With the Donovan Mitchell trade complete and the subsequent losses of Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji, the Cavaliers are facing a problem they’ve known well since LeBron left for the second time: a lack of wing depth. These are different times. Before this year, not having a starting caliber wing didn’t mean any more than losing a couple more games, but now it could be the difference between title contention and a first round exit.
However, Cleveland are in a good spot with their youth, and have at least three years before contracts start potentially becoming issues. Due to the Cavaliers’ current core of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen, this wing player doesn’t need to be an all-star or even near that level. They need to be able play good point of attack defense, good team defense, and be able to hit threes.
That is it.
On defense, Garland and Mitchell have had mixed results through their career. Garland will never be overly positive defender, but is making improvements on that end. Mitchell has had his ups and downs on the Jazz, but has the potential to be a consistent disruptor. Either way, neither player should be guarding the opposing teams best guard or forward. This wing position needs to be able to hold their own against multiple positions.
On offense, Garland and Mitchell will command attention of the ball so their wing will not be expected to generate their own shots. Mobley and Allen will continue to be roll threats and pests around the rim. While both have the possibility of improving their jump shots, currently a spacer is needed to maximize their use in the offense. Anything extra is a plus, but would be an accessory to Cleveland’s current offense.
Their current options at wing, Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert, Dean Wade, Dylan Windler, Cedi Osman, and Lamar Stevens, all have varying skillsets that make them valuable on most NBA rosters, but do not fit the ideal wing that Cleveland needs. All, but one.
Dean Wade has been with the Cavaliers since the 2019-20 season where he was on a two-way contract after going undrafted. He played a majority of that year on the Cavs G League affiliate, the Canton Charge, where he impressed Cleveland enough to give him a multi-year minimum contract. Since 2020-21, Dean Wade has been in and out of the starting lineup, mainly due to being JB Bickerstaff’s go to guy to cover for any injured wing or big.
Unless you watch the Cavaliers, are deeply into the NBA, or have heard Zach Lowe’s jingle for Wade’s fictional accounting business, you probably do not know anything about him. And that makes sense; Dean Wade is not a walking highlight reel, but instead a steady player who does the small things to win games.
There is very little to say about Dean Wade on the offensive end. He is not as skilled offensively compared to his peers. In most situations, this would make him a worse option, but Cleveland does not need what LeVert or Osman bring offensively. Dean Wade is there to do one thing on this and that is shoot threes.
Compared to his teammates, he is the closest to matching Lauri’s volume and efficiency. Dean Wade shoots at just above league average C&S efficiency (36.6%)1 and unloads almost one and a half more C&Ss per 36 minutes (4.1 attempts per 36 minutes)1. These are not great numbers, but for Cavaliers’ current options they are lightyears better than his peers sans Cedi.
This year 83.6% of Dean Wade’s field goals were assisted. Above 80% is near the maximum level a player can be off-ball and league average is 67.6%. This is incredibly off-ball for almost all NBA players. Basically, Wade is never creating his own opportunities on the court and is reacting to his teammates with the ball. This is definitely not a bad trait for any player. There are many players with all-star to near all-star level talent that make their money off-ball, Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, John Collins, and Michael Porter Jr. as examples.
Even Lauri, who has shot more C&S attempts in his career, had more on-ball opportunities than Wade. He would have plays called for him to post-up or make a play off the dribble. Dean Wade has never been expected to do this and will have even less opportunities with the addition of Donovan Mitchell.
It is hard to measure off-ball effectiveness, but Dean Wade has some skills that hide in plain sight. In comparison to his teammates, Wade is constantly moving for a better three point position or cutting into holes in the defense. This can lead to making the playmaker’s life easier and open looks for himself.
Even when he is not getting the ball, he is helping teammates get open with his movement. He cuts at opportune times leading to his man remaining occupied with his movement. This leads to open space for drivers and spot-up shooters since his defender is not helping with the action.
Compared to his former teammate Markkanen, he is a better extra passer. He isn’t as trigger happy from three leading to him spotting the open man for easier threes. Though, I want to make sure not to paint him as a good passer. His low assist numbers may be due to his role in the offense, but he does miss some easier looks. In the second play, he misses the pass to the cutting Cedi.
