Somebody once told the Cleveland Cavaliers that the world was gonna roll them and that despite their overabundance of big men, they wouldn't look like the sharpest tools in the shed. The hits keep coming and they won't stop coming for Cleveland, as they had four key starters in Collin Sexton (knee), Lauri Markkanen (COVID), Evan Mobley (elbow) and Jarrett Allen (non-COVID illness) sidelined for the team's fifth week of NBA action.
Thankfully, according to sources, both Allen and Markkanen, along with Lamar Stevens, are expected to be back in the lineup when the Cavaliers take on the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. That'll bolster a Cleveland rotation that struggled last week without Sexton, Allen and Mobley, going 0-3 against Boston, Brooklyn and Golden State. But, despite the losses, there is still plenty to glean in this week's latest key takeaways.
Is Isaac Okoro an offensive liability for Cleveland?
When Sexton went down with his meniscus injury, Isaac Okoro was thrust into the starting lineup for the Cavaliers. According to sources, based on how Okoro played this year this was an option Cleveland was exploring and benching Sexton as the team's sixth man. Now that Sexton is out for the remainder of the season (more on this in a bit), the Cavaliers can test out the viability of starting Okoro.
Fast forward past Cleveland's 104-89 loss to the Warriors and we're now six games into the Okoro starting shooting guard experience. During that stretch, Okoro is averaging 7.2 points on 30.8% shooting to go along with 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Compared to Sexton contributing 16.0 points and 2.1 assists per night, and there's a pretty clear drop-off offensively. But, Bickerstaff has shared with the media that that was to be expected. Instead, the Cavaliers have to replace Sexton's scoring by committee, which hasn't been easy with so many sidelined with injury.
Bickerstaff also shared that Cleveland's guards need to do a better job of incorporating Okoro more into the offense as well. Okoro's strength offensively is his ability to slash and attack the basket. Lately, the Cavaliers run a play that has Okoro cutting along the baseline to get an easier look at the basket early into the game. This is a step in the right direction and is encouraging the more comfortable Okoro looks attacking the paint. Remember, Okoro is still coming back from a hamstring injury so there's going to be a bit of rust. So, this helps.
Where things are concerning and where Okoro truly is a liability on offense is whenever he's on the perimeter. In the six games he's started Okoro is hitting on 9.1% of his three-pointers per game which is suboptimal, to say the least. Opposing defenses more often than not ignore Okoro on the perimeter and in turn pack the paint making life harder for big men like Allen and even Okoro himself.
So, for now, it's a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to Okoro's offensive viability right now. On his own, he cannot be relied upon to create easy buckets for himself or for others as well. But, thankfully, Cleveland seems aware of this and they are making more of a concerted effort to run plays for Okoro to keep him involved on the offensive end all while he continues to wreck opponents on the other side of the ball. Besides, don't forget that Okoro is recovering from a hamstring injury, which is notoriously tricky to heal from in season, as well. Don't sell the ship on Okoro entirely but, maybe, don't fully commit to the idea of him being the next Jimmy Butler either.
With the rash of injuries Cleveland has been dealing with, veteran big man Ed Davis has been stepping up.
Ed Davis is all about helping build the team's culture and staying ready
With the rash of injuries the Cavaliers have been dealing with, they've had to embrace the next man up mentality. Sure, it's a bit a tired sports cliche but for Cleveland big man Ed Davis, he's all about it. Davis, who the Cavaliers signed to their final roster spot prior to the start of the season, has been Cleveland's starting center in their last two games. In those two starts, the 32-year-old is averaging 6.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in roughly 22 minutes per game.
Now, this isn't going to be some wild take that says Davis should have minutes going forward in the team's rotation. Quite the contrary, actually. When Allen, Markkanen and eventually Mobley return to the floor, Davis should be permanently glued to the bench. The Cavaliers have an overabundance of big men that need minutes, and touches, in order to make an impact on both ends and Davis is not a factor in that at all.
But, despite the excess of vertically gifted players, injury-riddled moments like what Cleveland is currently dealing with is exactly why the Cavaliers signed Davis in the first place. Again, it's a tired sports cliche that Cleveland is vibing with but, more than anything, it's tried and true. Davis was able to come in, soak up a decent portion of big man minutes and provide quality production during that time as well. That's exactly what you want from your emergency depth players, like Davis, so that the Cavaliers don't have to turn to players like Tacko Fall, who would be physically overmatched.
Davis's strong play also goes hand in hand with what Cleveland also signed him for: his leadership. By all accounts, Davis is a beloved member of every locker room he's been a part of and is viewed as a key veteran leader in some of his more recent stops. Now with the Cavaliers, Davis is expected to be an adult in the room for arguably one of the youngest rotations in the league. Sure, Cleveland can embrace what Davis is telling them in the locker room and during timeouts, but, that can only go so far. With him also leading by example, Davis can help push this rebuild for the Cavaliers along even further.
Cleveland guard Collin Sexton elected to have season-ending surgery and now his long-term future with the team feels uncertain.
Collin Sexton's future is uncertain after having season-ending surgery
Not many people expected Collin Sexton's last game this season for the Cleveland would be on November 7 against the New York Knicks, Sexton included. On Friday evening, the team formally announced that Sexton went under the knife to have his torn left meniscus surgically repaired and would miss the remainder of the season.
According to sources, Sexton was weighing any and all options to avoid this path so that he could get onto the floor as soon as possible to finish this season with the Cavaliers. Now that Sexton's gone for the remainder of the year, it's an absolutely devastating blow to a Cleveland team that cannot seem to shake the injury bug. Sure, the Cavaliers are going to be fine long-term with their best player in Evan Mobley hopefully back in a few weeks. But, Sexton's ability to get a bucket at any given moment while on the floor will be dearly missed by Cleveland. They'll have to, again, embrace the next man up mentality and continue to weather the storm without him.
But, more than anything, this is a blow to Sexton. He'll have the right disposition about this so there shouldn't be a fear about his mental recovery at all. The fact that he won't be able to get onto the floor for so long is tough, though and according to Kevin Love is what will bother Sexton the most. It can be roughly estimated that Sexton should likely return to the floor midway into next season, and that's being conservative on the recovery window and that's assuming he suffers no issues during recovery.
The thing is, when Sexton does return to the floor it could very well not be with the Cavaliers. Prior to the start of the season, Sexton was extension eligible with the team and, according to sources, negotiations went down to the last few minutes. It was a mixture of money and terms on the contract, with according to those same sources, the Cavaliers wanted to pay less with a more incentive-laden deal over five years while Sexton's camp wanted more money in less time.
Now that Sexton has gone under the knife due to a possibly career-altering injury, what's going to motivate Cleveland to want to pay Sexton the money he's looking for long-term? Especially as the rest of the Cavaliers roster starts to get healthy, what if they start to win and make the playoffs without Sexton there? Why would Cleveland commit serious money to a player that relies primarily on his athleticism that is now prone to suffering more knee injuries for the remainder of his career? This torn meniscus did the most damage overall to Sexton's financial security, with his play on the court following immediately after.
Hindsight now says that Sexton should've signed the initial extension offered by the Cavaliers but you can never predict injuries, especially ones like this. But, do not be surprised that Sexton, once again, has to prove his worth to Cleveland and he plays next season on a qualifying offer worth roughly $8.56 million. Even if he makes a full recovery, it's uncertain if Sexton will be the same player when he does make his return. It unfortunately also puts his long-term future with the Cavaliers in doubt once again as well.
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