November 28, 2022

Cavaliers In The NBA Landscape

The long-awaited day is here. The Cavaliers season starts tonight!

My undoubted favorite part of the sports calendar begins tonight. Cleveland’s greatest chance at greatness may very well be in the hands of the Cavaliers. The team was already bursting with young talent with the likes of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro, as well as great seasoned vets such as Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the plenty of additional helpers. But the big news that pushes this team to even higher levels is the addition of the multiple-time all-star, Donovan Mitchell, who is still only 26 years old.

At this time a year ago, the Cavs were projected to win a mere 22 games and figured to once again be one of the worst teams in the NBA. Despite a plethora of injuries, the Cavaliers instead showed that they were one of the best teams in the NBA. With the growth of their young stars, the Cavaliers figure to be ahead of schedule by quite a decent margin, winning 44 games a year ago.

The development of their homegrown talent is the biggest reason for this surge. The growth of Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen was obvious, having been named All-Stars for the first time last season. Rookie Evan Mobley also became an instant difference-maker and identity for the team. Mobley played defense at a level that is in the rarified company for rookies. Mobley and Allen helped to form an identity for Cleveland, one that soared the Cavs from one of the worst defenses in 2020-2021 all the way to the 5th ranked defense in 2021-2022.

With success comes pressure.

This is new territory for the young core. The last four seasons have been about progression ( and it still is to an extent ) but now with the addition of Mitchell, the Cavaliers have large expectations. With the jump and play and the large move, there is pressure to win now for the first time since LeBron James left for LA.

With that being said, this roster, coaching staff and team identity/culture seem plenty capable of navigating these waters. The Cavaliers have one of the best starting five groups of any team. With the addition of Mitchell, the Cavs have three All-Stars on their roster. A stat that only the Warriors can also boast. There is a real argument for Cleveland having four this season with Mobley entering his 2nd season.

To see a glimpse of the new-look team, along with their incredible new jerseys, check out the highlights from their preseason games.

Projecting the Cavs amongst the NBA

Projecting the NBA is difficult any year, but none more so than the 2022-2023 season. Every team, even the worst teams have some sort of combination of depth, incredible talent or great coaching. Contrary to that, many of the best teams also have to rely on older players who may need rest or have troubling injury histories.

The Cavs are one of the few teams that have good depth, a good coaching staff, great young talent and good veteran talent. They are also fortunate to not be among the teams that will have to rely on injury-prone stars. Their youth and availability should benefit them over the course of the season.

The lone benefit from losing the play-in-game a year ago is that the team has already stated that they are avoiding that at all costs. While that should feel like an obvious goal, many teams figure that they will be obvious additions to the playoffs and will take their foot off the gas or rest their stars. That does not figure to be the case for Cleveland, as they have verbally acknowledged the importance of prioritizing the regular season.

West Projections

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves: 58-22
  2. Golden State Warriors: 49-33
  3. Memphis Grizzlies: 49-33
  4. Los Angeles Clippers: 48-34
  5. Phoenix Suns: 46-36
  6. Dallas Mavericks: 46-36
  7. Denver Nuggets: 46-36
  8. New Orleans Pelicans: 42-40
  9. Portland Trailblazers: 41-41
  10. Los Angeles Lakers: 41-41
  11. Sacramento Kings: 38-44
  12. Houston Rockets: 25-57
  13. Oklahoma City Thunder: 24-58
  14. Utah Jazz: 23-59
  15. San Antonio Spurs: 19-63

Both the East and the West are very deep. Injuries aside, almost every team in the top 9-10 has a case to make it out of the west. I remain higher than most on the Timberwolves and their lack of depth after acquiring Rudy Gobert is concerning, but the starting lineup should be more than capable of picking up that slack. Minnesota holds one of the best quartets with D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Karl Anthony-Towns and Rudy Gobert. Rudy will immediately improve their defense, and take pressure off of KAT to protect the rim while giving him more freedom on offense. Edwards figures to be their most important player. Last season he took a clear jump and if he is able to do so again, they could be incredibly dangerous. Russell as the fourth-best player paints the high floor for this group.

Teams such as the Warriors, Grizzlies and Suns should be in a similar situation to the ones that they enjoyed last season. The Warriors have great depth and have the benefit of being able to rest their stars with talented young players such as Poole and Wiggins ready to take that workload when needed. The Grizzlies were one of the best teams a year ago, if Ja Morant remains healthy, they should repeat the results of 2021.

The Suns will still be good, but there becomes less depth by the season, as they have had to pay their stars and after the loss to the Mavericks in the playoffs last season, things appear to be a little shaky in Phoenix. Ayton appears to be very disgruntled, even after his max extension and that may change, but as it stands now, it appears concerning.

The Denver Nuggets will be one of the best teams in the west despite their 7th-seed ranking. I expect the return of Jamal Murray to come along slowly. Murray has also typically started seasons slow while finishing very hot. They remain a threat to any team, but I expect them to have ups and downs in the regular season, but they should be fine once they reach the playoffs. Nikola Jokic will immediately make them one of the most dangerous teams. If Murray and Porter Jr. remain healthy, they will be great, especially with their great depth.

Lastly, I expect the Lakers to be better than a year ago and a Westbrook trade feels imminent, this could push them higher if they could acquire shooting. But the age of LeBron and time missed by Anthony Davis, with a lack of talent around them will ultimately hold them back.

Additionally, I love the direction that the Kings are going, and may very well surprise many this season. With Fox, Sabonis, Davion Mitchell, Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray, they already appear ready to push most teams. But like many in the bottom of the west, if the season doesn’t quickly go according to plan, the temptation may arise to tank for the highly coveted Victor Wembanyama in the 2023 NBA Draft.

 

East Projections

  1. Milwaukee Bucks: 53-29
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers: 53-29
  3. Boston Celtics: 50-32
  4. Miami Heat: 48-34
  5. Brooklyn Nets: 48-34
  6. Atlanta Hawks: 47-35
  7. Toronto Raptors: 46-36
  8. Philadelphia 76’rs: 43-39
  9. Chicago Bulls: 42-40
  10. Charlotte Hornets: 38-44
  11. New York Knicks: 37-45
  12. Detroit Pistons: 34-48
  13. Orlando Magic: 34-48
  14. Washington Wizards: 32-50
  15. Indiana Pacers: 29-53

The Bucks and Celtics are obvious choices to be among the top. Giannis and Middleton are one the best duo’s in the NBA, and Giannis has a pretty big claim to being the most dominant player currently in the NBA. While the Bucks can probably afford to coast at times, as they did a year ago, I expect them to lead the pack.

Boston should still be a great time despite losing their head coach. They will also be without the help of Robert Williams for some time, which could hurt their defense, especially against a team like Cleveland that will have two bigs that can both score and make life difficult. Still, Tatum, Brown and Smart should lift them over most hurdles especially with the help of Brogdon, after acquiring him this offseason.

It’s hard to say that Cleveland may shock people again, after already doing that a year ago and no longer being a team under the radar. But finishing 2nd in the east would surely do that. All the previous reasons factor into Cleveland finishing 2nd. Their great youth talent should push them over a lot of teams based on talent alone. But against teams like Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia, they may be able to take advantage of injuries or rest games. Cleveland figures to have one of the best defenses in the NBA and the addition of Mitchell should help Garland and company take the offense to new heights.

Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia will all be good, but age, injuries and chemistry issues may hold back these teams. Miami is getting older without adding much depth. If they make a push they may need a big leap from Tyler Herro.

The Nets have two Hall of Famers in Durant and Kyrie and my gut says that they figure it out due to their incredible talent. But remain cautious, that has been said since their arrival in Brooklyn. Additional depth and the long-awaited return of Ben Simmons will make them much better. But until we see the Nets prove it, it’s fair to question the outcome.

Lastly, Philadelphia is worrisome to me. Embiid is one of the undoubtedly greatest players in the league, but the roster doesn’t inspire as much confidence to me. I worry about their defense despite players like Thybulle and Tucker and while scoring will be easy for Embiid and Harden, the offense often becomes stagnant with their style of play and may hamper them at times against teams that have great defense and better team ball movement.

Toronto remains one of my favorites in the east. They have so much switchable versatility with Anunoby, Barnes and Siakam. This already gives them an edge over the majority of teams in the NBA.

