Making the case for Max Strus as the Cavaliers’ starting small forward

Considering that the Cavaliers have struggled to find consistency at small forward and have lacked shooting, Strus could be worth it.
strus cavaliers miami heat nba finals
MIAMI, FL – MARCH 10: Max Strus #31 of the Miami Heat looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 10, 2023 at Miami-Dade Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Eric Espada/NBAE via Getty Images)

Throughout the years, there have been many questions throughout the league. Perhaps one of the most common is – what will the Cleveland Cavaliers do about their small forward position? Since 2018 LeBron James left Cleveland to join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, the Cavaliers have been searching for their answer at the three spot. 

Last year Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert shared the role at the wing spot throughout the season.  Okoro was starting for 46 out of 82 regular season games while LeVert started for 30 games. Others like Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens and Cedi Osman started for Cleveland in a handful of games this past season. 

The Cavaliers are locked in with their starting back-court and front-court. A core four of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen makes for one impressive starting lineup, despite some postseason woes. That missing piece has always been the small forward position. Although, this year Koby Altman may have finally found the guy to take Cleveland to the next level in postseason contention.

Shortly after the Cavaliers re-signed Caris LeVert to his new $32 million deal for two years and brought in Georges Niang on a three-year contract for $25 million, rumors of Cleveland’s interest in Max Strus began circulating. Well, as is the case in the NBA – oftentimes where there is smoke, there is fire. This offseason Cleveland was a part of a three-team trade involving the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. Cleveland shipped Osman, Stevens, and a 2030 second-round pick to the Spurs and a second-round pick in 2026 to the Heat. In return, the Cavaliers acquired Strus.

Since this was a sign-and-trade deal, Strus joined Cleveland on a $63 million contract for four years. Some have argued that this was a massive overpay for the undrafted Miami wing. However, considering that the Cavaliers have struggled to find consistency at the small forward position and have been lacking in shooting, having Strus here could be worth it. So much so that Strus should be Cleveland’s starter at small forward to begin the season.

strus cavaliers las vegas summer league
LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 10: Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus and Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers attends the 2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League on July 10, 2023 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Playing him in a lineup with Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen would benefit everyone involved. Strus was a knockdown shooter last year, putting up a 41% shooting average from field goal range and 35% from the three-point line. His knack for knockdown shooting will pair well with Garland’s ability to facilitate the ball. Garland averaged 7.8 assists last year, just slightly less than the year prior. If Garland can maintain an average of 8 assists per game, he can count on Max Strus to be there for some of the shots.

Max Strus’ presence on the court would also impact Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell was the team’s leading scorer last year, averaging a career-high 28.3 points per game and was phenomenal for Cleveland. Having Strus in the starting lineup could make things for Mitchell even better. Having Strus as an off-ball shooter will make it easier for Mitchell to drive to the basket and can elevate Mitchell’s percentage at the rim. In turn, by drawing attention to himself, Mitchell can take pressure off of Strus as well for him to hit his shots against opposing teams.

Cleveland’s front-court would also do well with Strus in the starting lineup. Mobley and Allen can be expected to set up screens for Strus to cut through traffic off the ball and allow for more opportunities to score. Allen grabbed 9.8 rebounds per game this past season, while Mobley managed 9.0 per game. Also, after his second year in the NBA, Mobley averaged nearly three assists per game. Strus would feel right at home playing with a big man who can pass the ball and initiate plays, similar to his former Heat teammate Bam Adebayo.

The Cavaliers had a brief taste of postseason contention before their season was cut short by the New York Knicks. While having a younger team is beneficial for developing everyone along a similar timeline, sometimes the cracks can show at the worst time. In this case, Cleveland’s lack of postseason experience among their players opened up some weaknesses in the first round of the playoffs last year. Perhaps the most appealing qualification for Strus to be in the starting lineup is that he has played in 43 playoff games. Even more enticing is that Strus is the only player on the Cavaliers to have played in the NBA Finals. That level of experience is crucial for a team that wants to ascend to the peak of NBA greatness as they have in the past.

Bringing in Max Strus did not disrupt the core four starters that Cleveland had been running. His presence alone will provide an additional shooter that can increase the Cavaliers’ chances of scoring by way of him taking his knock-down shots or by providing opportunities for other players to score while he takes the pressure from opposing defenses. In a league where shooting the ball is the dominant style of play, having a guy like Strus in the starting lineup gives the team an edge. 

Again, Cleveland has been searching for an answer at the small forward position, and although we cannot predict the future – we can say based on what we know, Max Strus has a strong case to claim his spot as a starter for the Cavaliers this year.

At his core, Matt Fagan has been a writer since he could pick up a pen or pencil and scribble words down. He believes there is real power in the bond between sports and storytelling and always tries to cultivate that energy when covering Cleveland sports.

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