The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently in the midst of a five game losing streak after going on an eight game win streak. In addition, before losing their last five games they had the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, that has now dropped to 30th. There has been one bright spot for the Cavaliers. The bright spot being how Lamar Stevens has stepped up. With how Stevens has played, he has certainly sparked the discussion to be a starter going forward.
Stevens joined the Cavaliers in 2020 after going undrafted out of Penn State. As a rookie, he saw very limited opportunities, playing in 40 games and seeing only an average of 12.5 minutes per game. In the 2021-22 season, he saw more time and ended the season on an extremely encouraging note. Over the course of the final 12 games, he averaged 10.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 53% from the field. From his rookie season to his second season, he took strides in his three-point shot, improving from making only four-of-25 to making 18-of-65.
With this strong finish to the end of last season, it could’ve been expected that Stevens would see more playing time to start this 2022-23 season. That was not the case to start, he has played in five games so far this season, but his first with significant playing time came in his third against the Detroit Pistons. He played for 18 minutes and during that time made up six points with two free throws, and two layups. After this, he wouldn’t see playing time again until their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Heading into their matchup against Minnesota, they were without Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen, and Dean Wade. With the top players out, Stevens got the spot start. The Cavaliers fell behind early, but the potential of Stevens started to show again. He went on to score 15 points, and secured six key rebounds to help the Cavaliers almost pull off a comeback in the fourth. Ultimately, they couldn’t as the Cavaliers Lost 129-124. This was a great showing of his potential as a complimentary player. Stevens showed how adept he was operating as a cutter along the baseline or occupying the dunker role.
In their most recent game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Stevens would once again get the starting nod. His task in this one, guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. Slowing down Antetokounmpo is never easy, but Stevens did it. He limited Antetokounmpo to a season-low 17 points by cutting off his runways and absorbing contact. In addition to the defense he played, Stevens also had another double-digit scoring game with 10 points, added five rebounds, had four blocks, and overall moved the ball well.
the save & the fade@LamarStevens11 | #LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/cQPza5kty6
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) November 17, 2022
The main player Stevens has been competing for time with is Isaac Okoro, yet Stevens is outplaying him. Okoro has played for a total of 230 minutes, made one-of-14 three-point shots, 13-of-25 two-point shots, nine-of-12 free throws, has 19 rebounds, and a player efficiency rating of 2.0. Stevens, on the other hand, has played for a total of 87 minutes, made two-of-five three-point shots, eight-of-20 two-point shots, nine-of-10 free throws, has 12 rebounds, and a player efficiency rating of 11.1. In less playing time, Stevens has outperformed Okoro, and what he brings to the team overall is why he should get the starting nod.
Stevens does a good job of defending against both wings and forwards, with taking away slot drives and keeping forwards from getting to their desired shooting spots. Stevens has five blocks on the season, and with his 6’6, 230 pound frame his off-ball defense to create deflections will continue. Stevens may not be a flashy offensive player, but he can create as a cutter and finish.
At just 25 years old, and in his third season, Stevens has continued to show he is just scratching the surface of his potential. It is evident that Stevens needs more playing time, as he fits what they need out of the three. When the Cavaliers make the decision to start him full-time, it will lead to them getting back on track and sustaining success.