Last season was an up and down year for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They improved their win total from the previous season by 22, which was the second-highest mark in franchise history. However, with guards Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio suffering season-ending injuries in the first half of the season, the Cavaliers’ guard depth took a big blow.
Cleveland finished the regular season as the eighth seed, and as a result, played in the Play-In Tournament. They were unable to fend off the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks in the Play-In Tournament, which effectively ended their season. Even though the Cavaliers were unable to make it into the playoffs, they were arguably the biggest surprise of the regular season.
Going into last season, Cleveland was projected to win around 26 games and they blew past that projection by winning 44. Using this cliché never feels great, but if it weren’t for injuries, it’s reasonable to think that the Cavaliers would have made it into the playoffs. Even though the Cavaliers haven’t made it to the postseason without LeBron James on the roster in 22 years, the franchise will have a great opportunity to break that dryspell next season.
A Young Duo Emerging
It’s no secret that Darius Garland is one of the best young point guards in the league. After all, Garland finished third in the Most Improved Player voting last season and was arguably Cleveland’s most impactful player.
Garland led the team in scoring and assists, becoming the 15th player of all-time to average at least 20 points and eight assists in at least one of his first three seasons in the league. On top of that, Garland was named an All-Star for the first time last season, which then prompted Cleveland to give him a five-year, $192 million extension.
He’ll continue to be vital to what Cleveland does offensively, especially if they are unable to re-sign Sexton. The Cavaliers need the scoring and playmaking that Garland provides if they hope to take a leap next season.
To go along with Garland, the Cavaliers’ 2021 third overall pick, Evan Mobley, is just as vital to Cleveland’s future success. Mobley finished his rookie season averaging 15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.7 blocks a game on 51% shooting. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and has drawn comparisons to legends like Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh.
Those are lofty players to be compared to, but Mobley has aspects of his game that are reminiscent of those respective players. He provides the defensive versatility that Garnett provided at a young age, the scoring versatility of Bosh and the passing of Gasol. This isn’t to say that Mobley is the best thing since sliced bread (he might be), but he impacts the game in ways that few players at his age can and do.
Taking on bigger roles
With the uncertainty around Sexton re-signing with the Cavaliers, it will be imperative that some of their players step into larger roles and one of those players is Isaac Okoro.
Okoro was selected by Cleveland with the fifth pick in the 2020 draft and was sought after because of his defense. He has shown flashes offensively, but he still needs to become a more consistent shooter. In his two seasons in the league, Okoro is shooting 31.5% from three on 2.8 attempts per game.
Because the Cavaliers lack perimeter shooting, they drafted Ochai Agbaji out of Kansas. In his last season with the Jayhawks, Agbaji averaged 18.8 points a game on 40.7% percent shooting from three and 47.5% overall. If Okoro is unable to become a more consistent shooter, Agbaji could become a key player in Cleveland’s offense.
If Sexton doesn’t return, the biggest benefactor will most likely be Caris LeVert. After being traded to the Cavaliers during last season’s trade deadline, LeVert appeared in 19 games and averaged 13 points a game. LeVert’s struggled with efficiency throughout his career, but the Cavaliers need the offensive production he could provide if he comes off the bench.
It doesn’t look as though Jarret Allen’s, Kevin Love’s or Lauri Markkanen’s respective roles will see a major shift next season, but the former will continue to be vital to Cleveland’s defense. Meanwhile, Love and Markkanen will continue to be valuable perimeter shooters.
The Cavaliers roster is full of players who have proven they can score consistently at the NBA level, and some of those players may be called upon to prove it again if they are unable to bring back Sexton.
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