Cleveland Cavaliers basketball is quickly approaching as we are now 16 days away from their first preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Here’s more of what we learned from last season and how that applies to 2022-23.
Kevin Love has accepted and excelled in a bench role.
Love finished last season averaging 13.6 points on .430/.392/.838 shooting splits with 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 22.5 minutes per game. This was good enough to earn him second place in Sixth Man of the Year voting.
Love’s per 36 numbers from last season were impressive and among the best of his career. He averaged 21.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.3 three point attempts per 36 minutes. To put that in perspective for Love, this was his fifth highest per 36 point production for his career and was the second best for seasons he played 60 or more games. The Cavs essentially got some of the best parts of “Minnesota Kevin” in shorter bursts for his age 33 season.
Love’s days of being the focal point of an offense or part of a big three are long behind him. However, we’ve seen that his willingness to accept a reduced role will allow him to contribute positively to winning teams over the next handful of seasons provided he continues to stay healthy.
Rebounding was an issue for stretches of last season.
Rebounding is something to keep an eye on as the Cavs move on from their three big lineup. Allen is an elite rebounder who covers up the Cavs deficiencies in this area. Prior to his injury on March 6, 2022 the Cavs were collecting 50.9% of available rebounds — good for 10th in the league. From his injury on, the Cavs were grabbing just 49.5% of missed shots which was good for 20th in the league during that stretch.
This is important to highlight as Mobley was not a particularly good rebounder last season. He grabbed just 17% of opponent misses on the season which was good for the 44th percentile among bigs. If you filter that to just include the stretch Allen was out to close the regular season, Mobley gathered 19.1% of opponents misses which puts him in the 57th percentile among bigs during that time period.
Losing Lauri Markkanen will only exasperate that issue as he was a good rebounder for his position who was able to cover up for Mobley while providing solid rebounding at the bottom of the 3-2 zone. Switching him out for Donovan Mitchell — who is a poor rebounder for his position — will not help the Cavs end defensive possessions.
Who should start at the wing is an open question and one that will continue to be discussed at length. However, rebounding should be an important part of that conversation as it might be one of the skills that they need most in the starting lineup. This is especially true if they want to continue experimenting with the 3-2 zone with Mobley at the top.
For what it’s worth Okoro and Cedi Osman are poor defensive rebounders for their position, Caris LeVert is average, Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens are above average, and Dylan Windler is elite if one can be called elite in insignificant minutes.
Caris LeVert was not a seamless fit offensively.
LeVert was put in a tough spot last season. He was brought in to provide ballhandling and scoring on a team that couldn’t stay healthy. He also was hurt early in his Cavs tenure, perhaps limiting his ability to acclimate.
As a result, LeVert was forced into trying to carry the offense with little other ball handling help around him on a team he wasn’t familiar with. Unsurprisingly, the results weren’t great as LeVert finished last season averaging 13.6 points on .435/.313/.745 shooting splits with 3.9 assists in 19 games with the Cavs.
It will be an interesting year for LeVert. His fit around the starting four of Garland, Mitchell, Mobley and Allen is less than ideal. He’s someone who needs the ball in his hands to be effective, but he certainly isn’t the dominate offensive player either Garland or Mitchell are. LeVert is also someone who does most of his damage getting to the rim in the half court which isn’t necessarily easy to do with two traditional bigs on the floor. Lastly, he isn’t someone who is comfortable spotting up.
These all point to LeVert being better used coming off the bench and playing with a more spacing friendly second unit. However, the Cavs desperately need someone of his size to fit into the starting lineup both in the short term and long term.
This is a make or break season for LeVert. Him rounding out the Cavs core four puts him in a nice position to have his contract extended after this season or get a nice payday elsewhere. Conversely, a year in line with what he showed at the end of last season will likely result in him being moved at the deadline or walking in free agency for a smaller number than he’d like.
Jarrett Allen is the non-superstar perfect center.
Last season was easily Allen’s best on offense and defnese. He finished the year averaging a career high 16.1 points on 9.1 shots per game. He was able to do this by finishing a career best 78.1% of his shots at the rim which put him in the 94th percentile among bigs. Allen was also able to get to the foul line 4.2 times per game while drawing fouls on 18% of his shot attempts.
Allen’s ability to be an impactful scorer while playing with another traditional big, on a team with poor outside shooting while also having a low usage of 16% is remarkable. Allen’s ability to finish the opportunities he got within the flow of the offense like he did last year shows that he can fit in basically any team concept or lineup. I wouldn’t expect Allen to have too much of a dip in production with Mitchell joining the team.
While his offense was good, it was really his defense that carried the Cavs last season. He finished the campaign with a 106.7 defensive rating. The team had a defensive rating of 106.5 which was good for fourth best in the league prior to his injury on March 6th. From his injury through the end of the season without him, the Cavs had a 117.3 defensive rating which was good for 21st during that span. This speaks to the Cavs lack of depth at center behind Allen last season, but also to how impactful he was.
Allen’s ability to contest shots at a high rate, not foul and still be an elite rebounder is why he was so impactful last season. Allen contested 11.8 shots per game last season which was fifth most in the league. He also committed fouls on just 2.1% of his team’s defensive possessions which was the fewest in the league among bigs. He somehow was still able to grab 20.4% of opponents missed shots while doing all of that. Allen was nothing short of amazing on defense.
Allen proved that he can be a seamless fit on both ends of the floor no matter who he was out there with. He showed that he can provide consistent offensive production to keep a sometimes mediocre offense afloat while being the backline of one of the best defenses in the league. Allen really is the ideal center to pair with a smaller, high usage backcourt. He provides high-end defensive support without demanding significant touches on offense.