The addition of Jae Crowder has improved the Cleveland Cavaliers' greatest weakness: defense. While this weakness didn’t get exposed in the Eastern Conference last year, to say the Warriors ran wild on the Cavaliers' defense in the NBA Finals is an understatement. This year the Cavaliers will probably glide through the Eastern Conference, and, according to Vegas and my personal opinion, will be squaring up with the Golden State Warriors for a 4th time (barring critical injuries on either side).

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So, let’s cut to the chase and discuss how Crowder will help the Cavaliers against Golden State.

The Cavaliers certainly still have major holes in their defense. They have no real rim protectors (Tristan Thompson? Give me a break. You saw what the Warriors did to him). Isaiah Thomas is the worst defender in the league (if Stephen Curry put up 26, 9 and eight against Kyrie Irving in the finals, what is he going to do against Thomas? Let alone the Warriors backup PG Livingston who is the PG post up god with a full foot in height on IT).

Cavaliers officially introduce Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic via ESPN/Youtube
Cavaliers officially introduce Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic via ESPN/Youtube

Derrick Rose made his team 5 points per 100 possessions worse last year, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Channing Frye, Kay Fielder and Jose Calderon are average, and Richard Jefferson is 38.

Tristan Thompson in the finals last year got exposed by the Warriors, forcing him to switch onto Durant or Curry and that got ugly (See the second to last bucket Durant made in-game 3 to seal the series pretty much). Tristan Thompson is a good defender against most teams, but against the Warriors, with the addition of Durant, it’s a horrible match up.

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LeBron James is the best player in the league, but it’s obvious his defense has slipped from being arguably the best defender in the league to a good defender that can give you a chase down block. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are good defenders, but usually, they are guarding Klay Thompson, which invalidates their abilities to an extent. Why? It’s the same reason that Jordan, when he was the best perimeter defender in the league, had trouble with only one guy, Reggie Miller.

He comes off screens regularly. You have a shoulder in your chest preventing you from squaring him up or contesting the shot. Klay Thompson plays the same way and is in the same class shooting the ball as Mr. Boom Baby.

The Cavaliers only have four good defenders, and 2 of them can’t play to their full potential, because of the skill set of the guy they primarily guard and how the Warriors use him offensively. Having said all that Crowder improves the Cavaliers defense against the Warriors individually and schematically, and here is why.

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Crowder can give LeBron a break

Let's get this out of the way, Jae Crowder can’t lock down Durant. No one can. Kawhi Leonard is a superior defender in every aspect to Jae Crowder, and according to hoop stats, Durant still averages 28+ ppg on 50% shooting against Kawhi over his career. But he does allow LeBron to rest on defense and focus his energy on offense, which is pivotal to the Cavaliers standing a chance. Now, this doesn't mean LeBron can cruise on defense and play center field near the elbows as James did in the 15-16 finals when Harrison Barnes was left wide open and dared him to shoot.

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LeBron is still being dragged out to the perimeter because he will have to guard Iguodala or Draymond. Two guys who have proven you can't leave them undefended shooting 3’s. Additionally, unlike Harrison Barnes, they are both forwards, not a stationary object. LeBron can’t play center field, but at least he doesn't have to guard a seven footer that can score on anyone from anywhere, and exhaust his 30+-year-old body because the other options were either pushing 40 or too small.

Small Ball lineups

One thing that killed the Cavaliers last year in the finals was they couldn't play Love and Thompson at the same time. The Warriors would just switch them onto a former MVP, or use small-ball lineups and force them out to the perimeter. Compounding this problem was that the Cavaliers small-ball lineups didn't have adequate rebounding or sufficient combinations of 2-way players to keep up with the Dubs in this style. Jae Crowder improves their small-ball lineups because he could play power forward or small forward in small-ball scenarios and contribute on both ends of the floor. Something previously outside of JR Smith and LeBron James, the Cavaliers sorely lacked.

Jae Crowder himself

No need to over think this one, Jae Crowder is now the 3rd best perimeter player on the Cavaliers behind the King and IT. He is arguably their best defender now. Jae is the second most versatile player on the team (behind LeBron) and is one of the toughest guys in the NBA, something the Cavaliers lacked last year in the Finals. I mean as great as LeBron is, he was practically making a concession speech to the Warriors at the conclusion of game five vs. the Celtics. Now I admit LeBron wasn’t lying, but Jae Crowder is the type of guy who wouldn’t concede an inch to his mother. Like Draymond Green brings toughness and a chip on the shoulder attitude to the Warriors, Jae Crowder will bring that same immeasurable yet outstanding quality to the Cavs.

Ultimately for the Cavs to stand an excellent chance against the Warriors (or even the Spurs) in the Finals, they are praying ESPN is wrong and IT is healthy this year, and they need to make another deal. Jae Crowder is an excellent player, but the Cavaliers need another All-Star maybe even a future Hall of Fame player, to beat this historically good Dubs team. And no, I’m not referring to 35-year-old Dwayne Wade, who is on his last legs and further can’t shoot well from behind the arc. An essential attribute schematically, for what the Cavaliers like to do on offense. After the Irving deal, they now have cap flexibility and a great asset in the Brooklyn pick. If they can trade, Thompson, JR, or Shumpert with that pick (they are keeping Love), and land an All-Star a title is certainly within The Land’s grasp. While it would seem unlikely, they could get a stud for those assets, as Boogie, Butler, Nurkic, and PG13 have demonstrated, crazier things have happened.

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