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2023-24 Cleveland Cavaliers season preview: Damian Jones

The Cavs’ are hoping to solve their backup big man problem with Jones.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Rebounding was a glaring issue for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first-round playoff exit at the hands of the more physical New York Knicks. Particularly, not having enough quality big men to do the dirty work on the glass and in the post proved to be a major turning point in the series. Veteran center Damian Jones was brought in to do just that.

Name: Damian Jones

Position: Center

Age: 28

Height: 6’11”

Weight: 245 lbs

2022-23 stats: 41 games played, 11.6 minutes per game, 3.5 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 0.4 assists per game, 64% FG%

Anyone who watched the Cavs get whittled away by Mitchell Robinson and Josh Hart in the first round of the NBA Playoffs saw first-hand that there was a clear discrepancy between the two teams. New York was a menace on the glass, out-rebounding the Cavs by an average of eight boards per game. While having Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley be more active in that category is necessary, having a competent backup center willing to do it and give the starters a breather is a big help. Damian Jones, who played with the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz last season, should help.

The Cavs had issues with their bench as a whole, but perhaps none bigger than at center. As goofy and endearing as Robin Lopez is, it was clear that he was unable to play even 60 seconds of time in a postseason setting. Jones, on the other hand, is much younger and more athletic than Lopez, giving the Cavs more upside to the position as a rim-runner and shot blocker.

It was a tale of two seasons for Jones, as he was just all around much better with the Lakers than with the Jazz. He held a block percentage of 2.9 (on par with Anthony Davis per Cleaning the Glass) with Los Angeles and was in the top 25% of offensive rebounders. His defensive rebounding percentage tied a career-best 16.8%, which is a little underwhelming considering his height. With Utah, those numbers fell across the board to near-career lows. The caveat there is he was usually playing with a similarly-sized big in Lauri Markkanen or Luka Samanic, which would eat into those rebound totals. Jones never appeared on court with Anthony Davis when he played the Lakers, instead primarily sharing the floor with Wenyen Gabriel or LeBron James. Perhaps Jones would see those rebounding numbers rise if he played with Georges Niang on the second unit.

The only thing that saw an uptick after the team change was, surprisingly, his three-point percentage. Jones only attempted two three-pointers with the Lakers (making zero), but catapulted to 9-11 from deep with the Jazz. In fact, almost a quarter of his shot attempts in a Utah uniform came from beyond the arc, and 10 of them were corner shots per Cleaning the Glass. There is some precedence in taking threes, as Jones attempted 26 of them with the Sacramento Kings in 2020-21, making 38% of them. The other 74% of his shot diet last year was around the rim, as expected, where he shot 70%. While the Cavs will not be running any plays for Jones, it is nice to see that he has an ever-so-slight wrinkle to his game.

It is hard to say that the Cavs totally solved their rebounding issues from last season, but they did make moves that should improve things over last season. Jones and Tristan Thompson are more capable backup bigs than Lopez, which should inherently improve the situation. In a high-leverage playoff situation, however, it would not be surprising to see J.B. Bickerstaff lean on the veteran Thompson due to his playoff experience. That could render Jones more of a regular season innings eater, but even that is an improvement over what the Cavs’ backup big situation was like last year.