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We're nearly two months into the 2020-21 season and the Cleveland Cavaliers, to the surprise of many, are one of the best teams record-wise in the Eastern Conference. Again, this is a surprise to many outside of the organization but it's not to Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
"I don't want to sound grandiose here, but what it is, is that at the beginning of the year we talked about how we could be most effective," said Bickerstaff after the team's win over Washington. "And we said that every night we had to be the best team on the floor. That's not the best group of individuals, that's not a disjointed bunch. It's that togetherness that we talk about, it's that selflessness that we talk about, and it's the trust that we have in one another. And that was the way that we were going to give ourselves a chance to be successful this year.
"The second piece of that is, we had to go out and be the most competitive team on the floor, and that's what our guys are living by. They're giving it their best every single night. The talent obviously is there, that's one thing. But the combination of team and competition has given us an opportunity to be successful."
The Cavaliers have been one of the more fun stories in the NBA and have been putting the rest of the league on notice. This is, in part, due to the emergence of Jarrett Allen who is putting together one of the best seasons of his career. Supporting Allen are Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, who have been both impressive in their own right individually as well. Today, we'll be breaking down key observations and takeaways about Cleveland's new big three from the latest week of Cavaliers basketball.
Jarrett Allen should represent the Cavaliers in Cleveland during the All-Star Game.
Cleveland becoming a defensive stalwart (they currently rank third-overall in defensive efficiency) isn't something that happened overnight. It first started in January of this year, when the Cavaliers acquired Jarrett Allen from the Brooklyn Nets as part of the James Harden trade. According to sources, the Rockets were set to originally acquire Allen from the Nets but Houston worried about his overall fit with Christian Wood. That, and those same sources say that the Rockets were hesitant to pay Allen the money he was looking for in free agency.
Well, Houston's loss was Cleveland's gain as it quickly became clear that Allen was one of the best players on the Cavaliers. That's partially why Cleveland was quick to sign Allen to a five-year, $100 million contract extension this summer – they wanted to reward one of their best players financially. But, as it was said before, it was also because Allen has completely changed the identity of the Cavaliers for the better.
23 games into the season and Allen is only averaging 1.2 blocks per game, which ties a career-low. But, according to Cleaning the Glass, when Allen is on the floor Cleveland is allowing 4.3 points less per 100 possessions. If you pair that with Mobley, who, per Cleaning the Glass, the Cavaliers allow 6.3 points less per 100 possessions, it becomes a lot more clear how Cleveland became a defensive force with Allen as the leader on that end of the floor. It doesn't matter that individually Allen isn't putting up a career-high in blocks. He's instead helping the team win by cultivating this newfound defensive identity.
"“It’s hard to put in words, but Jarrett Allen has my full trust,” Bickerstaff said after the team's win over the Denver Nuggets earlier this season. “He has my full trust that what we’re doing as a team is more important than anything that could happen for him individually. And that comes from time spent last year, a lot of conversations, a lot of time over the summer. But he’s just made that way. He has accepted every challenge without asking for anything.
This, along with the fact Allen is continuing to have one of the most efficient offensive seasons in NBA history, is why the Cavaliers went 4-0 this week. Sure, a bottom-feeder like Orlando wasn't much of a task and neither was a Miami team missing Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. But, Allen was instrumental in dismantling the Dallas Mavericks and getting revenge on the Washington Wizards earlier this season.
That's why Allen should be strongly considered as the player to represent the Cavaliers in Cleveland during the annual All-Star Game. Sure, he'll have to compete with the likes of Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and plenty of others. But, Allen is one of the key reasons why the Cavaliers are in the position they're in nearly a quarter of the way into the season. Cleveland rewarded Allen over the summer by signing him to a long-term extension. Now it's time for the NBA, and its fans, to reward him with his first All-Star appearance.
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During this week Darius Garland has averaged 23.0 points and 9.3 assists for the Cavaliers. Cleveland has also gone 4-0 with Garland leading the charge.
Darius Garland and Evan Mobley won't join Allen at the All-Star game this year but they will soon enough
Mind you, Allen isn't the only one having a great week this week (averaging 23.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game) for Cleveland. Joining him on leading this 4-0 stretch are fellow stars Darius Garland and Evan Mobley. In the last four games for the Cavaliers, Garland has averaged 23.0 points and 9.3 assists per game. Mobley, meanwhile, has averaged 12.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.3 blocks per game during the same stretch.
This has been an impressive stretch in an already impressive season for both Mobley and Garland. At the end of the season, there's a good chance Garland wins Most Improved Player honors while Mobley is named Rookie of the Year because of how well they've played. You could make a case that they should be joining Allen at this year's All-Star game in Cleveland.
But, despite how well they both have played, that probably won't happen.
For Mobley, he'll have the same competition Allen faces from the rest of the Eastern Conference frontcourt players. There just are only so many spots to go around and it's already rare enough for rookies to make the All-Star game on their own. With Garland, meanwhile, he faces competition from the likes of Bradley Beal, James Harden, Zach LaVine and so many others. Like Mobley, there are only so many roster spots to go around for Garland and, unfortunately, it means he'll come up short for Sunday's main event.
Mind you, that doesn't mean neither Garland nor Mobley won't be representing the Cavaliers in Cleveland during All-Star weekend. Mobley feels like a virtual lock for the annual Rookie-Sophomore game that the league kicks off the weekend with. Garland, on the other hand, feels like he could represent the Cavaliers during the league's annual Three-Point Contest as well as the Skills Competition.
Both players could still make the All-Star game but it'll likely have to be in the event an already selected player is dealing with an injury and cannot compete. But, in time, Garland and Mobley will join Allen in the sun and all three will represent the Cavaliers as All-Stars. Unfortunately, it likely won't happen this year when the Cavaliers are hosting All-Star festivities.
The Cavaliers have found their new Big Three in Allen, Garland and Mobley
The fact that the Cavaliers have so many talented players, along with three that should be in All-Star consideration, is surreal to think about. They're only a few years removed from LeBron James leaving town for a second time. Typically that means Cleveland would have to tear everything down and start over from square one – just like they did the first time around.
But, thankfully, the Cavaliers prepared for James's inevitable departure by flat out refusing to trade the draft pick they acquired when they traded Kyrie Irving. That pick eventually became Collin Sexton, who is arguably the best player taken eighth-overall in league history since that spot is notoriously cursed.
But, the Sexton selection was indicative of things to come as well as Cleveland has had a largely successful draft history. Garland, Mobley, Cedi Osman, Isaac Okoro and even Kevin Porter Jr. have all been the best possible options given where they were selected. But, being able to hit on two stars in Garland and Mobley, especially when neither player was picked first-overall, speaks volumes to the drafting ability of the Cavaliers organization.
Having those two in tow now allows Cleveland to draft supporting players, like Sexton, Osman or Okoro, in order to maximize the potential star power between Mobley and Garland. But, it also allows the Cavaliers to use those same pieces in order to trade for more star power like they did when they acquired Allen last season. It's not too far-fetched to think that Cleveland has another move up their sleeve for when the time is right to compete for a championship again.
But, when that time comes it likely won't be to acquire another star on the same level as Mobley, Garland or Allen. Instead, the organization should make moves to support their star trio in order to maximize their potential since it looks like the Cavaliers have found their new Big Three. This latest stretch of impressive play truly put into perspective how gifted this trio for Cleveland is. It's only going to get better from here and when the time comes, the league better be ready.
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