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Ranking the Restricted Free Agents

Jesse Blancarte takes a close look at the best restricted free agents who will be on the market this summer.

Jesse Blancarte



There are now eight teams left standing in the NBA playoffs, which leaves 22 teams to start planning for the upcoming offseason. While this year’s draft class has considerable talent, there is also a list of young, promising free agents that will be available. In particular, there are a number of talented restricted free agents that could be snagged away by teams willing to pay the right amount.

This is generally a risky strategy as teams will often match any offer their player receives. It is also risky because often times restricted free agents are still anywhere from 23 to 26 years old, and it isn’t yet clear how valuable they are as players. Teams that extend an offer sheet to a restricted free agent also tie up their cap space for several days while they wait to find out if that player’s original team will match. Still, each season teams look to pry away these young players, banking on their current skill and future potential.

IN RELATED: The Complete 2014 Free Agent List

Here we rank this season’s most notable restricted free agents, starting at the bottom:

Jordan Crawford (Golden State Warriors)—

Crawford came into the league as primarily a scorer. However, this season rookie head coach Brad Stevens came in and made Crawford a primary ball-handler for the Boston Celtics. The results were both surprising and promising. In 39 games played with the Celtics this season, Crawford averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 0.9 steals, but only shot 41.3 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Crawford’s ability to handle the ball and make accurate passes was a welcome addition to his game, and got the attention of the Golden State Warriors, who were in need of depth at the guard position. The Warriors executed a trade for Crawford and brought him in to back up Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. With Golden State, Crawford only played 15.7 minutes per game (down from 30.7 in Boston), but he still scored the ball well, although his assist rate went down.

It is somewhat unclear what to expect long-term from Crawford, or how much he is worth per year. The Warriors would be wise to try and keep him around though, as he can fill in at both guard positions as needed and Golden State currently relies heavily on Curry and Thompson. Crawford is hardly a lockdown defender, but his playmaking ability is valuable, and at age 25 there is still plenty of room for Crawford’s game to improve and mature. Golden State can make Crawford a restricted free agent by extending a $3,206,867 qualifying offer.

P.J. Tucker (Phoenix Suns)—

At age 29, Tucker finally established himself as a solid rotation player in the NBA this year. Tucker averaged 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 steals during the 2013-14 season. He spent several years overseas working on his game and now features a mix of toughness, shooting and versatility defensively.

At just 6’5, Tucker is able to guard players as big as LeBron James and players as fast as Klay Thompson. He even took on Blake Griffin when the Suns played the Clippers and was thrown out of a game for throwing an elbow at the star power forward. Tucker isn’t just an energy guy, though. He helped spread the floor for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, hitting 38.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and 41.2 percent on corner three-pointers.

His production was significant and an absolute steal considering he made just $884,293 for the season. Unlike the majority of the other restricted free agents, Tucker is almost 30 and will be looking to get as big of a contract as possible. Phoenix can make Tucker a restricted free agent by extending a $2,875,131 qualifying offer.

Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings)—

Thomas had a breakout season at age 24. He received more minutes and showed that he could be a difference maker at the point guard position.

He averaged 20.3 points, 6.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. He also got to the free throw line 5.7 times a game and shot 85 percent.

Thomas is lightning quick and is a tough cover for other point guards who do not have the foot speed to stay in front of him. However, the problem for Thomas is that he is severely undersized at 5’9, even at the point guard position. He averages more points, assists and is generally a better shooter than Eric Bledsoe, but Bledsoe has the physical tools to defend the quickest point guards like Tony Parker and the stronger point guards like John Wall. In comparison, Thomas struggles to defend against almost all point guards. As good as Thomas’ statistics are, he gives a lot back on the defensive end, which makes it hard to justify giving him a large, long-term deal.

The Kings have a top-10 pick in this year’s draft and may very well add a point guard with more size, like Marcus Smart or Dante Exum. If this happens, Thomas will likely be joining a new team next season, unless the Kings decide to bring him back as a primary scoring option off the bench. Sacramento can make Thomas a restricted free agent by extending a $2,875,131 qualifying offer.

Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics)—

Avery Bradley is a little difficult to gauge as a player. He has missed significant time throughout his four-year career, but has proven to be a tenacious on-ball defender when healthy. This season, Bradley averaged over 30 minutes per game for the first time, and put up 14.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals, and shot 43.8 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.

There are very good numbers for a young guard, especially one whose previous career-high in points per game was 9.2. The problem is that Bradley is not really a true point guard and is undersized at shooting guard, which diminishes his overall value. Bradley has stated previously that he is looking for a deal in the range of $8 million per year, but this is a high number for someone who is primarily a defender. For example, Tony Allen, who is the gold standard in the league as a wing defender, made $4,494,382 this season in Memphis. Bradley has more skill as an offensive player, and more upside, but Allen can guard small forwards like Kevin Durant, whereas Bradley is limited to point guards and shooting guards.

If Bradley can develop his point guard skills further, similar to Eric Bledsoe and Jordan Crawford, he would be more than worth $8 million a year. However, as of now, Boston will have a difficult choice to make, and Bradley may be on the move if he asks for more than the Celtics are willing to pay. Boston can make Bradley a restricted free agent by extending a $3,581,302 qualifying offer.

Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz)—

It is somewhat difficult to figure out just how good Hayward is, and how much would be a reasonable contract to offer him. As his minutes have increased throughout his four-year career, his efficiency has decreased. In particular, Hayward’s shooting percentages have dipped significantly. This is a result of defenses honing in on him more as he has become more of the focal point on offense for the Utah Jazz, but it is still disconcerting.

This season, Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals, but shot only 41.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from beyond the arc. These are solid per game numbers, but again the shooting percentages aren’t where they need to be. However, a team looking to add a versatile, well-rounded small forward may be convinced that Hayward would make an excellent complementary piece. For example, the Phoenix Suns have been rumored to be interested in unrestricted free agent Luol Deng, but Hayward’s stats are nearly identical to Deng’s. In fact. Hayward is a much better playmaker, averaging 5.2 assists to just 2.9 for Deng. While the Suns may be interested in Deng more for his veteran experience than anything else, it may be worth taking a serious look at Hayward, who at age 23 has significant room to grow, whereas Deng is 29 and has dealt with injuries throughout his career.

However, Hayward may not be available, as the Jazz have made it clear they want to keep him in Utah as long as possible. However, if a team does manage to pry Hayward away, he would add a lot of versatility and upside to his new team. Utah can make Hayward a restricted free agent by extending a $4,677,708 qualifying offer.

Chandler Parsons (Houston Rockets)—

For several seasons now, Parsons has been the best value in the NBA. The Houston Rockets chose Parsons with the 38th pick in the 2011 draft and have benefited from his defensive ability and three-point shooting ever since. This season, Parsons averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, four assists and 1.2 steals, and shot 47.2 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point range. Those are very good numbers for a third-year small forward at just 25 years old. But Parsons only made $926,500 this season, which is an absurdly low number for a player this productive. Credit Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for picking Parsons when so many other teams overlooked him. Consider this: The Los Angeles Clippers had the 37th pick in the 2011 draft and took Trey Thompkins, who is currently out of the league. If they had taken Parsons, he would be starting at small forward for them alongside Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

The Rockets currently have a team option on Parsons for next season, but may let him test the free agency market as a restricted free agent rather than exercising their option. This way, if a team offers Parsons a large contract, the Rockets will at least have the option of matching it, and keeping him in Houston long-term. If the team picks up his option for next season, Parsons will become an unrestricted free agent after this contract expires and Houston would risk losing him to another team since they wouldn’t have the option to match.

Though Parsons will likely get a big offer sheet, the Rockets know how valuable he is and will almost certainly bring him back.

Greg Monroe (Detroit Pistons)—

At age 24, Greg Monroe is one of the best young big men in the NBA. This season, Monroe averaged 14 points, nine rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals, and shot 50.8 percent from the field. It was actually a down year for Monroe in comparison to 2012-13, when he averaged more points, assists, rebounds and steals. This is in part explained by the arrival of forward Josh Smith, who was unable to stretch the floor from the small forward position and is more suited to play power forward, like Monroe.