The Hawks actually worry me. They will be good in the regular season and will find ways to win a lot of games, but I worry that they may have lost too much for Dejounte Murray, who isn’t the most ideal pairing for Trae Young. Both are ball-dominant, which may prove to be an issue. It’s fair to say the same for Cleveland’s backcourt, but Darius Garland only became ball-dominant out of necessity due to injuries last season. Garland has long excelled at playing off the ball and coming off of screens. The same cannot be said about Murray, as he is not quite the shooter that Garland, Mitchell or Young are. While Young is a great shooter, he has not shown the ability so far to be effective off-the-ball player. Additionally, the Hawks brought in Murray to try and help fix what has been an abysmal defense. While he will definitely help, that is a task too great for one guard to fix.

The Pistons and the Magic both have incredible young talent. Both will be a nuisance to even the greatest teams in the NBA, but youth and a temptation for Wembanyama will hold them back. Additionally, I expect teams such as the Knicks, Wizards and Pacers to struggle with the incredible depth of talent in the East. By the trade deadline, there will be a temptation to sell veterans to other contenders in the hopes of landing Wembanyama.

 

Awards

  • MVP: Luka Doncic
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Evan Mobley
  • Rookie of the Year: Paolo Banchero
  • Most Improved Player: Tyrese Haliburton
  • Sixth Man of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon
  • Coach of the Year: Chris Finch ( Timberwolves )
  •  Executive of the Year: Koby Altman ( Cavaliers )
  • Points per game: Luka Doncic- 32.3 Points Per Game
  • Assists per Game: Darius Garland- 9.8 Assists per Game
  • Rebounds per Game: Nikola Jokic- 14.0 Rebounds per Game

Historically, those who have received the most hype for the MVP in the offseason have faired well in earning those honors at the end of the season. Luka is the betting favorite, and for good reason. Luka is one of the league’s five-best players and will have a tremendous workload with the departure of Jalen Brunson. Luka is a nightly candidate to score 29-40 points as well as a triple-double. Voting fatigue must also be considered with Jokic and Giannis being unlikely to earn more unless their teams reach new heights or post insane numbers.

If the Cavs do indeed reach the second seed, it will no doubt be in large part to Evan Mobley. Despite being littered with incredible young talent, Mobley has the case to be the best of them all, as well as a top-10 player in the league eventually. If the Cavs reach their potential, Mobley could have an incredible year defensively. Year one was already staggering, it’s scary to think how much better he could be with another year under his belt, with the game slowing down. Voters may be fatigued with Rudy winning multiple. If this is the case, the award is wide open for a newcomer to take it.

Rookie of the Year should easily go to Paolo. His scoring and brilliant style will be fan favorites. He will also be relied on heavily on offense and may very well score over 20 PPG in his rookie season. Look for Jaden Ivey and Keegan Murray to make considerable pushes as well.

Most improved is a little harder to predict as it typically goes to teams with more success. But Haliburton is already loved around the league ( which always helps with awards ) and will see a huge increase in workload with the team likely shipping off veterans. I think it’s within reason to expect 19-20 points per game and 8-9.5 assists per game. If this is true, he would have quite the claim for the award.

Sixth man of the year really came down to Brogdon and Poole. Poole may start too many games throughout the course of the season and I worry that may take him out of the running. Brogdon is no consolation though, he is an extremely efficient, smart player who will help Boston tremendously.

Coach of the Year typically goes to the team with the best record in the NBA. In this case, I have it going to Finch, leading the Timberwolves to a stellar 58 wins. Executive of the year going to Altman for the continued growth of his team that he drafted and traded for. His peers may recognize the Donovan Mitchell trade as the piece that Altman acquired to help put Cleveland over the top.

 

Champion

  • Bucks beat the Cavaliers in the eastern conference finals in six games.
  • Clippers beat the Nuggets in the western conference finals in seven games.
  • Bucks win the Finals over the Clippers in seven games.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo wins finals MVP

 

Let me know your predictions and if you would like me to do deep-dives on other teams. I will be bringing weekly reports on the Cavaliers throughout the season. Let’s have a great season and enjoy the ride with this wonderful group that Cleveland has put together.

 

 

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