Unlike recent seasons, the Cleveland Cavaliers have some excitement around the franchise this season. They could finally see their play and record improve in the upcoming season led by Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Jarrett Allen.
There is plenty that will need to unfold for the Cavs season. For example, how will the rookie Evan Mobley look? Will Allen play well after signing a lucrative extension? Can Garland and(or) Sexton take another jump this season? What about Isaac Okoro, can he have a second-year leap? The roles of both Ricky Rubio and Lauri Markkanen will be interesting. There’s a lot to figure out with Kevin Love‘s future in Cleveland.
Clearly, there is a ton of questions that will need to be answered in the next year. The next NBA season is slowly creeping up, with the first preseason game tipping October 3 and the first regular-season game taking place October 19th. Here are three early predictions for Cleveland’s upcoming 2021-22 season.
1. Darius Garland will be in contention for the Most Improved Player award
The first prediction is perhaps the boldest. Garland is one of the NBA’s bright young playmakers at point guard. Last season, he had a big jump in his production seeing his point total increase from 12.3 points to 17.4 points. In addition, his playmaking ability improved quite a bit going from averaging 3.9 assists to over six assists. Garland essentially saw all his totals increase in his second NBA season.
He flashed some of his elite potential throughout the season. Against the San Antonio Spurs in April, Garland erupted with 37 points, seven assists, shot over 63% and was 5/10 from three. This was a monumental night for Garland, joining elite Cavs company for scoring over 30 points at 21 or younger.
Darius Garland recorded his first career 30-point game Monday night in a win vs the Spurs (37 points).
He is the 4th player in Cavaliers history with a 35-point game at age 21 or younger, joining LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Collin Sexton. pic.twitter.com/lNtTPloo5j
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2021
Garland’s improved play last season did not earn him any sort of reward. However, this year could be the year for that. He’s gone through a great offseason, as the Cavaliers seem to be centering the franchise around him, and Garland had a short stint with Team U.S.A. in the Summer Olympics. In addition, some rumors say Garland may have gotten taller this season, as well as added more muscle to his frame. Even though Julius Randle won last year’s Most Improved Player by a wide margin, Garland did get a few votes for the award.
Garland’s second-year jump and good offseason has been the driving force for his appearance on potential breakout lists. Spencer Davies of Basketball News selected Darius Garland for a potential breakout NBA player. He went on to make some interesting points, one of which is Garland’s surrounded with some intriguing offensive weapons that could help his playmaking. This is definitely true, Garland was already a good playmaker but now add Mobley and Markkanen.
There’s just so much hype surrounding Garland right now. There is almost an unanimous sense that he could have an All-Star, or near All-Star, caliber upcoming season. If he delivers on these expectations, Garland will be heavily considered for Most Improved Player across the NBA next season.
2. Cleveland’s defense will take a jump
The next prediction is the Cavs will see an increase in defensive play next season. There are several reasons why this is quite possible. Number one, the Cavaliers saw a small jump in their allowed points per game and defensive efficiency last season. Cleveland was 23rd in the league allowing 114.8 points per game in the 2019-20 season. The Cavaliers then jumped to 17th in the NBA allowing 112.3 points per game last season. Also, the Cavs were last in defensive efficiency during the 2019-20 season. Their defensive efficiency jumped to 25th in the league last season. J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland’s Head Coach, has to be doing something right on the defensive end for the Cavs to improve in multiple key defensive departments.
Along with being on the right defensive trajectory, Cleveland added some defensive help this offseason. Mobley is of course a very versatile defender with shot-blocking ability. They also acquired some much-needed defensive help in the backcourt with Rubio. Rubio has always had a knack for getting his hand on the ball averaging 1.8 steals throughout his career. The Cavaliers will lose Larry Nance‘s defensive contributions after trading him for Markkanen. Nance missed many games last season with injury and the Cavs still managed to improve on the defensive end, so they should be fine. Especially when they added a more talented defender in Mobley at power forward.
The frontcourt defense with Allen and Mobley could truly be daunting. Plus, maybe Garland and Sexton can settle in on defense with good shot blockers behind them. Cleveland still has high hopes for Okoro’s ability to defend. There is no reason Okoro cannot be a lockdown defender, he has little to no physical limitations. Some of his elite defensive upside was seen when defending Houston’s rookie Jalen Green in the Summer League. Green did give the Cavs fits, but Okoro had some nice defensive sequences.
With Bickerstaff’s continued emphasis on defense, the Cavaliers’ team defense should improve this year.
3. The Cavs will not make the playoffs, once again
Depending on who improves for Cleveland this season, there’s been some chatter of the Cavs contending for a playoff spot. Perhaps their peak is simply being an NBA play-in squad. The Eastern conference certainly improved with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pistons, Miami Heat and the New York Knicks’ offseason moves. The conference is only getting tougher, making Cleveland’s playoff hopes unrealistic.
There will likely be offensive struggles for the Cavs this season. Young players like Okoro and Mobley could go through rough stretches. There are just too many questions for the Cavs offensively. There is still a problem with Cleveland’s perimeter shooting and wing scoring options. The likelihood of someone like Dylan Windler staying healthy and having a great shooting season is unlikely. Cleveland would need a ton to go the right way to make the playoffs.
If the Cavaliers did finish 9th or 10th in the Eastern Conference and lost a play-in contest, that’s a major victory. The season where the Cavs could actually make some real noise could be the 2022-23 season for a variety of reasons, mostly due to players developing. Still, Cleveland could certainly win more games this season.
Featured image courtesy of David Liam Kyle/Getty Images
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