100-150ish words for each. Mark for your name for each answer!
The Cavs’ first half MVP is….
Chris Manning: It’s Collin Sexton. When you watch the Cavs, he’s the engine of everything and is really turning into a dynamic scorer who is going to score 20+ a night in the NBA for a long, long time. Cleveland’s offense isn’t good by any means, but imagine where it’d be without him making stuff happen.
Runner-up: The people in the organization who have helped the team not have any COVID-19 issues. That’s no small accomplishment.
Mark Schindler: The easy (and right) answer is Collin Sexton. He’s been by and large, the biggest bright spot on the Cavaliers. But, I want to go in a different direction; The first 15 games. Across the first month of basketball, the Cavs were 8-7 with the second best defensive rating in the NBA. While injuries and inconsistency led to significant struggles in the month succeeding, that first month highlighted the building blocks of the team’s future. They have the talent when healthy to be an above average defensive team and J.B. Bickerstaff has been able to forge a steady defense when the roster is maximized. That first month was the best stretch of basketball post-LeBron and is hopefully a bridge to the next era of successful basketball in Cleveland.
Leah Nemeth: Collin Sexton. It was a bummer not seeing Sexton suited up in Atlanta repping the Cavs in his hometown during the 2020 NBA ASG, but here’s looking to 2021 in Cleveland. The star guard has proven he can compete with anyone on the floor and has been a steady and reliable scorer for his young team all season. Sexton has scored 20-plus points in 22 of his 29 appearances so far in 2020-21, averaging career-highs in points per game, field goal percentage and assists per game. He is currently one of only five players in the NBA averaging 23 points per game game, 4 assists per game and 1 steal while shooting 48% from the field and 39% from three. The other four: Zach LaVine, Paul George, Nikola Jokic and Kyrie Irving.
Evan Dammarell: Koby Altman. Yes, this Cavs team isn’t great and is likely headed back to the draft lottery. (Fade for Cade, anyone?) But, the young pieces Koby Altman has assembled in his few seasons as general manager has been impressive. Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Dylan Windler, and even Kevin Porter Jr. during the time he was here were draft hits for Cleveland under Altman. Not only that, but Altman has also worked the trade lines as well as his mentor David Griffin does and has been able to nab Jarrett Allen at virtually no cost for the Cavs while the organization grabbed Larry Nance Jr. for Channing Frye and a late first-round pick that became Mo Wagner. This season we’re starting to see Altman’s vision a bit as the youngsters grow every night on the floor. The future is bright in Cleveland with Altman at the helm.
Nick Trizzino: Larry Nance Jr. I’m trying as hard as I can to avoid the “best vs. most valuable” discourse, but Larry was good enough pre-injury to avoid it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that the Cavaliers were bad enough when Nance Jr. wasn’t playing to justify this. His ability to plug any and every gap—offense, defense, facilitating, switching—was the Flex Seal that kept the boat above water. It’s no coincidence that the Cavs’ skydive down the standings coincided with Nance Jr.’s exit from the lineup.
Mike Anguilano: Larry Nance Jr. and his impact on the court have been very pronounced, especially during the 10-game losing streak. The Cavaliers were one of the league’s best defenses when he was healthy, and Junior led the way with his active hands and multi-dimensional defensive capabilities. He has affixed himself as a key piece of not only the rotation, but the organization.
The player you’ve been most impressed with is…..
Chris Manning: To be different than my colleagues, I’m going with Issac Okoro. He’s become a really, really interesting defender from day one as the Cavs have thrown the hardest assignments at him night after night after night. He’s also slowly adding little tools to his offensive game and it’s going to be fascinating to watch that unfold the rest of the year. I’m all in on Okoro.
Mark Schindler: Larry Nance Jr. for sure. Given games missed, it’ll be hard for him to make it, but prior to his injury, Nance was close to a lock for All-Defense; Cleveland allows 10.2pp/100 less with Nance on-court per Cleaning the Glass (95th percentile.) Nance’s ability to fill in the gaps and act as connector offensively isn’t always noticeable when he’s playing, but is quite apparent in the extended run without him. He has been sorely missed on both ends. What’s been most impressive is his shooting from beyond the arc, hitting at an above league average clip on career high volume. If he can continue to space the floor credibly, he only boosts his importance to Cleveland.
Leah Nemeth: Jarrett Allen. One of the team’s most efficient scorers, Allen has settled in well in Cleveland. Over that last 10 games, the Cavs newbie big is averaging 17.6 points (67% shooting) and 12.4 rebounds per game. As the season rolls on, the Cavs have a huge asset in Allen who will be a dazzling complement to floor-spacers like Nance and Love upon their return to the lineup.
Evan Dammarell: Collin Sexton. This time last year I would be going to war with folks on whether or not Sexton is the sixth man for this Cavaliers squad. But, with the growth Sexton has showcased in his young season offensively, especially the first half of this year, there seems like there is no limit on what Sexton can become. This year he’s using his aggressiveness to get to the line more often and lately, he’s been attempting more three-pointers as well. We’re starting to see flashes of his playmaking ability playing alongside Jarrett Allen so that might be his next step.
Nick Trizzino: Allen. When was the last time the Cavaliers had a really, really good center? The amorphous blob that was at one point Shaq? Andrew Bynum? (Ha! Just kidding.) It’s probably Big Z, right? It’s a strange feeling watching a seven-footer dominate for the Cavs. So maybe it’s just the novelty of new experiences, but Allen has been a delightful palate cleanser from years of subpar center play. All he’s done since he came to Cleveland is pile up behemoth stat lines, dunk the shit out of everything, and save small children and pets from burning buildings (I don’t know that last one for a fact, but it feels safe to assume). And now he’s even occasionally shooting threes! It’s hard to see what more he could be doing right.
Mike Anguilano: Darius Garland. After a terrible rookie season, Garland has looked drastically improved in nearly every metric. His shooting is still not where the Cavaliers hope it will be, but he has progressed from not taking enough shots to taking a more sufficient number. Garland is attempting almost 15 shots per game this season as opposed to 12 shots per game last season. He is also connecting on more shots overall (up to 44% from 40% last season) and on three-pointers (up to 38% from 35%). These are small gains, but the trends are in the right direction. The Cavs offense stalls out at times when he is out or sits, so he is a key cog in the machine.
The player who has disappointed you the most is…..
Chris Manning: I’m disappointed for Kevin Love more than anything, but it sucks that we’ve only seen him play one-plus game this year due to injury. He can definitely help this team when healthy, but is that going to be the case? Hopefully he can get back soon and help this team grow as he comes back in an important way.
Mark Schindler: Damyean Dotson. I was a big fan of the move to bring in Dotson this summer as I thought he could provide some solid wing depth and potentially a bit more with individual growth. However, he’s been incredibly miscast on the Cavs, more an indictment on the roster than Dotson himself. He is asked to create a lot more than he’s capable of and it’s hard not to notice how overtaxed he is playing as a lead ball handler. Unfortunately, the shot from outside has abandoned him as well (27.9% from three). I hope that’s just a woeful stretch and that the roster context makes more sense for him as the team gets healthy, because he’s better than has been shown to start the season.
Leah Nemeth: Cedi Osman. I had really, really high hopes for Cedi Osman this season, but dude is just...bad. The Cavs have struggled at the forward position all season leaving Osman with plenty of opportunities to thrive. Not only has his shooting been bad (37.3%), his moves and defensive rotations are extremely erratic and confused. Cavs would be wise to hold onto and develop rookie Dylan Windler and package Osman in a trade as soon as possible.
Evan Dammarell: I have the same exact sentiments as Leah. Cedi Osman has continued to be the most inconsistent player on the Cavs and it seems like a trade would be in the best interest of all parties involved.
Nick Trizzino: Ditto on Cedi. Of all the Cavs’ young(ish) players, Osman is the only one who hasn’t shown any positive strides this season. He should be a three-and-D player, but he’s too streaky to fill the ‘three’ half of the equation and too wild for the ‘D’ half. Maybe Cedi is a victim of outsized expectations—after all, he is a second-round pick who’s making less than $10 million annually—but it doesn’t look like he can be a key player on any good iteration of the Cavaliers.
Mike Anguilano: Cedi has been disappointing, no doubt, for the reasons mentioned above. He is not very consistent and has not displayed the level of control that the team needs. His name has been floated in trade discussions and that appears to be a logical conclusion for a player that no longer fits what the team needs.
The player you have the most questions about heading into the second half of the season is….
Chris Manning: Darius Garland. I’m a believer because of his passing, but the next step for him is becoming a more consistent willing scorer and hanging on defense. With a Sexton extension coming next summer — and Sexton is going to get PAID — Garland has more to prove. It kicks up another gear over the rest of this season.
Runner-up is Jarrett Allen because I want to see what he adds to his game.
Mark Schindler: Collin Sexton. I say Collin strictly because he was hitting a great stride prior to the All-Star break, flashing more as a facilitator, upping his volume on threes ever so slightly and getting to the line with more regularity. In his last 10, Sexton averaged 27/3/5 on 58.9 TS% while taking one more three than his season average (5) and getting to the free throw line 7.3 times per game. Sexton went on a notable tear in the second half of last season before the hiatus. Can he continue what he was doing over the past two weeks? Is the post All-Star bump going to be a thing for Collin every year?
Nick Trizzino: He’s been close to returning for what feels like a month—when is he really coming back? How much is he going to play? Is he going to be a glorified floor-spacer, or a focal point of the offense? How low are the Cavs willing to sell on him? How good even is Healthy Kevin Love anymore? Does Healthy Kevin Love even exist anymore? Love is facing existential threats from every direction—and who knows if he’ll still be in Cleveland by the time they’re resolved?
Leah Nemeth: Trizzino stole my thunder, but yes... where in the world is Vestry’s Banana-Republic-loving, swimsuit-model-marrying owner? I would even take Lil’ Kev at this point. Love has been out with a calf injury for more than 10-weeks—is his body capable of running with and helping this young Cavs team compete? My money is on a hard “no.”
Evan Dammarell: Darius Garland. Sure, Kevin Love has a lot of questions going into the second half (he’s only played about 80 games since LeBron left town again) but, I’m looking ahead towards the future for the Cavs. Garland has had impressive moments in his sophomore campaign but, it feels a lot like last year where we saw flashes of potential. If Darius has a strong second half of the year, then my concerns fade a bit. I still think Garland has a higher potential than Sexton, mind you but, he needs to stay healthy and capitalize on it to show that he is the team’s point guard of the future.
Mike Anguilano: Isaac Okoro. He has been asked to do a lot on offense and is guarding the opposing team’s best player. With some players coming back from injury, namely Love and Nance, Okoro should be able to relax a bit. I would like to see him cut more and finish at the rim better. Okoro is shooting 57% at the rim, which is in the bottom 33% of the league per Cleaning the Glass. He is a rookie, so there is not a lot of pressure. But seeing some offensive pop would be nice, especially given how solid his defense is already.
Give me a stat that explains the Cavs so far to you
Chris Manning: The Cavs are 30th in three-point rate and 22nd in accuracy, per Cleaning The Glass. Any playoff or play-in tournament hopes bank on the offense improving and it starts via the team taking more three-pointers and, ideally, making more of them.
Leah Nemeth: Collin Sexton sits fifth in the NBA for minutes played so far. Cavs need to pursue a reliable, swing back-up guard to take the pressure and minutes off Sexton and Garland. Bonus points for a solid veteran to fill the role. (Editor’s note: This was written pre the Quinn Cook signing.)
Evan Dammarell: When the All-Star break hit, the Cavs ranked 22nd in defensive rating and twenty-seventh in offensive rating. When you watch the team on a night-to-night basis, those ratings make perfect sense as Cleveland has to play bully ball to remain competitive in their games. It doesn’t always result in wins, but, it’s an interesting dynamic to watch going forward when Kevin Love returns to the lineup.
Nick Trizzino: How about one-and-a-half? In a Feb. 3 game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cavaliers went 4-of-10 from three. Paul George — who is nine fewer people than the Cavaliers played as a team — shot 8-of-9. The Cavs, unsurprisingly, got their doors blown off, 121–99. That’s the darkest of the abyssal depths their three-point shooting has sunk to at times this year, but it’s indicative of a larger problem: in wins, the Cavs lose the three-point battle less than one make per night (11.4 to 12.1). In losses, that deficit balloons to roughly five (8.2 to 13.5). Both of their starting guards are above 40 percent on the year;
Mike Anguilano: The Cavs make just under 10 three-pointers per game, the lowest in the league. They also attempt the fewest number of three-pointers at 27.4 per game. With the team getting healthier this should improve, but Collin Sexton needs to take more of them. He is taking 4.2 per game, which is 133rd in the league. Sexton is drilling threes at a 40% clip, a respectable enough number that he should be taking more of them. Hopefully by the end of the year we will see that number rise.
Mark Schindler: The Cavs take the third highest percentage of shots at the rim, but have the worst rim efficiency in the NBA for the 2021 season. However, in the nine games since Andre Drummond hasn’t played, Cleveland is shooting significantly better at the rim, 10 places higher at 20th. The Cavs have taken the third highest percentage of at rim attempts in the league this season; will converting better impact the rest of the offense? Many of Drummond’s at rim misses were rebounded by himself so that could skew the numbers a bit. Overall, it’s an intriguing look that reminds us that the 2020-21 Cleveland Cavaliers struggle mightily to put together stretches of effective offense.