How do we know if the Cavaliers are on the right track, and how far away are they from the playoffs? For the answer, we can look to Alonzo Gee.
There are plenty of ways to judge the progress of a rebuild such as the Cavaliers are currently engaged in. Wins’ are good, but wins tend to lag behind progress by a year or two. You can look at individual stats, but sports are full of instances where talented players never meshed into a successful team.
Here’s a measuring stick that I have found helpful: how much playing time would Alonzo Gee get on this team?
As you may recall, Gee was a wing who played for the Cavs during the years LeBron was in Miami. He played in 417 games over nearly a decade, and 150 of his 213 starts came with the Cavs. He joined the Cavs a few months after LeBron left, and was traded to Charlotte about a week before LeBron announced he was coming back.
It is partly a coincidence that Gee wasn’t around for any of the Finals runs, but was it, really? His lifetime playoff totals are three minutes and one rebound for Portland in 2015, so we can readily infer that when contenders over the last decade were looking for the missing piece to put them over the hump, his name was not popping into their heads. There are guys like Alonzo Gee all over the NBA, but it’s never a good sign if they are getting serious playing time for your team.
Would that be the case if Gee was on the Cavs today? As it turns out, he is, except that now his name is Alfonzo McKinnie, who resembles Gee in size, stats, and even first name. Unlike Gee, McKinnie has not been spurned by playoff teams throughout his career, having played for the Raptors and the Warriors the past two seasons. He even got 235 minutes in the postseason last year for Golden State. Granted, by the conference finals the Warriors were running anyone with a discernible pulse out there, but McKinnie was on the court when the game was on the line for a team going for a three-peat. There are probably fewer than a hundred players in NBA history who can make that claim, so it’s not nothing.
Still, the Warriors would be the first to admit that wasn’t how they wanted it to work out. McKinnie has made barely thirty percent of his threes in his career, and his college and G League stats are not much better. He’s 27 years old, so he is what he is. If you want to have a career as a wing player in today’s NBA with that shooting percentage, you need to bring a lot of other stuff to the table. McKinnie has yet to provide compelling evidence that he can.
Yet, he has been a significant part of the rotation all season, averaging about fifteen minutes per game as the primary backup to Cedi Osman. Not because the Cavs believe McKinnie has great potential, but because he’s all they’ve got. In other words, Alonzo Gee is still in the building.
If Dylan Windler was healthy, he would likely be getting those minutes, and the Cavs will probably go into this offseason with that as their plan. All things being equal, they would try to add wing depth in the draft, but there are so few impact players in this draft that they are better served taking the best available guy to make sure that they get one of them.
The best-case scenario is for Osman to fill the role currently occupied by McKinnie. If Windler or a new acquisition can perform well enough for Osman to be one of the key reserves, the Cavs will have the sort of depth typical of playoff teams. That’s how we will know that this rebuild is making real progress.