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Lamar Stevens 2020–21 Season Review

Did the Cavs unearth an undrafted gem? No. But they did find a pretty good player.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Here is a brief list of definitely not cherry-picked facts and stats about Lamar Stevens:

  • Lamar Stevens set career-best marks in every single statistical category last season!
  • Lamar Stevens is tied for the most game-winning shots by a Cavalier over the last three years!
  • Lamar Stevens averaged more points, rebounds, blocks, and steals per 100 possessions than Isaac Okoro, who was drafted infinity (math?) spots ahead of Stevens!

Pretty cool, eh? The raw numbers say the Cleveland Cavaliers just might have a star on their hands in Stevens!

Okay, fine. Those stats are cherry-picked. Extremely, actually. But don’t let one little bad-faith argument color your view of Stevens. No, he probably won’t ever lead a team in any statistical category without a hyper-specific and favorable combination of filters. The thing is, though, when you’re talking about an undrafted rookie and rotation caboose, oftentimes your best bet is to look for a hyper-specific skill/role for them to fill.

At a glance, Stevens’ player profile doesn’t read like someone who should be playing basketball for money. He doesn’t really shoot — he only even attempted 25 threes across 40 games. He made just four. And he doesn’t really dribble — barely cracked one dribble per touch. And he doesn’t really pass — he averaged fewer passes than Anderson Varejao (yeah, yeah, cherrypicking again, just bear with me), and in 2021, that shouldn’t really be possible. (Stevens must have missed the triple threat lesson in little league.) Honestly, you probably don’t want him to do anything with the ball that isn’t dunking or giving it right back to a guard. Not descriptors you want for a 6’6 wing.

Early in the season, Stevens earned his burn simply by existing in a healthy state as the Cavs dealt with a calamity of injuries. But again, hyper-specificity is the name of the game. And Stevens is more than just a body; he’s a good athlete (41-inch vertical leap at the draft combine), a solid defender, and what he lacks in pure height and skill, he compensates for with mass (230 pounds), length (6’9 wingspan), and the trademark hustle of an undrafted player.

Stevens appeared to find his niche early in February by turning himself into a two-and-D pseudo power forward. Playing the four allowed Stevens to play to his strengths: he could slip past less agile defenders for layups and dunks, and outjump crowds on the offensive glass. Finding some offense for Stevens allowed him to stay on the floor for defense, where the Cavs desperately needed someone who could help Isaac Okoro hold the line against some of the NBA’s most unstoppable wing forces.

Unless he can develop some semblance of an outside shot, Stevens won’t figure heavily into the rotation moving forward. Judging by his lack of improvement on that in his four years at Penn State, that doesn’t appear likely, even for a team as starved for perimeter defense as the Cavs. In other words, Stevens might already be close to his ceiling.

But consider that in late January — just days before his season, and possibly his career, turned — Stevens looked like a goner. He missed a handful of games with a strained abdominal, but even before that, Stevens was logging DNPs and single-minute nights (not single-digit minute nights, mind you). That he even stayed on the roster, let alone clinching a win a month later, should be considered a success for both him and the Cavaliers.