Ever since the departure of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been rebuilding their roster. Slowly but surely they are edging closer to returning to playoff contention status, but are not there yet. The question is how do the Cavs young core compare with the rest of the rebuilding teams in the NBA?
Since the prodigal son departed in 2018, the Cavs began to overhaul an aging roster that had an average of 30 during the 2017-18 season. Since the Finals defeat to the Warriors in 2018, James, George Hill, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and JR Smith have all been traded, waived or left in free agency. As the Cavs opted to rebuild around a youthful core, which unsurprisingly yielded poor results in 2018-19.
The Cavs ranked in the bottom ten in all of points per game, opponent points per game, pace, offensive rating, and defensive rating last season. However, their core gradually improved in 2019-20 to register a 19-46 record as Collin Sexton, the Cavs 2018 first round pick shone averaging over twenty points per game and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers last remaining All-Star from their championship days, remained relatively healthy to lead the Wine & Gold’s improvement.
To address the outgoings as previously mentioned, the Cavs added Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr, Dylan Windler, Darius Garland, Cedi Osman and Dante Exum over the past two years, all of whom are 25-years-old or younger. Garland and Sexton were among the top four scorers for the Cavs in 2020, while Porter Jr exceeded expectations, averaging ten points off the bench for the Cavaliers. Cleveland is hopeful that they have rectified their backcourt issues with the Garland and Sexton tandem, although the jury is still out in regards to that. Next on the agenda for the Cavs is potentially finding a starting small forward. The draft could possibly reveal James’ long-term successor at the position.
In addition, the Cavaliers will, in all likelihood, have a top five pick awaiting them at the rescheduled NBA draft lottery. Maybe the Cavs will add another point guard, a scenario which seems unlikely with the Sexton/Garland tandem currently in place or potentially a big, either James Wiseman or Obi Toppin could potentially be a long-term replacement for Kevin Love. Alternatively the Wine & Gold could bolster their thin wing department with an Anthony Edwards, the favourite for the first overall selection. They could also grab Deni Avdija, one of the more prized international prospects. Whether General Manager Koby Altman is able to add Edwards, Toppin, Avdija or if they possibly try to surprise with LaMelo Ball, one thing is for certain: one of the better prospects in the class is coming to the Land. Needless to say the Wine & Gold’s young core is looking ever more promising.
While it appears Cleveland is a year or two away from returning to playoff contention, they do have some foundational pieces such as Sexton and possibly Garland and Porter Jr in place. Bearing that in mind, how does the Cavaliers young core compare with other rebuilding teams in the NBA with teams such Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Minnesota?
In regards to Atlanta, Sexton, despite his obvious quality is no Trae Young. While the remainder of the Hawks core of John Collins, DeAndre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish feels more complete than the Cavs core. Reddish and Hunter both began to find their footing at the NBA level prior to the shutdown, Huerter known for his shooting has made an impression in his two seasons so far and Collins has averaged a double-double for the past two seasons. Atlanta’s core definitely feels and looks ahead of the Cavaliers young core in terms of development.
Moving onto Chicago, things were improving for Jim Boylen’s outfit prior to the shutdown with Coby White settling into his point guard position alongside Zach LaVine. Wendell Carter Jr improved on a solid rookie campaign, averaging more points, more rebounds and was likely to finish playing more games in his sophomore season. In conclusion, Lauri Markkanen is a name to look out for. Despite a regression from the Finland native in his third campaign, he still outperformed any young front court piece the Cavs have.
Next on the list is the Knicks. Unlike the Cavaliers, the Knicks have yet to find a starting point guard and while the Cavs have two, it appears Sexton is the man for the future as supported by his strong sophomore campaign. However, the Cavs have yet to find a young big with the ability of Mitchell Robinson. The Cavs have an abundance of bigs on the roster that don’t all fit an apparent need. Furthermore, despite the upside of Porter Jr and Osman’s steady presence at the small forward position, RJ Barrett outperformed both in his rookie campaign and has significantly more potential. Both teams are seemingly in the same stage of their rebuild.
In conclusion, the Minnesota Timberwolves are also a young and rebuilding team. While not considering themselves as such, they appear to be a couple of years or a certain Devin Booker away from playoff or even championship contention. Nonetheless, DeAngelo Russell is a slightly more rounded player than Collin Sexton on the offensive end, averaging more points, more rebounds and more assists than the Alabama alum. However, aside from Karl-Anthony Towns, can it be argued that any of the Timberwolves have a stronger young core? Malik Beasley is finally making a leap after four seasons in the NBA, while Kevin Porter Jr enjoyed a strong rookie season, suggesting his development is further ahead of Beasley’s at the same stage of their careers. Both Jarrett Culver and Darrius Garland had to deal with rookie teething issues in their rookie season, and both seem to be in a similar stage of development.
Despite not being ready for a returning to postseason contention the Cavs young core has certainly got promise. While they may well be a year away from reaching the stage Atlanta, as an example are at, they certainly have a franchise star calibre player in Sexton. The question is can they find players to fit around him?