3 point guard targets for Cavs amid Ricky Rubio mental health hiatus
Mental health matters, and in no way is this post meant to undermine the seriousness of whatever it is that Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Ricky Rubio may be going through. Whether it’s a tangible personal matter, the fatigue that could come with playing and preparing for a sport for his entire life, the mental rigors of physical rehab or some other incident, there is a genuine hope and desire that it all works out for him.
That being said, with Rubio taking an indefinite break from basketball, there’s a chance that his sabbatical extends into the 2023-24 regular season and beyond. If that’s the case, the Cavs will have to find a suitable replacement for the former fifth overall pick, as Cleveland was banking on him to be their backup point guard this upcoming season.
Here are three potential point guard targets for the Cavs amid Rubio’s mental health hiatus.
3 point guard targets for Cavs…
5-time All-Star selection John Wall is the most accomplished free agent on the market. Once seen as one of the premier point guards in the NBA, a litany of lower leg injuries sapped Wall of his rare explosiveness, significantly impacting his ceiling both offensively and defensively. However, to the veteran’s credit, Wall has persevered through the adversity he’s faced over the past few years and even gave solid minutes to a championship-contender last season.
In 2022-23, after not playing the previous season due to the Houston Rockets’ youth movement rather than health concerns, Wall averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists in 22.2 minutes per game for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers then traded Wall back to an organization that he wasn’t quite fond of (the Rockets) in order to acquire a better 3-point threat in 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon and was waived within a week.
With that said, Wall isn’t a player that the Cleveland Cavaliers should sign out of hope he can rediscover the magic from his glory days with the Washington Wizards. Wall is a player that the Cavs should sign because there are few players whose combination of passing prowess and experience measured up to Ricky Rubio, but Wall is one of them.
Furthermore, like Wall, Rubio was far from a consistent perimeter defender or 3-point threat. Subsequently, if there’s any team that also knows how to navigate around Wall’s weaknesses — including a potential need for load management — it’s the Cavs.
NBA champion Ish Smith was one of the most popular players for the Denver Nuggets last season. You may not have known this if you were talking to fans — Nuggets or national — or media members. However, in the back half of the 2022-23 season, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone routinely praised Ish Smith for his locker room leadership.
So, when discussing one of the first reasons that the Cleveland Cavaliers should have interest in the journeyman point guard, it’s his character. A player that will take it just fine if or when Ricky Rubio comes back and he finds himself out of the rotation, Smith’s intangibles could make the Cavs’ season a smoother ride than it might otherwise be because he’s a low-maintenance veteran that takes his team responsibilities — including scout team works that will help Cleveland prepare for their opponents — as serious as one could hope.
On the court, Smith is still an insanely quick, confident and decisive lead guard albeit one without optimal efficiency or perimeter proficiency. Last season, the 13-year veteran averaged more than 15 minutes per game in just two months, November and April.
In November, Smith averaged 7.0 points, 5.7 assists, 1.3 blocks and 0.7 steals in 20.9 minutes per game, shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range. In April, Smith averaged 5.0 points, 5.0 assists and 0.7 steals in 17.6 minutes per game while shooting 7-19 from the field (including 0-4 from 3).
Let’s start up a campaign for Cameron Payne, a player that transformed himself from the butt of the joke into a player that’s now nationally seen as a legitimate offensive threat.
Recently traded by the Phoenix Suns as they continue to remodel a championship-caliber team that went 64-18 in 2021-22, Payne is now employed by a guard-heavy San Antonio Spurs squad that recently re-signed projected starter Tre Jones to a two-year deal. The Spurs also have veteran guard Devonte’ Graham under contract through the 2024-25 season.
While Payne is frankly a better player than Graham and would likely be preferred by both San Antonio and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Spurs could still be willing to move him for the right price. Not necessarily because Payne is on the final year of his contract, as San Antonio would have his Bird Rights in free agency next offseason. However, as they don’t yet know how well Payne will fit within the framework of the offense or even within the locker room, this may be the best possible time to strike a deal for the eight-year veteran.
Offensively, Payne is streakier than a team would like, especially in the playoffs. However, averaging 9.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 0.7 steals per game over the past three regular seasons while making 43.1 percent of his field goal attempts (including 37.7 percent of his 3-point attempts), Killa Cam is a legitimate shooting threat. Furthermore, Payne also has shown himself capable of routinely playing high-level defense.