For most, Lauri Markkanen will be the benchmark for defense from the wing slot. He made strides in becoming a positive defender last year where he showcased a level of switchability we had not seen in his career to date. I do not see Lauri as a great defender because although he did improve, he has weaknesses and a lot of what he did was helped by the addition of Evan Mobley into the frontcourt with Jarrett Allen.
Wade can fill his hole immediately and then some. Wade normally plays split duties between the three and four spot when he is on the court. This makes his role completely different depending on the opponent he plays. He can act as the point of attack defender where he is stifling the on-ball creator. He can follow around a shooter disallowing open looks. He can play off of non-shooters and help in the paint. He is above average at almost every role thrown his way.
This is due to his ability to guard one through five. Watch below as Wade goes from guarding Tatum one-on-one to guarding the Schroeder Horford pick and roll and then keeping up with Schroeder’s drive to the rim.
When Wade is the point of attack defender, he is able to keep his man away from the rim without giving up enough space for a jump shot, but also can stick close enough without giving up lanes to the basket. He doesn’t do this with elite speed or athleticism, but instead with good positioning, footwork, and reaction time.
He is able to give elite offensive wings pressure with these skills. A huge plus in Cleveland’s new tall and small ball starting lineup. This allows Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen to stick to their roles dissuading any would-be rim runners and doesn’t force one of Garland or Mitchell to guard above their abilities.
When Wade is switched with a guard, he isn’t hopeless. For his size, he is able to stick with faster and shiftier players well. He uses small steps to quickly change direction with crossovers and hesitations.
Dean Wade has two weaknesses at the point of attack. He can find himself overreacting to a play he thinks he sees coming leading to his man taking advantage of his positioning. In the play below, he overreacts to the hand-off leading to a Durant back-door and an easy basket.
Dean Wade can also find himself flat-footed and then is able to be blown-by by stars and role players alike. These moments are rare, but do happen. This is where he is helped by having a wall consisting of Mobley and Allen behind him.
Off the ball, Wade is a very good team defender. He has good awareness that allows him to react to breakdowns quickly or block driving/passing lanes. Since he does not have elite athleticism or size for a weak-side defender, he uses his positioning to make shots hard for all players. Just being able to put his body in front of the basket leads to some of these open layups becoming misses or non-attempts.
Wade does have a tendency to over-help. He has the right idea in sliding over in the event of a breakdown, but will stick around too long after the defensive play has cleaned up which can lead to wide open threes.
A lot of the Cavaliers’ defensive schemes this year were based on loading the paint with defenders and allowing more three point opportunities. Wade seems to take too much to heart and can find himself in positions where he is not guarding anybody or helping with the active offensive play.
However, I believe this tendency is fixable. Wade has shown very good positioning in his career so far. He can see where a play could occur and moves his body to mitigate the damage the offense can do. For example, when his other weakside teammate needs to help in the paint, he slides over to cut off the pass to both men. This allows him to close out on either player to make for harder shots when the pass does get through.
In the play below, the pass over Isaiah Jackson is available so Wade places himself where he can defend the pass if it is made, but he is close enough to his defender not to allow an open shot. This allows his other teammates to stay home and not lead to additional breakdowns.
One of Wade’s most important skills is his use as a utility defender. He is able to switch from guards to forwards to bigs on a moment’s notice. This leads to holes being patched before they are punctured and can completely nullify plays setup by the opponent.
Dean Wade’s balance of good catch-and-shoot ability and defensive skills make him the most suitable three in Cleveland’s starting lineup. Only Okoro can match Wade’s defensive versatility, but does not come close to matching Wade’s ability to shoot at volume from distance.
Dean Wade is not some elite role player like your PJ Tucker’s and Mikal Bridge’s of the world, but for the Cavaliers’ current roster, he can fit in that type of role. Wade does not need the ball to succeed on offense and has abilities off-ball that makes his teammates lives easier. He also has the ability to provide point-of-attack defense that won’t lead to many breakdowns and the defensive IQ to patch up the mistakes of his teammates.
The Cavaliers will continue to work to find someone who is able to provide Wade’s defensive impact, but has the ability to provide more spacing. These players are rare and Cleveland is not a free-agent destination so it may take Koby Altman some magic to find themselves in a position of having an elite swiss army knife. In the meantime, Wade is a serviceable player of this caliber and should have the opportunity to start next season.
1. Taken for the data set of 2021-22 players that shot at least 20 C&S attempts
all statistics taken and derived from basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted