In case it wasn’t obvious, the Cleveland Cavaliers miss LeBron James.
Since the 2005-06 season, James has played nine seasons with the team. Cleveland made the playoffs in all nine of those seasons and won a total of 21 playoff series with James on the roster. In the six seasons without him, they have won only 29.4 percent of their games. That includes a 19-46 record in the 2019-20 campaign.
Cleveland is now attempting to rebuild its roster with a mishmash of young perimeter players and veteran frontcourt players. No one on the team is a current or future superstar, but veterans Kevin Love and Andre Drummond are fringe All-Star guys and youngsters Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr., Darius Garland and Dylan Windler have some potential.
The Cavs still seem to be in the early stages of a long rebuild, but there is a chance they could return to relevance earlier than expected if some factors go their way. USAbetting debates some questions that will make a big difference in the short and long-term outlook for this squad.
Can Collin Sexton Round Out His Game?
Sexton was the Cavs’ best scorer this season, especially in the final few weeks before the campaign was suspended. The second-year guard put up 28.1 points per game in his last eight games on a 65.4 true shooting percentage, bringing his season-long numbers in those categories up to 20.8 and 56, respectively. His three-point shooting stroke improved significantly throughout the year.
There’s a lot more to basketball than just scoring, though. Playing both point and shooting guard, Sexton averaged just 3 assists against 2.4 turnovers in 33 minutes per game despite handling the ball a lot. His assist numbers rose a bit in the last few weeks before the season’s suspension, but so did his turnover numbers.
Sexton also stands just 6’1” and doesn’t have good defensive instincts, which makes him a liability on that end. Because of the player we will discuss with the next question, Sexton sometimes has to guard shooting guards, who are often too big for him.
NBA players who are good scorers but don’t provide any other positives are usually destined to bench roles, at least on good teams. Can Sexton shore up his weaknesses in playmaking and defense to become a more well-rounded building block for Cleveland?
Is Darius Garland’s Poor Rookie Season Reason for Concern?
Garland ranked dead-last among NBA rookies in win shares this season (negative-1.3). Win shares is not a perfect statistic but it does give a rough estimate of impact, especially as it relates to offensive efficiency. We already knew this but starting at point guard in the NBA as a rookie is extremely difficult and Garland just proved it.
What the Cavs are interested to know is whether Garland’s poor rookie season is a sign of things to come or just an anomaly. Recently, young point guards like De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz have all turned things around after disappointing rookie seasons, but other guys like Emmanuel Mudiay, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina have not.
Garland entered his rookie season dealing with a sore foot, which clearly impacted his burst and confidence to drive past his defender. His shooting efficiency gradually improved as the season wore on and his assist-to-turnover ratio shot up in his final 27 games (2-to-1). compared to his first 32 games (1.12-to-1).
Overall, the season statistics for the former Vanderbilt point guard don’t look good, but he was also playing on a bad team that had shooting guard Collin Sexton taking a lot of ball-handling reps that would normally go to the point guard.
Moving forward, Garland needs to improve his tenacity on defense and learn to drive more aggressively into the paint. The past few years of his basketball career have been riddled with injuries, but he is healthy this offseason and his skills have looked very good in workout videos. Will he turn things around?
Can J.B. Bickerstaff Finally Find a Home in Cleveland?
Bickerstaff’s face is a familiar one on NBA sidelines. He has been involved with an NBA team’s coaching staff for 16 straight seasons in many different capacities. Most notably, he was the Memphis Grizzlies’ head coach for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. He took over for the Cavs after John Beilein’s resignation in February this season and he is now inked to a multi-year deal to stay in Cleveland as head coach.
Some pundits have criticized the Cavs’ decision to keep Bickerstaff as a bit hasty. While the players clearly enjoyed playing for him over Beilein, as evidenced by the Cavs’ 5-5 record under Bickerstaff compared to 14-41 with Beilein, it’s only a 10-game sample. Also, in Bickerstaff’s 16-year NBA coaching career, only one of his teams (the 2014-15 Houston Rockets) has won a playoff series.
The reputation Bickerstaff has earned throughout his coaching tenure is that he is well-liked by players, but not very adept at constructing rotations or strong game plans, especially offensively. If Bickerstaff can maintain rapport with players while finding strategies that fit his personnel well, the Cavs could surprise people next year and in the following years.
Which of Cavs’ Big Men Will Stick Around For the Rebuild?
Cleveland’s four highest-paid players in 2019-20 were all power forwards or centers. Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. combined to make a ridiculous $88 million this season. Love, Drummond and Nance are also all under contract for next year and Thompson is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Even if Thompson joins another team, the Cavs still have a bit of a confusing big man situation. Cleveland’s roster is very young overall, but Love, Drummond and Nance will all be at least 27 years old when next season starts. All of them are useful players, but they are unlikely to improve much more.
It makes little sense to keep around expensive veteran talent at one or two positions when the rest of the squad is being rebuilt with raw, young talent. I expect the Cavs to pursue trades in the next year to bring in assets in exchange for one or more of Love, Drummond or Nance.
In my opinion, Nance is the one guy who Cleveland should attempt to keep for the long-term future. He is much cheaper to keep than Love and Drummond and he is also a low-maintenance role player who doesn’t need the ball much to make an impact.