Monroe is a very versatile player. He is a good shooter, underrated passer and has nice touch around the rim. He is not a great shot blocker, but that isn’t a huge problem next to a true center like Andre Drummond.

At just 24 years old, Monroe still has a lot of room to improve. His shooting percentages outside of the painted area need to increase, but Monroe has the ability to add more range to his shot. Teams know this and he should have plenty of potential suitors this summer. Ultimately, the Pistons will have to determine how much they are willing to pay Monroe to keep him around. If the new general manager (not yet named) feels that Monroe is not worth the money, he could theoretically be included in a sign-and-trade. However, this should only be a secondary option, as Monroe is truly a top young big man in the league and should not be let go of lightly. Detroit can make Monroe a restricted free agent by extending a $5,479,935 qualifying offer.

Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns)—

Bledsoe is one of the most tenacious on ball defenders in the league. He is super-athletic and strong, allowing him to check the quickest point guards and some of the bigger shooting guards in the league. In fact, many other players around the league refer to Bledsoe as “Mini LeBron.”

The Phoenix Suns made a great trade last offseason to acquire Bledsoe, sending Jared Dudley to the Los Angeles Clippers and a second-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. Bledsoe was only available because he was positioned behind the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul.  Clippers fans were sad to see Bledsoe move on, as many believed his unique skill-set and physical abilities would make him a good fit to play alongside Paul in an unorthodox backcourt. Unfortunately, Bledsoe would have been too expensive to keep long-term.

In Phoenix, rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek put Bledsoe alongside Goran Dragic, another point guard, in the starting lineup. The pairing was an instant hit. Bledsoe’s minutes went up from 20.4 minutes per game in 2012-13, to 32.9 this season. With more minutes and a main role at point guard, Bledsoe posted career numbers of 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, Bledsoe suffered a torn meniscus and missed significant time early in the season. However, upon his return he showed that he was still as explosive as ever.

Bledsoe will get a lot of attention from teams looking for a long-term solution at point guard. Some team may find him worthy of a max contract offer, which will put pressure on the Suns to determine whether he is worth holding onto for that steep of a price. The Suns have indicated that they will hold onto Bledsoe no matter what, showing how valuable they believe him to be. He may not be as good of a shooter as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving, but he is the best on ball defender at point guard in the league, and has a developing offensive game. Wherever Bledsoe ends up next season, he will make a significant impact on both ends of the court. Phoenix can make Bledsoe a restricted offer by extending a $3,726,967 qualifying offer.

Honorable Mentions:

Greivis Vasquez (Toronto Raptors)—

In 61 games this season with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez averaged 9.5 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds, and shot 41.7 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. While these numbers don’t jump off the page, he managed them in just 21.5 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, Vasquez put up 15.9 points, 6.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds.

Beyond these numbers, Vasquez tallied the most assists in the entire league in 2012-13 with 704 total. Vasquez is an underrated playmaker and a very good shooter from three-point range. He is not the quickest player, but he uses his size effectively, allowing him to play both point guard and shooting guard as needed. Toronto can make Vasquez a restricted free agent by extending a $3,203,780 qualifying offer.

Evan Turner (Indiana Pacers)—

Turner is an interesting player. He has a diverse skill-set, good size at shooting guard and small forward, and is able to handle the ball as needed. His numbers, particularly scoring, have increased each season, but his shooting is still shaky at best. Turner has never shot over 45 percent from the field and is a career 32.6 percent three point shooter.

Expectations were high for Turner as he was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. However, he is yet to have put his entire game together into one effective package. A team may take a chance on him and offer him a significant contract this offseason, but that team would do so hoping for continued development in Turner’s game. Indiana can make Turner a restricted free agent by extending a $8,717,226 qualifying offer.

Let us know how you rank this year’s restricted free agents in the comment section below!

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers



This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies



After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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