • Missed 7 regular-season games and 6 in the finals in 2014
  • Already missed 19 games in 2015

If you can’t win without Kyrie Irving, you’re going to have all kinds of trouble, because ha has, so far, missed 20% of your games. But you can at least claim that Irving is one of the best players in the NBA– that it is difficult to find a backup who can give you the same things that he does.

Of course another thing you could claim would be that the team is struggling because Matthew Dellavedova is the kind of player who makes his teammates better, while Mo Williams is a player who makes them worse. Signing Williams for depth made sense. Starting Williams never makes sense.

Williams is a journeyman with poor defensive skills and a loser’s attitude whose best role is starter on a 30-52 team, where he doesn’t look like the biggest problem you have.

But Iman Shumpert? A throw-in from last season’s “Repair on the fly” trade? A guy who has excelled at anything (he did crack the Top 10 in steals per game in 2011)? A guy who, over his career, shoots 40% from the floor and 76% from the line? A guy who probably couldn’t crack a ranking of the NBA’s Top 100 players?

This is like claiming (as the Cavs did the last time LeBron James was here) that Delonte West is the key player in the lineup. I don’t know a great deal about the NBA, but I know  enough to know that a team who can’t win without Iman Shumpert has something horribly wrong with its roster.

It’s very simple. Here’s the lineup that will can win playoff games for the Cavs:

Center: A platoon of Timofey Mozgov (when healthy), Sasha Kaun (if he catches onto the NBA) and maybe Anderson Varejao (clearly slipping).

Power Forward: Tristan Thompson starting, with LeBron James and Varejao (if he stays healthy) as backup.

Small Forward: James and maybe Richard Jefferson (he’s plunging in value too).

Guards: Irving and a rotation of Shumpert and Dellavedova (I’d actually try Dellavedova at shooting guard with Irving). Depth is J.R. Smith and Williams.

The rest of the roster is bodies who hurt you against Western Conference teams. If I could trade Love for someone like Jeremy Lamb and a banger, I would. They need wing players– not a power forward who’s 11th in 3-point attempts.

There is a difference between a team and a bunchy of players with good fantasy stats. If the Cavs don’t figure that out very fast, they won’t sniff the NBA Finals.

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