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HomeBasketball TodayBenching Bickerstaff: Can the Cavs' struggling player turn things around?

Benching Bickerstaff: Can the Cavs’ struggling player turn things around?

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Could be time to put this Cavs player on the bench.

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been a team that’s slightly below average across the Rubicon. The Cavs are only 3-4 after the league-mandated siesta and more worryingly, Cleveland is 1-4 against teams with a winning record, with the lone win coming off a Max Strus 60-foot buzzer beater against the Dallas Mavericks.

While there are plenty of issues plaguing the Cavs, there are some simple solutions to right the ship and start building momentum toward the playoffs. When watching Cleveland it’s clear that veteran forward Georges Niang has become the weakest link in most lineups. Since exiting the All-Star break, Niang has averaged 5.7 points per game and is only connecting on 36.8% of his three-point attempts.

The last time Niang hit a three-point attempt was four games ago when the Cavs barely squeaked by the Mavs and has gone 0-10 from three-point range since then. If Niang is unable to produce on the perimeter, he becomes an instant liability for Cleveland, with opposing teams forcing him to defend in isolation and ripping him apart with faster, more athletic guards. While the tried, but mostly true belief that shooters like Niang just need on-court reps to find their groove again is likely the core belief behind Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff sticking behind Niang most nights, the more this goes on one thing has become clear: Bickerstaff needs to bench Niang to set up his team for success.

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Now, before people say anything – yes, there have been instances in the past with why Cleveland should stick with Niang outside of his shooting. But, with as uneasy as things have been exiting the All-Star break, Bickerstaff and his coaching staff need to be pulling every lever to find rotations and combinations that maximize success on the court. Sure, this Cavs team is too talented to be struggling like this to begin with but, a steady ship in choppy waters works wonders in allowing Cleveland’s stars to shine and carry the load with the right supporting cast around them.

But, if Niang gets pulled from the rotation, who gets his 20 or so minutes most nights? Well, besides what those who may condescendingly tell you, there is a clear and viable solution in Sam Merrill. Unlike, Niang, Merrill has been consistent in producing from the perimeter and is the Cavs’ best movement-based shooter on the roster, stretching the floor from anywhere Cleveland can find him in three-point land.

Merrill makes the Cavs dynamic offensively and has been consistent whenever his number has been called. Sure, since he would slide in as Cleveland’s eighth man, Merrill won’t be expected to be the lone savior for the Cavs’ topsy-turvy post-All-Star break play. But, Merrill’s shooting can help give Cleveland the steady ship they’ve had in such choppy waters and, in turn, allow their stars to step up and show out like many expect them to do.

Besides, once things are more even-keeled for the Cavs, it allows them the chance to bring back Niang and his shooting acumen into the fold. It can start slowly, with Niang getting minutes in small, incremental bursts and, eventually, finding his three-point rhythm again. Once he does, having a confident and accurate Niang, along with an even more integrated Merrill, makes Cleveland even more lethal to defend. But, for the time being, it has to start with Bickerstaff making the tough decision to bench Niang.

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About the Author

Evan Dammarell is an award-winning sports journalist covering all things Cleveland, including the Cavs, right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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