Monday was the annual media day for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After last year's event was virtual due to COVID-19, the media was able to sit with general manager Koby Altman, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff along with the majority of Cleveland's roster and speak to them face-to-face, even if it was masked and socially distanced. Media day also marks the start of the early beginnings of the 2021-22 NBA season as the Cavaliers as well, with training camp officially starting this morning. But, when mulling over their transaction history, there isn't much to break down from Cleveland's summer.
Other than three key additions in Ricky Rubio, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen, along with the loss of Larry Nance Jr., the Cavaliers are heading into camp with largely the same roster from last season. That team, headlined by a young core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen, went 22-50 and finished thirteenth in the Eastern Conference. They also ranked dead last in team three-point shooting percentage, twenty-first in assists per game and twentieth in blocks per game.
With that said, the aforementioned additions will make the Cavaliers better next season in theory. Markkanen shot the ball extremely well from the perimeter – connecting on 40.2% of his 296 attempts last season. Rubio, meanwhile, was a top twenty playmaker last season, averaging 6.4 dimes per game as the lead initiator for Minnesota. Finally, Cleveland rookie Evan Mobley averaged 2.9 blocks per game in his lone collegiate season at the University of Southern California. Granted, there is a massive gulf in talent between the NBA and the PAC-12, but, those numbers still should translate to the next level over time.
But, other than that it's been a relatively quiet offseason for the Cavaliers. Sure, as mentioned before the additions of Markkanen, Rubio and Mobley will make Cleveland naturally better in theory. But, expecting those moves are enough to solve everything wrong with the Cavaliers is the equivalent of slapping a bandaid on a dam that's about to burst. Again, it does help fix some of the pre-existing issues from last year's team. But, it also doesn't leave every question about Cleveland's roster answered as well.
It was also unrealistic to think Cleveland would perform a ton of roster overhaul this summer because of a Kevin Love-sized albatross hanging around their neck. Love, who is entering his eighth year with the Cavaliers, will still be a meaningful player for Cleveland this year but will be in a much more reduced role largely due to the offseason moves the Cavaliers made. Love shared with the media that he's open to this change in status and called speculation on his future with Cleveland, "shit that's thrown at a wall". But, fewer Love minutes also means that Cleveland will instead have to look to the other key faces on their roster and rely on their internal development in order to surpass last year's limitations.
A lot of that internal reflection, and hopeful growth, begins with Bickerstaff. Thankfully, when he took to the podium with Altman to kick off media day, Cleveland's head coach was saying all the right things.
"I think we need to become more modern," said Bickerstaff. "Last year we played too slow and we didn't create enough threes. That's something we've been studying and figuring out how we can improve upon.
"It's not one of those things where we're going to be coming down and jacking bad shots just by saying we're playing faster and shooting more threes. It's simple things we can do more quickly that can get us into our offense."
Bickerstaff being open and honest about his team needing to modernize their offensive identity from the start of training camp is encouraging. Even more so when soon after he shared with the media that the team needs their lead guard tandem of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland to take more three-pointers as well.
If both Sexton and Garland are able to pull that off, then the sky's the limit for the Cavaliers offensively. Both are respectable three-point shooters in their own right but have the propensity to be gun shy from the perimeter. If they're both a bit more selfish, then their natural gravity will create easier looks on the interior as well for Cleveland's stable of big men. This, in turn, means that those same bigs will have the energy to better protect the rim at a much more efficient rate as well.
Mind you, the aforementioned gravity that Sexton and Garland possess doesn't apply solely to the perimeter. If Garland is a bit more selfish scoring the basketball (he took 14.9 shots per game last season), it can create easier looks on the perimeter as well for key pieces like Markkanen, Isaac Okoro, Dylan Windler and Cedi Osman. If Garland gets them looks routinely, it will allow Cleveland's perimeter players to get into a rhythm. The same can be said for Rubio as well which will only create further playmaking harmony.
That's where Sexton, who is a bit more selfish shooting the ball at times, can shine as well. When Sexton charges downhill at full speed and defenses collapse on him, he can kick the ball out to his teammate sitting outside the arc. Now, if said teammate is in a rhythm thanks to Garland or Rubio, they should have an easy bucket thanks to Sexton's gravity and ability to read the opposing defense. This only creates further harmony for the Cavaliers offensively and will only bolster, and modernize, their offense going forward.
This is, of course, all in theory. Altman did note that Cleveland has assembled an impressively talented young foundation just four years removed from LeBron James's second exodus from the team. Now the pressure is on Bickerstaff, his staff and the players to take the Cavaliers from an NBA bottom feeder to a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. It remains to be seen what will come of it, and we won't truly know until the team plays Memphis to open the season, but the foundation is there for Cleveland to take a risky gamble like this.
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