Pairing Shawn Marion, LeBron James gives the Cavs the NBA’s best small forward tandem

August 18

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

The Cavaliers were informed this weekend that free agent veteran Shawn Marion has committed to sign in Cleveland for the upcoming season. Had he done it his way, Marion would’ve rather made his decision underground in a WiFi-less cave, as far as possible from anything resembling the limelight.

On a roster thirsting for playoff experience, “Matrix,” as he’s colloquially referred to, brings it in spades. In 15 years as a professional, Marion has missed the playoffs just five times and won a championship in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks (besting Miami’s squad with LeBron James, Mike Miller and James Jones who are all on the Cavs’ 2014-15 roster).

Since the hand-checking rule was implemented in 2004-05 Marion ranks No. 57 in win shares per 48 minutes (.144) and has a career PER average of 19, giving Cleveland two of the top 16 guard-forwards in PER on the same roster since 2000.


Modest and team-oriented, Marion’s highlight footage rarely garners attention, but it’s his versatility and chief role in numerous defensive bastions over the years that are worthy of acclaim.

Short of playing in professional basketball games, everything will be different for Cleveland next season, everything will take time to jell. Even if veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen joins the fold, there will still be a new coach, new system and new teammates with whom to operate. Despite all the praise and excitement regarding Cleveland’s offensive potential next season, signing Marion is a monumental step for their defensive outlook.

Like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Marion draws the task of guarding the opposing team’s best players nearly every night. If he comes off the bench as James’s backup, which he likely will, Cleveland will have two interchangeable lock-up defenders on the perimeter.

His career defensive rating average is 101, and since 2000 his defensive rebound percentage is 25.4 percent–19th-best among guards and forwards. He averages 6.5 career defensive rebounds per game and has averaged double-doubles four different seasons. This should greatly benefit a team that ranked no. 14 in the NBA in allowed rebounds per game (42.5) a season ago.

He averages 4.03 defensive win shares per season, second on the Cavs’ roster behind James. With the four-time MVP reportedly slimming down to take back his role at small forward, Marion’s skill set gives Cleveland an elite backup perimeter player on both sides of the ball. Both have been the fulcrums of their respective defenses for years: Marion led Dallas in defensive win shares the last three seasons; James has led his teams every year since 2004.

More than anything, though, Marion is a brainy defender. Some are labeled enforcers in the league but that term often comes with a high volume of fouls— whether lazy or deliberate—affixed. Since 2008, Marion hasn’t averaged more than two per game in a season, allowing him to average 37.7 minutes per game in that same frame. This brings up something else unusual about Marion: where other’s his age–36–have digressed, Marion has managed to stay healthy and hasn’t played in less than 63 games in a season since his rookie year.

Marion came to the Cavs because he prioritized winning a championship over everything else. He’ll be significantly underpaid ($1.4 million veteran minimum), probably will come off the bench, but will be a part of the best small forward tandem in the entire league.

Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune’s RedEye Chicago, Rivals, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network and The Cauldron. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).

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Nick Pollack · August 18

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