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As with most LeBron James-led teams, the 2017-18 NBA season has already been a bit of a rollercoaster for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Through the first 2 1/2 months of the season, the Cavs have been very up and down.
After a 2-0 start to the season, the Cavs lost six of their next nine games to teams that ranged from mediocre to downright awful. After their seventh loss of the season on Nov. 9, the Cavs went on an impressive 13-game winning streak that spanned between Nov. 11 to Dec. 6. After seeing their win streak snapped, the Cavs responded with a five-game win streak before dropping four of their next five.
Inconsistencies were expected with this team as injuries have already affected the likes of Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, and Tristan Thompson. The team did also add eight new players during the offseason, including Rose. However, the biggest new piece added is inching closer and closer to making his season debut. Isaiah Thomas has gradually increased his workouts and practice time over the past several weeks and could make his return any day now.
When the Kyrie Irving trade became finalized, the Cavs were aware of Thomas’ health and expected to be without him at least through the first few months of the season. In the meantime, LeBron is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Kevin Love is having his most efficient season since joining the Cavs, now playing at the Center position. Jae Crowder is slowly finding his fit on the team as one of the top 3-and-D players in the league. And Dwyane Wade has adjusted well into his new bench role and is leading one of the more productive bench units in the league, alongside Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Channing Frye and others. Thomas’ return, however, will completely transform this Cavs team.
Last season, Thomas finished third in scoring (28.9 points per game) and fifth in MVP voting, as he led the Boston Celtics to an Eastern Conference-best 53 wins. This Cavs team is deeper and more talented than last year’s Celtics team, so he won’t have to carry as big a load. Nonetheless, Thomas will be expected to make his presence known towards the second half of the season and into the playoffs.
After Rose’s injury, coach Tyronn Lue has opted to start 36-year-old Jose Calderon at point guard. He continues to play limited minutes, even as a starter, however, he is not a long-term solution for them. LeBron, on the other hand, currently ranks third in the league in minutes per game (37.4) and serves as the primary ballhandler and playmaker in most of the minutes he spends on the court.
Thomas’ return should decrease LeBron’s minutes slightly and allow him to spend more time off the ball. More importantly, Thomas’ return should help diversify the Cavs’ starting lineup. Without Thomas, LeBron is the team’s only starter who can create his own shot within the offense. Thomas is adept at driving to the basket and making a play, which should collapse the defense and open up more three-point opportunities for the likes of J.R. Smith, Love, Crowder, Korver and others.
Furthermore, Thomas’ return will allow Calderon to return to the bench. Wade can spend a bit less time as a ballhandler and more time as a slasher. His presence should also help when Rose makes his eventual return.
The Cavs are slowly becoming more whole as we approach the season half of the season. While it may take Thomas a while to find his rhythm and exact role on the team, his return will add a level of stability that the team hasn’t seen much of throughout the season.