Early in the season, at the height of the Cavaliers’ struggles, there was a raging debate in the Cavs organization about the starting lineup, particularly involving the shooting guard spot. Dwyane Wade was starting and J.R. Smith was coming off of the bench, leaving an imbalance in terms of shooting on the first unit and on-ball creativity on the second.
Once Derrick Rose went down with an ankle injury, the Cavs were all but forced to remedy the situation by shuffling Wade into the backup point guard role. Since then, Wade has flourished, seeing his per game averages and efficiency take a significant jump and the Cavs have, likewise, benefitted from the move. After a rocky stretch early in Wade’s move to the bench, which included the veteran taking a shot at the starting unit, the Cavaliers have ripped off 12 straight wins.
Cleveland has hit its stride in recent weeks, but Isaiah Thomas is nearing his return (mid-December was the most recent target date) and that could mean another lineup shuffle to incorporate their All-Star guard. Thomas will surely take the starting point guard spot for the Cavs and give Cleveland a greater on-ball threat and some added pop shooting from three-point range.
That said, despite being a career starter, Wade is not looking for a move back to the starting lineup alongside Thomas when he returns, as he’s enjoying his role with the second unit, per Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon.
“I’m good where I’m at,” Wade told cleveland.com. “The problem would only be worse when Isaiah comes back, because he’s going to need his shots. Where I am now, it’s working for me and for this team.”
It’s clear that Wade has bought in to his new role as the leader of the second unit, where he can play his style and get his shots and his looks rather than being lost in the shuffle of the starters. Wade shouldn’t have to worry about his role changing too much with the return of Thomas and the eventual return of Rose as well.
Jose Calderon has held down the starting point guard role for the Cavs, albeit with limited minutes, for much of this winning streak and he figures to shuffle back into the third point guard role once Thomas takes over the starting job. Coach Ty Lue indicated to Vardon that Rose’s return would likely come alongside Wade on the second unit, which could create an interesting dynamic (especially considering how poorly Cleveland’s played with Rose in the lineup this season), but Lue insists both can work together.
“There’s still ways to get [Wade] the ball,” Lue said. “Just coming off the second side, still running the same action, so he can handle or D Rose can handle. Not a problem.”
The Cavs will be thrilled to add Thomas to the starting lineup, but incorporating Rose will be a more difficult task. He’ll have to accept not only a bench role but a secondary role with that group, as Wade has become the leader of that second unit.