Wally Szczerbiak (Mark Duncan/AP)
The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of several teams who made an attempt to upgrade their roster prior to the NBA trade deadline this year. Cleveland actually completed two trades in order to surround star LeBron James with three-point threats and a bruiser in the post, and one of the players the Cavs acquired was veteran Wally Szczerbiak.
A career 40% three-point shooter, Szczerbiak was brought in to draw defenders away from James, who does most of his damage inside the arc. It’s hard to tell if the trade has paid dividends for Cavaliers, who are 7-6 since bringing in Szczerbiak and fellow guard Delonte West from Seattle, but the team is banking on Szczerbiak’s perimeter presence to help elevate the team when the playoffs come around.
Szczerbiak’s stats haven’t been overly impressive since joining Cleveland, with his scoring total dropping to just over 10 points per game. Despite the drop off in production, few players are as dangerous as Szczerbiak from behind the arc, and he is capable of going off on any given night.
Earlier in the season when he was with the Sonics, Szczerbiak went 5-of-9 from three-point land and tallied 32 points against Sacramento. It is this ability to make opponents pay that attracted him to Cleveland.
Aside from a silky-smooth shot, Szczerbiak has other strengths, especially on offense. He can take defenders off the dribble if they guard him too closely, and at 6’7”, 245-pounds, he can get off a shot in the paint as well.
Where Szczerbiak has struggled through his career has been on defense. He has a slow first step and has a hard time sticking with smaller, quicker guards up top. He also lacks the tenacity to play in the post, which prevents his teams to take advantage of his unique size and skill. A testament to Szczerbiak’s lack of interest in scrapping for rebounds can be seen is his career rebounding average, which stands at four per game. In recent years, Szczerbiak has played up high more often and has gotten even less aggressive and he is currently grabbing just under three boards per game.
Since coming to Cleveland, Szczerbiak hasn’t disappointed, putting up six games in which he scored in the double-digits while coming off the bench. However, Wally hasn’t been as efficient as the Cavs would have liked for, with his three-point field goal percentage dropping by nearly six percent. As mentioned before, it is Szczerbiak’s explosiveness from behind the arc that the Cavs are interested in.
More important than Szczerbiak’s statistics is his presence, which has helped James elevate his game, if that’s even possible. Within a week after the Cavaliers traded for Szczerbiak, James went on a tear, scoring 36 points followed by a 50-point performance, and he has averaged 36 points per game over the month.
There is very little most defenders can do to stop Szczerbiak, as most teams will double-team James and leave Szczerbiak alone. If he is making his shots, there is very little Orlando players can to do other than stick their hands in his face.