The 2019-20 NBA season officially kicked off last night (hey, hey, hey) and the Cavaliers open their season tonight against the Magic. Cleveland figures to struggle this year and probably pick in the top-five against this year. It’s all part of what they would call a “renaissance.”
With that in mind, here are eight predictions starting with the one I feel the least confident in to the one I’m most sure will happen.
10. The Cavs will not have the worst record in the league
Cleveland will be in contention for the league’s worst record. The defense is going to be bad. There are a lot of young players who are going to learn on the fly, make mistakes and play a significant number of minutes. That means losses. Most models (take FiveThirtyEight’s for example) have them as a bottom-three team. I think that’s a realistic outcome and think they’ll have a high pick in the 2020 Draft.
But I don’t think they’ll be the worst team in the league. I think the Cavs are closer to the Grizzlies, Hawks and Wizards, aka teams with a pulse and a vision, than they are the Knicks (a team with literally all of the power forwards) and the Hornets (what a roster they have.) They are the worst of the former three teams, though.
This all could change if Love gets hurt/traded or John Beilein flounders. But there’s reason to think this team is a little bit better than some of the other awful teams in the NBA.
9. Tristan Thompson will take at least five three-pointers... and make one
Why not! He’s only taken nine in his entire career, but shot one in the preseason. I’m also rooting for weird.
8. Kevin Love makes the All-Star team and won’t be traded
If he’s healthy, Love should be an All-Star. Especially in the East. His preseason numbers were bad, and he’s played a lot like a guy who hasn’t played a ton of basketball in the last year. But Love seems like he’s in a great place mentally and physically after his amazing summer. He’s going to be a major, major part of Beilein’s offensive plan. The numbers are going to be there. The wins, probably not.
This is also a gut feeling, but I don’t think Love gets dealt. Finding the right team is hard. Finding the right assets to take back in return is hard too. If the Trail Blazers, for instance, want Love and aren’t willing to give up one of Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons, what’s the point of doing it for the Cavs?
This could all change if Love decides he wants out. He’s not said that yet and has said all of the right things about wanting to stick around. I think that holds true until at least the summer. Maybe a weak free agency class drives up his value.
7. The Cavs won’t be major players on the trade market
With how the extension deadline came and went, it doesn’t seem like the 2020 free agency class doesn’t seem all that strong. There aren’t a ton of players worth throwing a bunch of money at and it certainly doesn’t seem like there are any bona fide star players worth hoarding cap space for.
As a result, I think there will be a chilling effect on the Cavs’ ability to flip their many expiring contracts — Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson and Jordan Clarkson — in exchange for assets and salaries that go past 2020. Maybe they’ll flip one or two, but not all of them. Clarkson seems the most likely considering his scoring ability. That sets up an interesting summer where the Cavs have cap space to use, but not a clear way to use it.
6. John Beilein makes a successful transition to the NBA
I’ll be frank: I have no real inclination about how good of an NBA coach Beilein is. For one, it’s just too early to know. I am also only somewhat familiar with his college body of work. The Cavs’ brain trust thinks highly of him and his offensive system seems like a fit for the NBA. He seems like a process guy, a structure and culture guy and it’s a different environment than the last few years in Cleveland.
The NBA season and structure is just so different than college. Beilein’s level of control and sway over the roster is different and not really up to him. I think he’s going to be a good hire, but we’ll see.
5. Darius Garland will finish top-four in Rookie of the Year voting
Garland, bar none, has been the most fun part of the Cavs’ 2019-20 season so far. He plays at a different pace than Sexton and scores smoothly when Sexton scores like a raging young bull. (Get it?) Garland’s step-back game is already a thing, even if it’s not as crisp as more established players. Which is fine, by the way. And, most importantly, Garland’s passing ability looks like it was undersold.
Garland’s defense will probably be bad. The Cavs are not really built to support him either, unless Matthew Dellavedova takes a pot of coffee and a time machine back to 2016 and John Henson is healthy. But he’s going to be good on offense from day one and prove to be someone the Cavs can factor into their plans. That probably means he and Sexton gel.
4. Larry Nance Jr. shoots at least 35% from three and averages at least 3.5 assists per game
Nance’s three-point shooting and passing are what make him interesting, particularly since he’s going to be spending more time on the perimeter. Last year, he shot 33.7% on 1.5 three-pointers per game and 3.2 assists in 26.8 minutes. With more of a green light to shoot and a need to pass on bench units, I think he improves in both categories and makes those a part of his game going forward.
3. The Cedi Osman leap happens in year three
The best version of Osman has not been seen in the NBA. In year one, back in 2017-18, he was a sub only used by then-coach Tyronn Lue (man, that seems like 100 years ago) to provide defense. Last year, he took on a bigger role, looked good on offense to a degree, but was statistically one of the worst defenders in the league while being overtaxed as a primary defender. In neither year was the creative flair he displayed in Turkey on regular display. As a reminder, this isn’t the player we’ve seen in the NBA:
Defensively, he’s still going to take on an oversized burden. But he feels like a perfect fit for Beilein’s system and Love being back should help him get easier looks. With two guards who look to score around him, his passing will finally show up consistently and he might lead the team in assists.
The key will be his shooting. He was fine last year, but there’s room for growth and a more consistent three-point stroke. If that happens, and he looks comfortable, Osman should be set-up to get paid next summer by the Cavs or some other team as a restricted free agent.
2. The Cavs will have the league’s worst defense again
Last year, Cleveland had the worst defensive rating in the league by 2.6 points per 100 possessions, per nba.com/stats. Maybe the gap isn’t as big this year, but there’s no real reason to believe that the Cavs have improved on that end heading into this season.
The best perimeter defender on the Cavs is probably Alfonzo McKinnie, who might not even play. Aside from him, the only proven plus defenders on the team are John Henson, a healthy Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. There are also a ton of young players who are going to see regular team and almost all young players are awful at defense. A bunch of the veterans are bad on defense too. There’s just no way this team is good on defense, no matter what scheme J.B. Bickerstaff designs.
1. Collin Sexton’s scoring and shooting holds up
There are very fair concerns about Sexton’s playmaking, his defense and how well-rounded his game is. He’s still young. He works his ass off to get better and doesn’t ever really back down. The muscle he added this summer should help him finish better inside. Preseason isn’t everything, but it’s interesting that the area of the game that popped the most was his scoring and his ability to create shots.
After the All-Star break last year, Sexton put up a 47.7/41.3/82.6 split and averaged 20.8 points per game. Those are numbers he can match again this year. We’ll see about the rest.