Even though it was considered an accident when it first happened in 1944, dunks have become a staple of basketball at any level. So much so that during the NBA's annual All-Star weekend the dunk contest has become one of the most anticipated events – but that's mostly due to the pageantry involved. The most fascinating thing of it all is that dunks are such a simple play but arguably one of the most exciting for fans to take in. Whether it's a posterizing slam or a wham with the right hand that sparks a team, dunks are a vital part of tonight's game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers know this all too well as it was a Ricky Rubio lob pass that led to an exhilarating Jarrett Allen dunk that helped them take the lead over the Boston Celtics over the weekend.
Not only is dunking flash and fun, but they're also a vital part of the offensive identity of the Cavaliers as well. Heading into Wednesday's contest against the Nets in Brooklyn, Cleveland leads the league as a whole with 100 total dunks made and slam dunks taking up 9.2% of their entire shot profile. Right behind them are the Houston Rockets at 98 and then the Los Angeles Lakers at 89. Heading into the season, Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff shared with the media that he wanted his team to play a more fast-paced, modern approach to the game. That meant using their youth and athleticism to get ahead in fast-break scenarios as well as get up a healthy number of three-pointers as well.
Bickerstaff also made it clear that due to the Cavaliers having an overabundance of big men in Allen, Lauri Markkanen and Evan Mobley on their roster, they would also have to make their presence felt in the paint early into games as well. So far, it's working with Allen leading the NBA in dunks made with 47 total. It's where Allen makes the most damage offensively as well, with 46.3% of his shot attempts being dunks.
“Wherever the cameras will be, I’ll be there,” joked Allen, who has grown a reputation for making his dunks more of the posterizing variety.
Mobley, meanwhile, is currently tied for fourth in the league with Washington's Montrezl Harrell with 32 hammers thrown down. After Cleveland's Saturday night win over the Boston Celtics, Mobley learned that he was, at the time, third in the league – which drew a smirk and nod of approval from his star point guard Darius Garland. But, the fact that Mobley is a league leader in dunks all while still in his rookie campaign is incredibly impressive.
Unfortunately, while Mobley recovers from a right elbow sprain after tangling up with Boston big man Enes Kanter, his campaign to dunk all over the league will temporarily be put on hold. But, thankfully, Allen is still a part of Cleveland's offense for now and that clearly helps their method of attack. Obviously, Bickerstaff's methodology has the Cavaliers commanding a presence in the paint. But, doing that also helps Cleveland unlock the other necessity for a modern NBA offense: three-pointers.
Even though it's still early into the season, the shooters on the Cavaliers are feasting due to them imposing their will in the paint. Garland is shooting a career-best 40.5% from three-point range on 6.5 attempts per game. Ditto for Turkish forward Cedi Osman, who is connecting on a career-best 42.0% of his 5.8 three-point attempts per game, and Dylan Windler, who is hitting 42.9% of his 1.9 attempts per game.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro can benefit as a slashing two-way player in Cleveland's new offensive dynamic.
Clearly, there is tangible evidence to show that the shooters on Cleveland's roster benefit from the effect Mobley and Allen have when dunking the ball. It's safe to assume that Collin Sexton, who is averaging 37.8% from three, Kevin Love, a consistent three-point threat, and Markkanen, who is considered an elite three-point shooter, will also benefit when they're all fully healthy. As the Cavaliers continue to add more players back to their rotation, their three-point numbers will only improve.
But, those two archetypes on offense aren't the only players benefiting from Cleveland's new offensive approach. Isaac Okoro, who the Cavaliers drafted fifth-overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, is a prime example of a player who can thrive in the team's new offensive dynamic. Granted, Okoro has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for the majority of Cleveland's early season, but there is still an opportunity for him to thrive in the team's new offensive dynamic.
At this point in his career, Okoro is looking more and more like a defensive specialist that can provide slashing and tertiary playmaking, but he is still struggling to find his role early into the season. But, thanks to this new offensive layout for the Cavaliers, Okoro should be able to find comfort attacking the basket as well as shooting from the perimeter once he finds his rhythm again.
If he does, along with Cleveland being fully healthy, then the Cavaliers should remain fairly confident about their playoff hopes. Sure, the roster is ravaged by injuries as they take on the Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors on a back-to-back this week. But, long-term, fans should be hopeful about Cleveland on the offensive side of the ball as soon as the team has a clean bill of health. Until then, they can be excited as the Cavaliers welcome opponents to Cleveland Heights on a night-to-night basis.
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