The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the bigger surprise stories from last year. They increased their win total by 22 games over the 2020-21 season and were in playoff position most of the time before injuries lowered them into the play-in tournament. After All-Star seasons from Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, and one of the greater rookie seasons in recent memory by Evan Mobley, the Cavaliers decided to go all-in on this core and acquire Donovan Mitchell.
Their floor has risen significantly and they should be a playoff team for the foreseeable future. Can this core eventually become a title contender?
Below, check out our preview for the 2022-23 Cavaliers campaign.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Returning: Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Cedi Osman, Isaac Okoro, Dylan Windler, Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens, RJ Nembhard
Additions: Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland), Ricky Rubio (Indiana), Robin Lopez (Orlando), Raul Neto (Washington), Isaiah Mobley (USC), Jamorko Pickett (Detroit), Chandler Vaudrin (Winthrop)
Subtractions: Lauri Markkanen (Utah), Collin Sexton (Utah), Moses Brown (LA Clippers), Ed Davis, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Goodwin
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* They should still have a great defense… The Cavs succeeded last season by employing super-sized lineups featuring mostly big men and wing-sized players. It’s possible their defense, which was ranked 5th in the league last year, could regress a bit now that their best lineups feature two small guards. Thankfully, they have the personnel to keep it at a high level, especially since they’ll have elite rim protection at all times with Allen, Mobley, and Lopez.
* They should finally have a viable offense… The Cavaliers ranked 20th in offense last season. This was mostly a result of their lack of offensive personnel, which led to their unconventional style that heavily featured lineups favoring defense and length. Now with Mitchell, the Cavaliers not only have a second legitimate scoring threat, but also one of the best shot creators in the league. While both Mitchell and Garland will start and close, both should be staggered enough to keep their offense afloat as often as possible.
* They should have great playmaking at all times… If anything the Cavaliers have an abundance of playmakers, especially once Rubio comes back. Mitchell, Garland, LeVert, and Rubio all finished Top 40 in pick-and-roll frequency among players who played at least 20 games last season, with the former three all averaging around one point per pick-and-roll possession. It will be interesting to see how these players get their minutes distributed and how much they play together since they could employ lineups with plenty of strong secondary playmaking.
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*No real 3-and-D threat… The Cavaliers still lack 3-and-D players, as they currently have players that are good at shooting or defense but not necessarily both. Their starting 3 spot is as open as any other starting job in the league and it could go to someone like Okoro to provide defense or a mid-to-high thirties shooter like Osman. They could also try to replicate the success they had with Markkanen last year with a big like Love or Wade to provide length and shooting. They should be fine during the regular season, but this could be an issue against the best teams in the playoffs.
* Below average three-point shooting… The Cavaliers were 20th last season in three-pointers made per game and 22nd in three-point attempts per game. While they don’t appear to be a worse shooting team personnel-wise, the loss of Markkanen and Agbaji for Mitchell and Neto (assuming he gets back up to the high 30s next season) should keep their shooting relatively net neutral compared to last season.
While the team should project to be a playoff team from here on out with their core, they may still have some moves to make to ultimately compete at the highest levels. If none of their wing players become a viable 3-and-D threat, they may need to acquire one. It will be tricky now that they’re out of available first-round picks to trade, though they have 11 second-round picks to play with. They also have plenty of salary filler such as Love and LeVert to send out in trades to acquire just about anyone.
The Cavs now have 14 players on the roster and are $2.5 million below the luxury tax. They can comfortably add a 15th player while staying below the tax or keep the spot open for a potential buyout candidate. They could also sign a player to a non-guaranteed salary for the final spot to keep their flexibility open.
2nd in the Central division, 6th in the Eastern Conference (as voted by the HoopsHype staff)