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What we learned about the Cavs this week: Feb. 22 - 28

The Cavs are 4-0 against the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. You have all been put on notice.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers have bounced back nicely from their terrible road trip earlier this month with three straight wins over the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Here’s what we learned this week.

The Cavs make a lot more sense when they play a power forward.

Dean Wade isn’t the long-term answer at power forward, but he is a power forward which is a drastic upgrade from what the Cavs have been working with since Larry Nance Jr.’s injury. Wade provides rebounding, has the size to match opposing power forwards, and provides some floor spacing. The Cavs have been missing all three of those things desperately.

Jarrett Allen’s fit makes a lot more sense with the Cavs when he is out there with a power forward. Allen has a -11.0 net rating when he’s playing without Dean Wade and has a -0.6 net rating when he’s sharing the floor with Wade. Furthermore, the two-man lineup of Wade and Allen had a 4.2 net rating in the 68 minutes they played together this week. It should also be noted that Allen has played less than 40 minutes with Nance who was the only other healthy power forward on the roster since the trade. Most of his minutes have come with Taurean Prince or Cedi Osman playing the four which isn’t either player’s ideal position.

Inserting a power forward type player into the starting lineup has also allowed the Cavs to reclaim some of their defensive identity. The Cavs posted a 105.7 defensive rating in their three games this week against Houston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. None of those teams are offensive juggernauts as they rank 26th, 10th, and 14th in offensive rating on the season. These are however steps in the right direction and show that there is a proof of concept for a functional Garland/Sexton/Okoro/Nance or Love/Allen starting lineup.

The Cavs are in a weird spot.

Cleveland currently has the fifth-best lottery odds despite having the worst net rating in the league (-8.2). The fifth spot has a 45.2% chance at a top 4 pick. The odds for a top-four pick drops significantly if you drop to the sixth (37.2%), seventh (31.9%), eighth (26.3%), or ninth spot (17.3%) in the lottery. The Cavs are currently 1.5 games away from the ninth spot which would drop their odds of landing a top-four pick by 27.9% compared to where they currently sit.

Conversely, the Cavs are also three games back from the play-in tournament and are four games back from being the fourth seed in the East. Theoretically, the Cavs are a hot streak away from hosting a Game 1 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse this spring.

The Cavs are already through the toughest portion of their schedule. They are also currently playing without arguably their best and second-best players in Love and Nance. The combination of the favorable schedule and getting players back from injury should mean that the Cavs are more likely to make a playoff/play-in tournament run than they are to bottom out.

Also, the Cavs aren’t a couple of trades away from bottoming out. The Cavs current three-game winning streak is because of the play of their young core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and Jarrett Allen. Barring injuries, a more favorable schedule should lead to them rising out of their current lottery position at the least.

There’s no easy answer to what an ideal outcome to this season is. There isn’t an easy way to bottom out outside of injuries. Likewise, there are three teams between them and the play-in round so even a stretch of good play doesn’t necessarily mean you could make the playoffs/play-in round. The first two weeks after the all-star break will go a long way in determining which direction the Cavs ultimately go.

Dylan Windler is getting more comfortable.

We got a glimpse of what the ideal version of Windler’s game is. He attempted four or more threes in every game this week. He also went a perfect 5 for 5 from distance against Atlanta and backed that up by canning all four of his triples against Houston.

Windler was drafted because of his three-point and rebounding ability. Both of those were on display this week. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.

Isaac Okoro continues to show promising signs.

Okoro’s strengths don’t translate to box score numbers, but his weaknesses do. There isn’t necessarily a nice box score stat for the number of difficult shots you’ve forced or the number of well-executed defensive rotations you did. That’s not true for the opposite end of the floor which is an area we knew he would struggle in coming into the season.

Okoro has been a bright spot on defense despite being forced to guard the best perimeter/wing opponent. Saturday’s game against Philadelphia was a great example of this. Okoro forced Ben Simmons away from his spots on the floor while making him take difficult/contested shots. However, good offense always beats good defense in the NBA. Simmons was still able to finish with 24/8/7 on 11 of 17 shooting. There is no telling what those numbers might’ve looked like if the Cavs didn’t have Okoro on him.

The clip below is a great example of what Okoro at his best looks like. The rookie has the defensive instincts of a seasoned veteran. He contests many shots like this a night where he saves a possession that would’ve otherwise been an uncontested look.

Okoro has shown some signs of life on the offensive end as of late. He is averaging 11.8 points per game while shooting 47.8% from deep on 4.6 three-point attempts in his last five games. The rookie has displayed increased aggressiveness on that end of the floor which has translated into better play on both ends.

Okoro already plays defense at an above-average level which is rare for a rookie. He has the skills to mature into an elite defender. His offensive upside is less clear. The rookie has shown the ability to work well off the ball as a cutter and his outside shot has improved since coming into the league. Those offensive and defensive abilities should pair well with a high usage but undersized backcourt. Improving what Okoro already does well on both ends could lead to him becoming a very valuable piece of this rebuild.

Development isn’t linear for young players in the league. What Okoro ultimately becomes remains to be seen. There are however reasons to be excited about his potential.