How Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder Will Impact Cavs Team Looking to Win 2018 NBA Title

Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder

Now that the league has had a chance to process the massive Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah ThomasJae CrowderAnte Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round draft pick, we can investigate what the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers will roll out to start the season.

To start, the injury status of Thomas is of primary concern, but owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman wouldn’t waste what could be LeBron James’ last season in Cleveland for a player they didn’t believe could help them win right now. The hip didn’t require any surgery, and an amped up James is more than able to carry the heavy load to start the season.

Taking the liberty to include Thomas, here’s the updated projected lineup: LeBron James (SF), Isaiah Thomas (PG), Kevin Love (PF), Tristan Thompson (C), and (probably) J.R. Smith (SG).

A major point of contention with some is whether Thomas is even a downgrade from Irving.

Here’s a rundown of their 2016-2017 stats:

Of course, Thomas was the primary option for Celtics for the last two seasons, while Irving was clearly behind James. However, despite playing in four more games, Irving only shot 53 fewer total field-goal attempts (1,420 to Thomas’ 1,473). They both shot around 91 percent from the line, but Thomas got to the line almost twice as much as Irving  (649 attempts to Irving’s 328).

As shown in the chart above, neither are good defensive players, but the diminutive Thomas is a bit more of a liability, which clearly affects his real plus-minus tally. Questions about Thomas’ ability to guard anyone in the deeper waters of the playoffs, especially the Golden State Warriors, remain, and the Cavs must figure out how to mitigate this deficiency.

The truth is that, though Thomas has had notable moments in the clutch, Irving is a slightly better player who gets the championship bump. He’s done it at the highest level, and that counts for something.

That said, Thomas will quickly become a fan favorite for entirely different reasons than Irving — he’s a grinder. He wasn’t a blue chip recruit or a lottery pick. Cleveland, a hardworking midwestern city with a permanent chip, absolutely adores these sorts of athletes playing for their teams.

What Thomas isn’t is a true point guard, who’s going to create for others; however, he may be an even tighter fit with James, because he’s more exact in getting to his spots and doesn’t require much isolation time to get to them. James will transition further into the undisputed “point guard” of the team, with Thomas as more of a straightforward two-guard who can dribble drive, get to the free-throw line, or kick out to shooters.

It’s the acquisition of Crowder — specifically for this season of course — that may make the biggest difference, however. The Cavs now have a defensive-minded, starter-level wing that will provide significant minutes off the bench and can knock down corner triples. There’s going to be a mutual respect between Crowder and James, and their combined length and brawn on the perimeter should prove terrifying for much of the league.

Additionally, Crowder provides tremendous flexibility and can play some power forward with Thompson — or, depending on the matchup, with Love as a stretch center in some instances.

The active Thompson, long-ball specialist Smith, defensive specialist Iman Shumpert, and new additions Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Jose Calderon will all be simply asked to do what they’ve been doing their whole careers, respectively. Love, however, could see a bump from Thomas’ decisiveness with the ball, which will lead to more attempts, which he needs for consistency and confidence.

When a hungry Thomas, in a contract year, comes back 100 percent, there’s actually a real chance for a Cavs team with better cohesion and chemistry. With the specter of Dwayne Wade’s likely arrival and multiple trade exceptions at the front office’s disposal, the Cavs will be fun to watch from game one.

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