Starting Iman Shumpert over DeAndre Liggins was supposed to get the team on the right track. Now, Shumpert has regained his shooting stroke but the team has lost their defensive edge.
Just a month ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the NBA were raving about DeAndre Liggins and his defensive play. He was being compared to Tony Allen, Patrick Beverley and Matthew Dellavedova himself for his defensive grit. LeBron James thinks he’s a “diamond in the rough“, Kyrie Irving appreciated his role in suffocating opposing point guards.
Yet, because Liggins was an unwilling shooter, the Cavs offense wasn’t exactly as potent as it was supposed to be. In addition, Iman Shumpert was beginning to lose consistency and efficiency in his shooting stroke. So, theoretically, starting Shumpert was a smart move for the Cavs.
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Perhaps it was, but here are some quick numbers from the Cleveland Cavaliers last quarter of play.
They’ve went 13-9 in their last 18 games and were 8-4 with Liggins starting in 12 of the last 16 games.
In their last six games, he Cleveland Cavaliers are 2-4 after inserting Shumpert in the starting lineup. They were 11-5 with Liggins starting for 16 games.
Now, the Cavs did score under 110 points in 8 out of the last 16 games with Liggins starting and only once in six games with Shumpert starting. So, in that sense, the Cavs are succeeding.
Still, defensively, the team has given up more than 110 points in 4 out of the 6 games Shumpert has started. They only gave up 110 points in 2 out of the 16 games Liggins started.
The Cavs have given up 19.2 points per game to opposing point guards with Shumpert starting. They gave up 14.9 points to opposing point guards with Liggins starting, even with three great 30-point performances by Eric Bledsoe, Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas in that time frame.
One of the differences with Shumpert starting over Liggins is that Irving guards the point guards now. That’s a problem simply because point guards are the more dynamic players and able to get others involved.
Opposing shooting guards have only scored 12.7 points per game with Shumpert starting. They gave up 17.9 points per game to opposing shooting guards with Liggins starting and Irving typically guarding them.
In sum, the Cavs are giving up 31.9 points per game to opposing backcourts with Shumpert starting. They were giving up 32.8 points per game to opposing backcourts with Liggins starting. That’s a positive 0.9 point differential without considering how the change in defensive schemes has led to the Cavs giving up 110 points in 4 out of their last 6 or that the opposing point guards are able to get other players involved at a higher rate with Irving guarding them
In the last 6 games, the Cavs are giving up 7.5 assists per game to opposing point guards. They give up 5.3 assists per game when Liggins is starting.
Looking past the statistics, it’s easy to see that Liggins was a versatile defender that disrupted the flow of the opposing team’s offense on a consistent basis.
As James said in the above clip, Liggins gives the Cavs what they had with Dellavedova, a gritty player who goes out there and does his job. Liggins, like Delly, doesn’t have a brand to live up to or any impetus to do anything but stop his man from scoring and play within the team concept.
Furthermore, while Shumpert is a solid defender, he’s not as lanky as Liggins, nor is he the same type of defender. Shumpert is plays the game on that end with boundless energy while Liggins watches and waits. Shumpert is more like a pure man-to-man cornerback, like Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. Liggins is more of a hybrid cornerback and free safety, like Oakland Raiders legend Charles Woodson.
So without one of their best playmakers on the court for defense, the Cavs make it that much harder to get the stops they need.
Liggins doesn’t have to start, mind you. The Cavs are able to get to a hot start when Shumpert is shooting well and the offense moves much more smoothly when Shumpert starts because of his willingness to shoot.
However, after playing 22.2 minutes per game as a starter, Liggins has played 10.8 minutes per game since Shumpert has been starting and has played fewer than 10 minutes in each of their last three contests. That’s not conducive to the team playing up to its defensive potential, as the statistics show.
Liggins played 1 minute last night while James played 45 minutes, Irving played 42 minutes, Kevin Love played 39 minutes and Kyle Korver played 33 minutes. Taking away even 5 minutes from each of those players and allowing Liggins to influence the game with defense would have prevented the team from making costly defensive mistakes at the end of the game. Irving and James would have had more energy at the end of the game as well.
While playing Kay Felder was smart so that he could match up with the short and shifty Ty Lawson at point guard and James Jones received Richard Jefferson’s minutes while he attends to a personal matter, there was no reason not to play Liggins.
Lue’s substitution patterns and lineups have been questionable all year. As the head coach, Lue does have the personality he needs to lead his troops and the basketball IQ to design a system that allows the Big Three to all dominate at the same time.
However, for a defensive-minded head coach, he doesn’t seem to care much about the Cavs living up to their defensive potential. If he did, Love wouldn’t play center so often, Korver wouldn’t have been in for the final possession last night as a defensive stopper and Liggins wouldn’t be falling out of the rotation.