CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers are trying to get Caris LeVert into an offensive rhythm. Their answer to LeVert's shooting struggles, and how he might fit into a new-look Cavs offense, has been a move to the bench so he can run with the second group.
LeVert has been a solid contributor after being acquired from the Indiana Pacers, scoring 13.6 points per game last season. LeVert then began this season on a high note, scoring in double figures in each of the Cavs' first five games, including a 41-point explosion in a win over the Boston Celtics.
But much of that early season production was with Darius Garland out of the lineup and the Cavs needing some extra scoring punch. Since Garland has returned, LeVert's effectiveness has dropped, and the Cavs have had to take another look at the best way to utilize his skillset.
Since that 41-point night, LeVert has shot 35 percent from the floor and 24 percent from 3-point range, scoring 8.8 points per game. But it recently hit a low point. In his last four games entering Wednesday night, sandwiched around an ankle injury that cost him four games, LeVert shot just 15 percent (4 of 26) from the floor, scoring 3.5 points per game.
It led to the Cavs re-evaluating LeVert's role, and where in the rotation he might be the best fit. It meant pulling him from the starting lineup to take better advantage of his strengths as an option off the bench.
"It was an easy conversation because Caris is easy to talk to and because of his willingness to do whatever to help the team," said Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff. "He reiterated to me that he was just all in. That literally came out of his mouth. It was like, ‘Whatever you need me to do to help the team win and be better, that’s what I want to do.'"
The idea is to allow LeVert to enter games in a better position to play to his strengths. That means affording him the chance to get the ball in his hands and be more of an offensive threat. When on the court with Donovan Mitchell, Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, LeVert is at times the fifth option. That isn't always a problem, as late in games his scoring potential can be advantageous, but it wasn't allowing him to find a rhythm early.
The Cavs want LeVert coming off the bench to almost act as a rhythm springboard.
"He is more comfortable with the ball in his hand. He was sacrificing a ton playing that kind of third position with those two guards and then obviously we throw it to Evan and J.A., so his strength needs to be a rhythm that happens through the game," Bickerstaff said. "It’s unfair to him to not allow him to catch a rhythm and then be on the floor at end of games when we need him and now he has no rhythm, and when the ball does find him, he’s disjointed.
"It’s a combination of doing what’s best for him but then when that’s our finishing lineup, he’s got a rhythm, he feels comfortable and he’s touched the ball and has had an impact. That’s what we’re looking for."
For the time being, LeVert isn't in the Cavs' starting lineup, but he will often be on the floor late in fourth quarters of close games. It's about the Cavs wanting to be as flexible as possible rather than trying to force players into roles or situations that don't suit them.
"I think we’d be doing the team a disservice if we didn’t allow all our guys to play to their strengths," Bickerstaff said. "If we put guys in a box and said, ‘You just have to do whatever’s best for the team even though you’re uncomfortable,’ you’re not gonna play your best basketball and in the long run you’re gonna hurt the team. So we have to find a way to get Caris comfortable and let him play to his strengths.
"I do think … playing with one of those guards and then being able to feature him more will give him a little more of an opportunity to get comfortable and play to his strengths. And just because he doesn’t start the game doesn't mean he doesn't finish it."
Wednesday's blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers was a step in the right direction. LeVert started the game shooting 5 for 5 from the floor and finished the night with a game-high 22 points. Getting him involved was a priority, and he again became a key part of the Cavs offense.
"It just grows your confidence as a player, and from those guys it meant a lot," LeVert said. "They're always looking out for me, they're always trying to get me going. It's definitely something that we're trying to work on in playing together, with three ball dominant guards like that, but I think we're finding our rhythm."
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cavs move Caris LeVert to bench, leads to 22 point night against 76ers