CLEVELAND, Ohio – Inside each player’s locker is a three-point card – a way to clearly define roles.
Osman knows his. He has embraced it. He thrives on it.
“His role is to be a spark off the bench,” JB Bickerstaff told cleveland.com after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 120-115 loss to the Phoenix Suns. “Take and make open shots and facilities when the defense dictates it. We have tried our best to simplify his role. He is bought into the team and he is trying to do what is best for the group. He has become a star in his role. “
Osman’s play in the first month has been an encouraging sign for the Cavaliers, especially given his miserable 2020-21 season, which raised countless questions and led to him becoming a figurative punching bag.
Recently, Bickerstaff took charge of these matches. Osman became yo-yo in and out of the ranks. He was asked to periodically play out of position and switch from his natural little forward spot to the 4th of distress. Sometimes he had the ball in his hands as a playmaker and other times he was used as a catch-and-shoot guy. There was no connection. No stability. No clarity.
When entering the training camp, the goal was to avoid a recurrence. Bickerstaff explained in detail his expectations of Osman – and everyone on the list.
When he came from yet another strong show with the Turkish national team, and saw his hard work behind the scenes, there was internal belief that the 26-year-old swingman would stand in line for an upturn season, which last year was a stroke of luck and a career 36% 3-point shooters were heading for a positive regression after hitting measly 30% from deep.
Was there anything about it, or did the Cavs fool themselves?
It did not look good early. October began with similar inconsistencies, the kind that have plagued Osman throughout his NBA career. During Cleveland’s exhausting road trip on the west coast, Osman played 15 minutes in total in the first three games. He did not come in until garbage time against the Los Angeles Clippers and was a DNP two nights later when Bickerstaff tightened his rotation to eight and chose Lamar Stevens’ fat defense. It looked like Stevens had moved ahead of Osman in the backup wing fight.
But everything changed on October 30 – a 101-92 loss to the Suns.
Partly due to Isaac Okoro’s injury to the back thigh and also Stevens’ limitations in the attack, Osman jumped off the bench early in that match – and got the best out of his minutes. He was one of five players who helped turn a blowout into a more respectable defeat, bringing in a then-season-high 20 points and hitting six 3-pointers. After the match, Bickerstaff said he saw a motivated guy hungry for playing time, one who deserved more opportunities on the way forward.
“I changed myself,” Osman said of that night. “I came out, made the right plays, made some shots and pressed defensively.”
He’s been a part of Cleveland’s Bench Mob ever since. He has also been one of the team’s most reliable goal scorers and has hit double digits in four of the last five and eight of 11.
“I’m feeling comfortable right now,” Osman said. “From that match until now, I just feel confident. I play my game. I know my role. I just try to do what’s best for the team.”
Over the last 11 games, starting with the Phoenix breakthrough, Osman has averaged 14.0 points on 47.8% from the field and 41.3% from the 3-point row left with 3.6 rebounds, 1, 8 assists and 1.0 steals. The Cavs are plus-27 with him on the field during that stretch.
During the season, Osman shoots career highs off the field (48.5%) and beyond the arc (43.6%). He has the team’s best long distance percentage.
This version of Osman, a guy who plays himself at both ends, has endurance – even when Stevens returns from his nagging ankle sprain and Mobley returns from an elbow injury, moving Lauri Markkanen back to small forward. The Ottomans meant too much to Cleveland’s success in the early season to be knocked out of the rotation now.
“With the scores we’ve lost due to injuries, he’s taken a lot of it off,” Bickerstaff said. “When our other unit is in, we do not take a step back. He has been a two-way player for us. He has also taken the challenge on the defensive end. Cedi has played fantastic basketball. He has exceeded his role. “
Wednesday night, Osman broke out for 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. At one point, when Phoenix threatened to retire, Osman scored nine in a row. By the end of this wave, the Cavs were back within two possessions. A few minutes later, Osman electrified the crowd with a clutch-3 pointer that forced the Suns to call timeout. Osman slammed the air, shouting a few shouts and roaring before hitting Darius Garland on the chest. It was a one-point match with 3:49 left.
Then, with the Cavs trailing by three points in the final seconds, the shot went out and Garland out of the game with six errors, Bickerstaff designed a game with Osman.
How many times would that have happened last year?
It was Cleveland’s “Hammer” set. Initially, there was a “Hammer” screen for Ricky Rubio (would have been Garland) to get a corner 3-point attempt on the opposite side after Osman drove. But the Suns played well and Osman improvised. He pulled back toward the smaller Chris Paul and fired a triple from directly in front of the Cavs’ bench, chroming out of the rim.
Bickerstaff trusted Osman to make a play. Osman launched with confidence. Even if he missed it, the moment helps highlight a development.
Osman no longer jumps in and out of the rotation. He is not plastered to the bench during crunch time. He knows when his minutes are coming and how many he gets each night. Osman also acknowledges that there are teammates – Rubio and Garland – to create looks, which prevents him from doing too much. Osman can make room for the floor, run in transitions, cut the ball off. He is now finishing instead of initiating a pass-happy, sharing-wealth, hold-first system that plays to his strengths.
And if he ever forgets, he has a card in his closet as a reminder of who he is and what the Cavs need.
“I try to be more aggressive, but I let the game come to me,” Osman said. “I’m ready to take charge of the other unit.”
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