Through eight games the Cleveland Cavaliers are 4-4 and 10th in the eastern conference. Now, this may not sound very impressive, especially considering they started last season the same way but ended up finishing with a record of 22-50 for 13th in the east, but they have gotten off to this start with plenty of room for improvement.
The biggest bright spot for the Cavs so far has been their 3rd overall pick in the 2021 draft, Evan Mobley. Through the first two weeks of the season, Mobley has been the best rookie in the league by a fairly wide margin.
Mobley’s had an immediate impact in the league, specifically on the defensive end being one of the best defenders in the league right away. The incredible defensive instincts and tendencies he showed at USC have stuck with him during his transitions from college to the NBA. He’s also shown signs of being a great offensive big man in the future but as of now, his impact comes heavily from the defensive end.
Another positive for the Cavs have been the three big man lineup with Jarrett Allen, Lauri Markkanen, and the previously mentioned Evan Mobley. Coming into the season many were critical of Cleveland’s roster being filled with big men and when the Cavs announced they’d be playing three of them in the starting lineup many were shocked and pessimistic. I was among those who questioned the decision but up to this point, the lineup has looked great with all three thriving in the role.
Allen has been stellar as he’s averaging 13.3 points with an absurd 73.0% from the field. Markkanen hasn’t been very good offensively as he’s shooting splits of 36.1/28.0/86.4, but defensively he’s been surprisingly good. Being the small forward out of the trio of bigs has placed him in a weird position but he’s helped the Cavaliers defense rank 10th in the league.
Offensively, Cleveland has had its ups and downs but are still a below-average offense as they rank 20th in the league in offensive rating. The biggest reason for this is the misuse of Collin Sexton who is still clearly their best player. Sexton is a young player who’s not only had to suffer through the bias that comes along with losing teams and small-market teams but also many rumors made public that paint him as a bad teammate. Whether you believe those rumors or not there is no denying the talent that Sexton possesses.
He’s currently 5th on the roster in minutes per game and when he is on the court he isn’t being utilized properly. Sexton’s been playing more of an off-ball role with Ricky Rubio taking more control of the ball and although Sexton can be effective without the ball this team needs him to be the primary creator due to his constant threat to score and fantastic passing ability. The Cavaliers coaching and management needs to embrace Sexton as their lead guard and understand that with him leading them on the court they will find themselves being the most improved team from last season.
Cleveland has so much to look forward to in the future with Mobley likely becoming an MVP caliber player at his peak but they can make significant strides in the east as early as this season. If J.B. Bickerstaff can give the keys of this offense to Collin Sexton, the Cavs can find themselves in a playoff spot by the time the regular season is over. However, if he doesn’t trust Sexton with the offense I still believe Cleveland will end up with a play-in spot behind Evan Mobley and their defensive presence.