The Cleveland Cavaliers Are Back

Benjamin White ‘23


After decades of prolonged suffering on behalf of incompetent front office decisions, after facing a fate tied to the legacy of LeBron James, after salvaging the remnants of their roster upon James’s second departure, the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally carved out their path for the future. Sitting at 4th place in the Eastern Conference as of January 18th, 2022, the Cavs have risen towards the top of the standings despite the plethora of obstacles in their way [1]. A torn meniscus to Collin Sexton early in the season followed by Ricky Rubio tearing his ACL saw Cleveland lose two key guards that were integral to the Cavs’ backcourt rotation. Instead of falling behind, the Cavs have continued to exceed expectations, surpassing key milestones for a young roster. Cleveland’s return to a promising future involves the blossoming of their young core, which will look to eventually take the Cavs down the same road that LeBron James did with his 2016 championship.

Most noteworthy for Cleveland is the outstanding leap that soon to be All Star guard Darius Garland has taken in his third NBA season. With Rubio and Sexton out for the season, Garland has delivered for his team, scoring 19.7 points per game, while dishing out 7.9 assists per game, in addition to his efficient shooting splits for a smaller guard [2]. At 6’1”, Garland relies not on his size, but on his shiftiness, similar to former Cavalier Kyrie Irving. Garland’s scoring ability fringes on his ability to break down his defender off the dribble, while being able to knock down a jump shot from a variety of spots. In shots from 15-19 feet away, Garland has shot a superb 61.5%, in addition to his above average three point shooting of 37% on the season [3]. From the mid-range as a whole, out of NBA players who have taken a minimum of 100 mid-range shot attempts, Garland ranks fourth in percentage at 54.6%, only behind Seth Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kevin Durant [3]. While isolation scoring has quickly become a strength of Garland, perhaps his greatest strength is his facilitation in the pick-and-roll game. Through Cleveland’s first 45 games, Garland has averaged 7.9 assists per game, with several of those dimes coming from his pick-and-roll playmaking [2]. Throughout the perils of the season, Garland has been Cleveland’s rock, unfazed by the moment in late game situations, and consistent from game to game. Most recently, Garland earned himself the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for Week 13 of the NBA season, as he led the Cavs to a 4-0 record while averaging 20.5 points per game, 12.8 assists per game, and 6 rebounds per game on the week.

Center Jarrett Allen got off to a rocky start with Cleveland after being acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in the middle of the 2020-2021 season. Allen found himself benched behind former Pistons All Star Andre Drummond despite Allen being the stronger player, as the Cavs front office implored the Cleveland coaching staff to showcase Drummond in a desperate attempt to offload his massive overpay of a contract. Eventually, Cleveland caved in and bought out Drummond, clearing the way for Allen to take over as the new starting center. After receiving a 5 year, $100 million contract extension this past offseason, Allen has continued to leap in the fifth year of his career. Allen has averaged a career best 16.6 points per game, a career best 10.9 rebounds per game, while continuing to be a dominant rim protector, averaging 1.4 blocks per game [2]. While many of Allen’s scoring comes from masterful decision making and precise passing from Garland, Allen’s improvement on the offense end also comes from his advancements in taking advantage of mismatches in the low post with his 6’11” height, absurd 7’6” wingspan, and his nifty footwork. This low post improvement is shown through his scoring of 1.15 points per post possession, albeit on significantly lower volume than most star centers [3]. Additionally, while Allen remains a low volume jump-shooter, he has slowly but surely expanded his game from outside of the paint, occasionally taking a close range jump shot when needed. At only 23 years of age, there is no reason to believe Allen’s jump shot will not continue to progress the way the rest of his skill set has developed each year of his career. On the defensive side, Allen continues to utilize his size to deny shot attempts just as he did early on in Brooklyn, earning recognition of the national media through the name of superstars he negated at the rim, particularly LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Anthony Davis, among several other big names. Through his enhanced abilities to switch onto guards and wings defensively, along with his offensive development, Allen has become a prime candidate to fill an Eastern Conference All Star spot for the frontcourt.

In his rookie season, Evan Mobley is already a force to be reckoned with. The early front runner for Rookie of the Year, Mobley has shown glimpses of being a franchise cornerstone, while still perfectly complementing Garland’s skillset in the pick-and-roll, and forming an elite defensive frontcourt alongside Jarrett Allen. Mobley’s offensive abilities are rare, a 6’11” big with a 7’4” wingspan who can handle the ball a little bit, score in the low or mid post, knock down pull up jump shots from the midrange, and with a decent three point shot for a rookie big man. Averaging 14.9 points per game, Mobley has thrived on the offensive end as a lob threat, on scoring off of offensive rebounds, abusing mismatches in the low post, and the occasional short range jumpshot, as he is shooting 50% on the season from 10-14 feet from the basket [3]. While there are still leaps and bounds for Mobley to take on the offensive end to become the franchise player worthy of the third pick in the 2021 NBA draft. Specifically, Mobley can grow offensively by becoming a more reliable outside shooter, and by adding some more individual shot creation outside of Garland’s playmaking. Through his rookie season, the offense has been a step in the right direction for Mobley, but he has several years ahead of him where he needs to steadily improve. Defensively is where Mobley has really shined. With Jarrett Allen primarily serving as a rim protector, Mobley has found himself as a perimeter defender that can switch everything, dealing with opposing teams best guards, wings, or bigs. Despite this, Mobley has averaged 1.7 blocks per game, only allowing opponents to shoot 42.8% from the field when guarded by him, with there being no area on the court in which opponents shoot from over 50% or better while guarded by Mobley [3]. Add on his rebounding ability at 7.9 rebounds per game, and Mobley has already become an all around elite defender in just his rookie season [2]. The combination of lateral quickness, overall athleticism, and size makes Mobley a nightmare to deal with, as he has impressed immediately.

Garland, Allen, and Mobley form the trio of the future for Cleveland, already catapulting the Cavs into playoff position, all while being very early into their career. Specifically, Garland is only 21 years old, Mobley is 20, and Allen is 23. While they have been impressive together already, they have several years to grow together and reach new heights. The other side of the Cleveland success story is the growth of the supporting cast which has stepped up in and helped Cleveland continue to win games despite the injuries to Rubio and Sexton. Lauri Markkanen has served as a reliable floor spacing wing, second year wing Isaac Okoro has become one of Cleveland’s more productive perimeter defenders, Kevin Love operates as a stretch big and rebounder off the bench, and Cedi Osman has thrived as an off the bench spark plug with his scoring. While Cleveland still has a long way to go to reach the ultimate goal of an NBA championship, the rapid success of their young core has occurred well ahead of schedule, and their placement in the suddenly treacherous Eastern Conference is incredibly impressive. For the first time since the most recent departure of LeBron James, the future looks bright.





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