The legacy of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise is centered around one man: LeBron James. James put this organization on the map, transforming them from perennial bottom feeder to perennial contenders. James brought Cleveland their first NBA championship, while leading them to four straight NBA finals, and practically dragging them there during his historic 2018 playoff campaign. Unfortunately for the Cavs, their franchise holds very little relevance and importance outside of the LeBron era. Luckily for Cleveland fans, that’s about to change in this next decade of basketball.
The Cavaliers have shocked the majority of the NBA community this season. Through 30 games, the Cavs sit at 18-12, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. Since the departure of James in the summer of 2018, Cleveland has not sniffed the playoffs. Now, it’d be a shocker to see them drop out of contention this year with the way they’ve played thus far.
The recent draft pick of Evan Mobley at third overall was a genius pick for this organization. Mobley has averaged 14 points, eight rebounds, and two and a half assists so far into his NBA career, but the stat sheet doesn’t paint the full picture. Mobley has been one of the best rookies in recent memory due to his astounding defensive ability, as he’s making a strong argument to be considered for an All-Defensive team nod in just his first season. Mobley ranks seventh in the league in blocks, while also ranking fifth in contested shots. Mobley is a force at the rim, as he combines his otherworldly wingspan, long reach, IQ, and verticality to mold himself into one of the better rim protectors in the league. On the perimeter, Mobley is no slouch either. He can switch onto a team’s lead perimeter scorer and hold his own, something not many bigs in basketball have mastered effectively.
Another valuable trait about Mobley’s game that goes under the radar is his positional versatility. Positional versatility is a skill that goes overlooked in the NBA that not many players have. In a position-less league, being able to play multiple positions is a key to being a successful player, and Mobley’s ability to play three through five right away is another trait that makes him as impactful as he is. In the offseason, many were skeptical of the Cavaliers due to their extreme overabundance in the frontcourt, but with Mobley’s unforeseen ability to play all three frontcourt positions, it has helped Cleveland fix this problem.
Having a rookie as NBA ready as Mobley is something that comes once in a blue moon. When you find gems like this, it’s important you maximize their talent right away and surround them with the right pieces to win games. The Cavaliers roster has begun to shape itself out very well, as they potentially have two All-Stars on their team outside of Mobley. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen have both made a name for themselves as cornerstones for Cleveland’s future, and both are making a strong case to be selected to their first All-Star game this season.
Garland is a player who has taken significant strides as a player in his young three year career. This year, he’s tallying up 19 points per contest, while dishing out seven assists per game. His three ball has continued to stay consistent, shooting 39% from deep for the second year in a row, and with most of his looks coming off the dribble, it becomes even more impressive. Garland is already one of the league’s best ball-handlers, displaying an exceptionally tight handle that he uses to break down opposing defenses. His handle allows him to effectively get into the lane, where he uses his sweet floater to get easy buckets, or drop off beautiful teardrop passes to one of the bigs down low.
The way Garland controls the pace of a game is one of, if not his most valuable skill. All elite point guards must have the ability to slow down a game and single handedly take control, and Garland’s feel and ability to do this is elite for a third year guard. Garland has mastered the ability to play at a slow pace, which is the most overlooked skill a floor general can have. Due to this, it allows Garland to get easier looks for not only himself, but his teammates, leading to more success in Cleveland.
The second potential All-Star out of Cleveland this year is Jarrett Allen, frontcourt mate of Evan Mobley. Allen has arguably been Cleveland’s best player, and he’s made an underrated bid at the Most Improved Player award this season. Allen has always been one of the league’s premier lob threats, and this year, he’s been hyper-efficient at the rim. He’s constantly all over the court, setting on-ball and off-ball screens while simultaneously looking for openings to cut to the basket and get an easy two points. Cleveland has relied a lot on Allen’s ability to open up the floor with his near generational ability to play as a lob threat, drawing up a good chunk of their plays to get him open down low. This has resulted in Allen becoming an even more impactful player than years past, but his overall improvement as a player is more eye-opening.
Offensively, Allen has always been a lob threat, and a lob threat only. This season, although nothing flashy, Allen has developed more of a repertoire as a scorer, helping take his points per game average from 13 to 17 a night. Allen has become a much improved post scorer, using his improved footwork and touch around the rim to be able to score on his own. Allen has also started to develop a slashing arsenal, which he uses at the top of the key to drive down the lane and get easy buckets. Allen’s scoring has taken a massive jump this season, helping not only his production, but his team’s success.
The Cavs’ big three has been the main reason they’ve been successful, but they have found other reliable contributors outside of them. Ricky Rubio has been one of the best bench players league wide this season, as his playmaking and tertiary offense have been crucial to Cleveland’s success. Lauri Markkanen, although inconsistent, has had multiple nights where he’s gotten hot as a scorer and has helped Cleveland win. Other players, such as Kevin Love, Cedi Osman, Dean Wade, and Isaac Okoro have all played their roles to perfection when called upon, helping Cleveland’s depth tremendously.
Cleveland has a good crop of talent on this roster, but on paper, they don’t look like a top four team in their conference. That begs the question, what makes them so good? Their success has been due to a combination of elite level chemistry and cohesion on both sides of the ball, while also having enough talent to take over games. The big three tandem of Garland, Mobley, and Allen have worked together beautifully, and the twin tower duo of Mobley and Allen have been menacing for other teams on the defensive end. The whole group as a whole has impressive chemistry, as the ball continuously flows and guys frequently are able to make decisions and moves to get others involved. The Cavs as a whole have everything needed to be a competent playoff threat, and if they make noise come April, it should come to no one’s surprise.