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2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers season preview: Raul Neto, the one-time Ricky Rubio bridge

Signing Neto at one point seemed like a neat-o thing for the Cavaliers.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In another life set in the early 1800s, Raul Neto would’ve been born to be a train conductor in his native Brazil. Instead, he was born to be a higher-quality, low-usage point guard off the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers. While there aren’t any locomotives on the court this season for Cleveland, Neto can still be a conductor that keeps his teammates on schedule offensively.

Position: PG

Age: 30

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 180 lbs

2021-22 stats: 70 games played, 19.6 minutes per game, 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists with .463/.292/.769 shooting splits

When Neto first signed with the Cavaliers over the summer, his role within Cleveland’s offensive hierarchy made sense. While Ricky Rubio continues to rehab and eventually ramps up a return to the floor, Neto would serve in his place as Darius Garland’s primary backup.

That’s what Neto was brought into provide. Last season, Cleveland utilized numerous two-point guard sets that featured Rubio and Darius Garland. While it seems like it would’ve been a nightmare defensively, Rubio being such a reliable defender last season made the pairing palatable on one end of the floor and explosive on the other. Fast forward to now with Neto and Cleveland just simply wouldn’t be getting the same results from him while Rubio recovers — and that’s totally fine! It instead brings a different perspective and identity to the offense.

Neto is a train conductor on offense. Neto will do exactly what you want out of a backup point guard. He makes sure everyone is set on offense. Neto also gets his teammates the ball in their preferred spots on the floor, keeping things in harmony. He’ll even occasionally try his hand at scoring the ball, with the majority of his looks coming within 10 feet of the basket, where he connected on 55.3% of his attempts last season.

But, with a career average of 6 points per game, you’re not going to get a ton of scoring from Neto. Again, that’s totally fine! It’s just not how Neto is wired as a player. But, with how Rubio sometimes freelanced last season, you’re still missing a major part of what he brought to the table. That’s where the acquisition of Donovan Mitchell provides even more clarity, especially this early into the season.

Mitchell will be able to do more than makeup for the lack of scoring provided by Neto. In fact, it’ll probably be so potent that it also makes up for Rubio’s absence as well. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that acquiring Mitchell made Neto obsolete. The Cavaliers still need a backup behind Garland that is a few shades stronger than Kevin Pangos while Rubio recovers. Instead, Cleveland now doesn’t have to ask more of Neto and make him play a style of ball that isn’t true to who he is as a player.

The Cavaliers will be able to get the most they can out of Neto while softening the blow of not having Rubio, who will likely be off the floor until January or February of 2023. Having Neto comfortable within the offensive hierarchy is key for everyone involved. One thing to watch: Neto shot 29.2% on three-pointers last season, way down from a career average of 36.6%. That has to rebound for this to work.

Neto can continue to be a train conductor that keeps the team’s offense flowing through its stars and high-end reserves while still being a high-end third guard that spells Rubio or Garland after Rubio’s returns. Having that luxury is going to be something the Cavaliers have to lean on and it’s much better than having to stare down the barrel of Kevin Pangos and Rajon Rondo facilitating the offense.