Over the past few years, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made an effort to add depth and youth on the wing. The result, for now at least, is a younger group that’ll be in competition with one another for minutes throughout the season and to establish themselves as core pieces going forward.
And it’s not as if any of these pieces are old either. In terms of NBA experience, Cedi Osman and Damyean Dotson are the older guys in the room and they’re both still really just starting.
Projected depth chart
Starter (at least at the beginning of the season): Dylan Windler
Key backup(s): Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman Kevin Porter Jr.
Competing for minutes: Damyean Dotson
The thing there, though, is that I have no real idea who is going to start at small forward. The Cavs don’t know yet either.
Most on the line: Kevin Porter Jr.
Porter Jr. had a great rookie season, averaging 10 points in 23.2 minutes per game and having moments — think of him torching the Heat — that made you think that only good things were coming for him. In terms of upside, he might have more than any young Cav currently on the roster.
And yet, Porter Jr.’s off the court issue this past offseason cast a shadow over him. He’s not a bad person — coaches and executives alike rave about him — but there’s palpable disappointment in him stemming from his two offseason incidents. It’s what kept him out of the beginning of training camp and what could put him behind Dylan Windler in the rotation to start. Porter Jr. may have to earn his spot all over again. Dotson could also conceivably eat into his minutes too. Which he could do. But it’s worth watching.
Biggest wild card
Porter Jr. is probably the answer here too. But for content’s sake, let’s slot Dylan Windler here.
If you ask the Cavs, they’ll tell you there’s excitement about Windler. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has called him a “second first-round pick.” If his shooting translates, Windler definitely can be effective and matter. A competent version of Windler is a flavor — deadeye shooting that doesn’t require force-feeding — Cleveland didn’t have last year.
If asked this question at the end of last season, I would have likely picked Porter Jr. vs. the field. He still has a lot to figure out on the court, particularly on defense, but the potential is just so real and tantalizing. Maybe that still pushes through this year and he casts every doubt aside. But there’s a lot of work to be done.
Aside from Porter, none of the other candidates are obvious picks. If Windler comes in and is like 70% of Duncan Robinson or can be Joe Ingles-light, then there’s a case for him because he’s a rotation piece. But those feel like high-end, unlikely outcomes for his delayed rookie year. It’s probably going to take him time to acclimate.
Okoro will need time to adjust too. He could end up starting from day one, but there’s still going to be a defensive learning curve and some questions to be answered about his offense. Based on what he’s coming in as teams are going to dare him to make shots. Can he make them pay from day one at enough of a clip? Or can he contribute in other ways on offense, perhaps as a cutter?
And then there’s Osman. He’s an underrated player at this point, I’d argue, as a 38.8% catch-and-shoot three-point shooter last year on just under four attempts per game, and defender who was just overmatched in his role last year. Per Bball-Index, he defended tier-one usage rate players (i.e. the most commonly used players) at 31% above the league average. That’s just a lot to throw at him for what he is. But his role also might not change this year depending on what happens with Okoro.
This is also to stay it’s really hard to predict an MVP among Cavs wings. For now, I’ll go with Okoro.
Storyline to watch
Here, it’s all about who starts. The likeliest candidates would be Osman and Okoro with Windler as a wild card. As of now, the competition seems wide open.
“We tell the guys to make the decisions tough for us,” Bickerstaff said on Dec. 4 during a Zoom call. “If that decision is tough it means we have multiple guys that are playing well. And our approach is the same. You’ve got to earn everything here. You earn it by your performance in practice every day. You earn it by being reliable, by being dependable. Then obviously your performance in the game.”
And just so it’s clear: Porter Jr. was always going to come off the bench regardless of if his standing with the team had changed or not.
Semi-wild prediction: Windler starts the year starting, but Okoro takes the role over at some point. As a bonus storyline to watch, let’s see how much Larry Nance Jr. plays the three.
Up next tomorrow: Taking a look at the Cavs’ frontcourt