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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cavaliers are a team loaded with guards, so many that new coach John Beilein may get creative.
Well, for starters Beilein said natural shooting guard and occasional point guard Jordan Clarkson may play small forward at times.
Clarkson is 6-foot-5 on a good day and when it comes to the backcourt, the Cavs are a little undersized, anyway. Second-year man Collin Sexton is 6-2. So is rookie Darius Garland. That’s not short in real life, but this is the NBA, and there aren’t too many starting shooting guards shorter than, say, 6-5.
There definitely aren’t too many small forwards shorter than 6-6, but Clarkson could be the type of utility man who occasionally becomes one. Not necessarily a big deal in a league that is continuing to get smaller.
Now, Beilein didn’t imply Clarkson will start at the small forward spot, so don’t misunderstand. It’s just an outside-the-box thinking used by a first-time NBA coach.
And hey, there is something to be said for Clarkson, who plays at one speed at all times — full.
“You have to have a wolf mentality at the small forward with some of the things we do,” Beilein said. “There’s not a better wolf on the team than Jordan Clarkson.”
Clarkson, 27, averaged 16.8 points on 45 percent shooting last year. He also has been a durable player, appearing in no less than 79 games in each of the past five seasons. (He played 81 in 2018-19.)
Right now, Cedi Osman and rookie Dylan Windler are the top small forwards on the depth chart. Newcomer Sindarius Thornwell may also be able to play the spot in the pinch. But Windler is out for a while with a lower leg injury and will need time to adapt to the NBA game once he returns.
So that leaves Osman and … apparently, Clarkson.
“He’s hunting,” Beilein said of Clarkson, sticking with the wolf theme. “And we need a hunter at that position.”
The Cavs have been practicing twice each day but went through just one longer one Thursday. Beilein said the emphasis was on “50-50 plays” and making certain to value shots.
What is a 50-50 play?
“I heard (former Arizona coach) Lute Olson say that 30 years ago and I’ve been living by it ever since,” Beilein said, before explaining further. “If you’re trying to make a play in the lane and not sure (a pass) is going to work, don’t throw it. It’s like flipping a coin. If you’re wide open and it’s a shot you make 50 percent of the time, then take it.”
Basically, it’s Beilein’s way of saying he wants the players to make good decisions, and for those decisions to come naturally. If not right away, then eventually.
“There are four stages to learning,” Beilein said. “One is you’re unconsciously incompetent, you do not know. Two is you’re consciously incompetent. That’s when you know you’re messing up but you can’t do anything about it. Then you become consciously competent. You can do it after thinking about it.
“The goal with everybody is to become unconsciously competent. We want you to not have to think about it. It’s like tying your shoes. At first, you had to think about how to do it. Now, you don’t think about it ever. You just do it. … If we can get players who do that, not have to think about things, we’re going to be a good team.”
After not practicing the first two days of camp with a minor foot issue, Garland got up and down the court Thursday with no issues, Beilein said. Garland did not practice in full but is getting close to that.
“He’s beyond his years,” veteran guard Brandon Knight said. “Very mature, on and off the court. He has a really good pace to his game and is very skilled for his age and being that young in the NBA.”
WOJ IN TOWN
ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski attended Cavs practice Thursday. The man known for his Woj Bombs of breaking NBA news on Twitter was in town to interview Beilein for an upcoming podcast.
Beilein and Wojnarowski have known each other dating back to when Beilein was coaching Canisius and Wojnarowski was a student reporter at nearby St. Bonaventure in the early 1990s.