On Monday, July 24, it was reported that one time MVP point guard Derrick Rose was headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a mere 2.1 million dollars. On the surface, this might seem like a steal, as the Cavaliers, a team well into the luxury tax was able to snag what was a starting point guard last year and a former MVP for practically nothing. And yes, for some other teams signing Rose for that cheap would be a no-brainer, but for the Cavaliers specifically, the chances that this will show to be an awful deal will be much higher than the chances of this being a good move for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Let’s just look at how DRose has performed as an NBA player in recent years, instead of putting on rose colored glasses (see what I did there), and reflecting on the work he did more than five years ago before all of the injuries. In 2016-2017, the former MVP put up about 18/4/4 for the New York Knicks, all while shooting the second best field goal percentage of his career at 47.1%. Although these numbers definitely surpass the numbers he has put up in previous years since his glory days, but let’s not forget just how limited he is as a player. Outside of his extensive injury history, he is an awful defender, with -2.36 defensive real plus minus, a non-three-point shooter, shooting just 6.1% of his shots from three-point range, and a below average passer for a point guard, with a 22.8% assist percentage, which makes him 21st of 24 players who played the majority of their minutes at point guard with his minute total or higher. Despite the fact that he still drives ten times per game, and is a decent pick and roll point guard, his best days are definitely behind him, and his fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers almost seems as if it was done for name recognition, and so LeBron would get another backup point guard with a star’s past (see Deron Williams).
However, when you look at the current build of a team like the Cavaliers, a player like Derrick Rose serves no purpose. And although this might seem like some biased hyperbolic statement from an overzealous Toronto Raptors fan, I would not be surprised if Numero Ocho himself, Jose Calderon proves to be the better fit for the Cavs as the backup point guard, as Calderon is an ideal fit next to LeBron James, although neither of them should be on the floor with Kyrie Irving (yes, he is still on the roster). But I’d assume that head coach, Tyronn Lue will try to scatter the minutes of these three, so two playmakers are on the floor at all times, so let me run a word simulation of how these Rose+LeBron/Kyrie lineups will likely turn out.
First, LeBron and Rose. Despite the fact that LeBron made an infamous request for more playmakers last year, when Kyrie was off of the floor in the playoffs last year, the best Cavaliers lineups came when LeBron was made the main ball-handler and was surrounded by capable three-point shooters like Kyle Korver (47% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers with the Cavaliers last year), Kevin Love (39.5%), Iman Shumpert (35.2%), Deron Williams (43.3%), Richard Jefferson (36%), Channing Frye (41.8%). That is why the three most successful lineups for the Cavaliers in the playoffs came when LeBron was on the floor and Kyrie was not. Remember when the Cavs made that insane comeback against the Pacers in game three of the first round? Well, the lineups that made that comeback followed that structure. These lineups were successful due to the sheer attention LeBron attracts when he attacks the basket, which gives shooters immense amounts of space to get shots off. In fact, the LeBron drive is the main reason why the Cleveland Cavaliers were fourth in wide open three-point attempts last year with 14.1.
If Derrick Rose were to replace one of these shooters in these lineups, the spacing would be completely different, as Rose is not a competent three-point shooter, and when the ball is not in Rose’s hands, he is pretty much ineffective. He had an effective field goal percentage of 32.1% on catch-and-shoot opportunities last year, and was not a very good cutter either, landing in about the 21st percentile for cutting points per possession. Rose also happens to be a worse driver and pick and roll ball-handler than LeBron, and so giving him the ball in those lineups would not be in the Cavs best interests either. And his defense is beyond terrible, so he would not make up for his unproductive offensive sets with good defense.
And although two point guard lineups have worked recently for teams like the Los Angeles Clippers with Chris Paul and Austin Rivers (+10.6 points per 100 possessions), the Utah Jazz with Dante Exum and George Hill (+17), the Toronto Raptors with Cory Joseph and Kyle Lowry (+5.9), and the Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston (+18.5), these lineups are successful because between each team’s two point guards, there was enough size and defensive ability to make it work. Meanwhile, the combination of Kyrie and Rose defensively would be rough to say the least, as neither guard has the reputation for being a very good defender, and could easily be exposed by any other team’s backcourt.
Derrick Rose also would not be very effective leading a full bench unit either, as outside of LeBron James and maybe Iman Shumpert of all people, there is no one on the Cavs roster who is even an average playmaker for their position, and so Rose would get no playmaking support. And needless to say, giving Rose the LeBron lineup treatment by pairing him with four shooters would not be nearly as effective, as Rose is the far inferior playmaker of the two, both on drives and in general.
That is why as silly as it may sound, Calderon, the 35 year old career role player is the better fit as the Cavaliers second string point guard than 28 year old former MVP Derrick Rose, as although much like Derrick Rose, Calderon is an awful defender, and is far inferior athletically than Derrick Rose, Calderon could be a very good fit for the LeBron sans Irving lineups, as he has a reputation as a terrific three-point shooter (40.9% for his career), and despite having a far dipped assist percentage, Calderon’s assist per turnover ratio both for this year (2.1>1.9) and since the post-injury Rose era (3.1>1.7) are better than that of Rose. With all of this being said, Calderon should only be seeing minutes when LeBron is on the floor and when Kyrie is not, as the backcourt defense of him and Kyrie would be pretty laughable as well.
Perhaps I am underestimating the offensive talents of Rose, and overestimating the remaining talents of Calderon, but with this team it seems as if the skill of three-point shooting has become much more valuable than athleticism, especially when both options are both god awful at defense. Although Rose might give us the throwback crossover and reverse layup every now and then which brings us back to a time of nostalgia, as long as Rose continues to be an awful player off of the ball, his fit on the Cleveland Cavaliers will not be a very pleasant one.