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The Cavs entered the 2022-2023 NBA Season with one of the deepest benches in the Association. Kevin Love, who finished second in Sixth Man of the Year behind the Heat’s Tyler Hero during the 2021-2022 campaign, alongside a combination of Dean Wade, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens, Robin Lopez and Raul Neto were expected to provide contributions alongside the team’s “Big Four” (Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen).
Going into the season, an argument could have been made a combination of five players off the Cavs bench could be a starting lineup in the NBA. Yet, with 23 games down in the regular season, despite their 16-9 record, the Cavs bench has not shot par. The bench currently ranks 26th per game in minutes (16.2) and points per game (28.9).
Some of the struggles with the bench has to do with injuries. Love has been suffering from a fracture in his thumb on his shooting hand, and Wade is currently out three-four weeks with a shoulder injury after he just recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him six games. The starters have also missed time, as Allen missed five games with a sore back, Caris LeVert missed four games with a left ankle injury, and Garland missed four games earlier in the season with a laceration on his left eyelid. When a starter has missed a game, it causes a flux rotation off the bench because somebody is going to be outside of their normal role.
However, the main issue with the bench rotation for the Cavs this year has been the lack of playing time for some of the key contributors off the bench mentioned above, specifically for the veterans the Cavs signed this offseason. Robin Lopez has not gotten the minutes of a backup center the team signed him to be this offseason to compliment Allen. Lopez has only played double-digit minutes in eight of the 19 games he’s played in. The four games he didn’t play in wasn’t due to injury; he just never got into the ballgame.
Neto was signed to be the primary backup point guard until Ricky Rubio recovered from his torn ACL, and just like Lopez, Neto hasn’t seen the minutes of a backup point guard. When Garland missed time due to his eye injury, J.B. Bickerstaff inserted Mitchell at the ‘1’ instead of Neto. In 16 games this season, Neto is averaging just 8.5 minutes per contest.
Even the regular contributors off the bench have not gotten the playing time they did a year ago. After averaging 23 minutes per game a season ago, Love is averaging 20 minutes per game in 2022-2023. Okoro’s minutes have fallen from almost 30 per game last year down to 19 this year.
The Cavs starters currently average the fourth-most minutes in the NBA at 164.2. While the starters average the fourth-most points per game at 82.6, it is not sustainable.
The NBA season is a long, grueling, 82-game campaign. Bickerstaff and the Cavs have already seen the effects of the season with the amount of injuries they have sustained. The Wine and Golders have one of the most talented starting lineups in the game of professional basketball.
You can make the argument they could send every member of their “Big Four” to the 2023 NBA All-Star Game in Utah in February, but they also have one of the best rosters in the league, and Bickersfaff needs to start using the roster more. Otherwise, the Cavs may be worn out by the time the starters really need to perform come spring.