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Isaiah Thomas’ Return And The Future Fantasy Value in Cleveland

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas debuted for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, and while he was on a minutes restriction we learned a few interesting tidbits about how the team will work once Thomas is back in the starting rotation. We all know Thomas’ value will take a hit compared to 2017 now that he’s know longer the #1 scoring option, but how will his return impact what we already know about his teammates production? Will his shots come from LeBron, Kevin Love, or D-Wade?

Last night, Thomas looked excellent coming off the bench and scoring 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting, 3 3PTM, in only 18 minutes. There were certainly signs of rust - Thomas missed two free throws, which is a rarity for a career 87% shooter, but Thomas unleashed his entire repertoire last night and even had a few nice dimes. He did not start but entered the game with 4 minutes remaining in the first and played alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, before continuing to play in the second quarter with Dwayne Wade and more of the second unit.

First, I wanted to look at how the minutes allocation changed with IT now in the rotation. The table below gives the minutes played of each Cavalier in the last 5 games, and is color coordinated so that blue means they are seeing more minutes, orange means they played less minutes than the previous game.

To my surprise, Jose Calderon played about the same number of minutes as usual. The players who lost the largest time share was Dwyane Wade and J.R. Smith. I attribute some of this to the blow-out victory - with about 5 minutes left Cleveland was up 18 points and played the rest of the way with a lineup of Channing Frye, Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, and Kyle Korver. Thomas will soon re-enter the starting lineup and will move Calderon to the bench, which means Thomas will absorb some of Calderon, Wade, and Smith’s minutes.

Next, I wanted to look at Usage rates and how those have changed with IT back on the court. Similar to the minutes chart above, we look at Cleveland’s usage rates over the last 5 games:

And we quickly see that Kevin Love, LeBron James, and Jeff Green had the largest drop in usage last night. Green I’ll attribute mostly to his monster night against Utah a few days prior and his return to 18% is usage is a regression towards his season average. Love on the other hand, is the most concerning to me. I expect this trend to continue and even heighten its impact once IT moves into the starting lineup. Love has been playing great lately, and now might be the time to consider flipping him. Also of note was Wade’s 12% increase in usage rate last night playing alongside IT. That’s an encouraging sign for D-Wade who will continue to come off the bench but will likely see a lot of crunch time minutes next to IT.

Finally, one last piece of interest for DFS players - the Cleveland defense is really struggling, and working IT into more minutes is going to compound this issue. Frequent lineups with IT, Wade, and Love out there together is going to give up some points and we saw this with the 110 points given up to Portland last night (Portland had 87 points after the 3rd quarter and were on their way to 120+ points before the game was out of hand and the backups played the final 5 minutes).

One last plug - if you like the tables presented above and would like access to the data to be able to drill down into the game-by-game changes in MPG and USG%, please check out my DFS Cheat Sheet posted every morning. I will be rolling an update out later this week that gives access to these tables.

As always if you have any questions, leave a comment below or don’t hesitate to reach out via email (bcreagh119@gmail.com) or Twitter