INDEPENDENCE — For starters, the Cavaliers have five good ones. In reserve, they don’t have much.
With restricted free agents Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic still absent from training camp, Cleveland’s bench is remarkably weak as the Oct. 31 regular-season opener against the Dallas Mavericks approaches.
It’s not that the Cavaliers don’t have depth. Guys like Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Devin Brown, Shannon Brown, Ira Newble and even Dwayne Jones are legitimate NBA players. It’s just that none of them are top-tier reserves who deserve to be on the floor 25 or 30 minutes a night.
Scarier still is that one of those guys is an injury away from being in the starting lineup should something happen to LeBron James, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes or Daniel Gibson.
So when always positive coach Mike Brown smiles and correctly states that “the first unit has been really good” in Cleveland’s 1-4 exhibition season, left unsaid is that the second unit has been almost unwatchable at times.
For proof, the coach said, “Dwayne Jones has excited me the most.”
Dwayne Jones, a 6-foot-11, 251-pounder, appeared in four games last season and scored three points. The 24-year-old St. Joseph’s grad has improved, but that he might be in the rotation if the season started today isn’t exactly reassuring.
“Dwayne’s shown he deserves minutes,” Mike Brown said. “Everyone else has just kind of been there.”
At guard, Damon Jones has been Cleveland’s most consistent bench player, but Mike Brown just doesn’t seem enamored with the veteran’s defense.
Devin Brown, meanwhile, is probably going to play decent minutes and could turn into a good garbage player. Problem is, the 6-5, 220-pounder thinks he can shoot. In exhibitions, the San Antonio native is a woeful 7-of-33 from the field (.222), including 2-of-15 from beyond the arc (.133).
Devin Brown is also being counted on to play some point guard, even though he can’t dribble and face his defender at the same time.
Second-year guard Shannon Brown, meanwhile, has shown he can score in a Dajuan Wagner way. The Michigan State grad is second in the preseason with a 12.2 average, but most of his points have come either in the open court or in one-on-one situations.
Even more disturbing is that the 6-4, 211-pounder has an amazing 18 turnovers and just four assists. To put that in perspective, Shannon Brown would average 8.0 per game over a full 48 minutes.
“He’s got to take care of the basketball,” Mike Brown said bluntly.
If nothing else, though, the Cavaliers at least have some options in the backcourt, as Newble and the currently injured Eric Snow will also be in the mix.
The front line, on the other hand, is dangerously thin.
Marshall is 34 but is playing like he‘s 44. The 14th-year pro knows how to play and still gives an honest effort, but even his 3-point shot is unreliable. Marshall is 5-of-20 from the field, including 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Given that the 6-9, 245-pounder has never liked to battle down low, Dwayne Jones had better continue to excite Mike Brown.
Cedric Simmons may also get some minutes once he’s fully recovered from a bone bruise to his left ankle, but no one will provide the energy and quickness off the bench that Varejao did last season.
That’s not good news, and it’s compounded by Mike Brown’s history of quickly pulling Ilgauskas and Gooden. One positive is that lack of bench talent will force the coach to stick with Ilgauskas and Gooden, who should have been on the floor down the stretch of games much more than they were last season.
But if Varejao’s holdout is extended, Ilgauskas and Gooden may become exhausted later on.
At the moment, however, the starters will also have to be finishers.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.