The Cleveland Cavaliers ended the regular season by winning two of their final three games. The final pair felt more like preseason exhibitions as the starters only played a full game in Tuesday’s win against the Orlando Magic. Here’s what we learned.
Cedi Osman continues to shoot well
Osman has quietly put together his most consistent basketball of the season after the All-Star break. In his last 19 games, Osman is averaging 7.9 points on 43.6% shooting from deep on 4.1 attempts per game.
He’s doing this while improving his catch-and-shoot numbers which historically haven’t been an area he’s excelled in. In this stretch, he’s shooting 45.5% on 3.5 catch-and-shoot threes per game. The attempts are second most behind only Mitchell in that span despite Osman playing just over 17 minutes a game.
It’ll be interesting to see how much J.B. Bickerstaff trusts Osman in the playoffs. The Cavs need shooting on the wing and Osman may be the best candidate for that job even though Danny Green looked good in his two games this week.
Sam Merrill uses his off-ball gravity well
Signing Merrill was always about allowing him to compete for a spot in training camp next season while giving the organization the flexibility to keep him for multiple seasons if everything worked out. He showed in his runs these last two games why the Cavs are giving him this opportunity.
A quick look at Merrill’s numbers with the Cleveland Charge show that he’s an exceptional shooter, but his ability to use his shooting to impact other areas is what makes him so impactful even when his jumper isn’t falling. This was on display Sunday as he only connected on 3-9 from distance.
Here, Merrill’s defender wasn’t going to switch and possibly leave him open while the screen was solid enough to let Raul Neto run free to the rim.
Merrill’s off-ball movement is his best skill. He doesn’t just use that to generate threes. Below, Merrill’s defender takes a half step away before panicking and trying to close that space. Merrill uses that momentary misstep to cut and finish at the rim.
Ricky Rubio could be outside the playoff rotation
This has been a difficult season for Rubio. He’s had times where he’s looked like the guy who was so important to the team’s success last season, but those moments aren’t as frequent as the Cavs would like them to be. Rubio wasn’t able to use the final tune up games to get right. He finished up the campaign averaging 5.2 points on .343./.256/.800 shooting splits with 3.5 assists.
The veteran point guard’s game has never been about scoring or shooting percentage, but those also can’t be ignored. He’s had a tough time getting to his spots and isn’t able to get inside and to the free throw line like he was able to last season. His playmaking works in concert with those traits not apart.
The rotations are in a weird spot. Nothing seems set outside of the starting lineup and Caris LeVert. Unlike most other teams, their core four is likely to average above 38 minutes per game in the playoffs. That doesn’t leave much time for bench players like Rubio.
The backup point guard spot could turn into what the backup center position has been the last several months. Keeping two of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert on the floor at all times might be more than enough to handle the playmaking responsibilities. This would allow you to cycle in more length on the wings.
Isaiah Mobley’s hard work is paying off
The elder Mobley has improved drastically throughout the season. The leap he made from last Summer League to training camp was drastic. He made an even more noticeable one during this season.
Splitting time with the Cavs and Charge allowed Mobley to put into practice what he learned and observed with the Cavs. Seeing that work payoff in an NBA game like it did against the Magic was validation that the work he’s put in this season can translate to the next level.
Mobley’s 18 points in Orlando was emblematic of his play the entire season with the Charge. He was able to quickly attack defenders in the post, move into open space for dump offs and showed his improved three-point shot by canning two triples. More importantly, Mobley held up on the defensive end. He did a good job switching onto the perimeter while providing rebounding and rim protection.
Sunday’s performance against the Charlotte Hornets served as a reminder that he isn’t a finished product. He struggled to finish looks in the post and didn’t do as good of a job closing out on the perimeter on the other end.
The Cavs desperately need front court depth and someone who could provide minutes at the center. Mobley’s improvement this season and another offseason of development could be enough to supply that for the Cavs allowing them to use their midlevel exception on other positions of need. The rookie’s minutes on Thursday showed what that could look like.