As the 2022-23 NBA season approached, the expectations for the Cleveland Cavaliers began to rise. The Cavs 2021-22 season exceeded expectations as no one thought that they would win more than 30 games, much less be in contention for the 4th seed in the east for most of the season. Ultimately the Cavaliers finished 9th in the conference, losing in the play-in tournament in the first game to the Brooklyn Nets and in the second game to the Atlanta Hawks. Their 44 wins were their highest win total since the departure of some guy named LeBron after the 2017-2018 season.
The Cavaliers had a firm grasp on the 4th seed in the east at the all-star break, but a rash of injuries to Garland, Allen, and Mobley derailed the season down the stretch. Even with the trade deadline acquisition of Caris LeVert didn’t pay the expected dividends as he missed time as well with injuries. That didn’t stop the excitement for this upcoming season from exploding though, as the feats achieved by last season’s team have created a buzz for the current year.
First, the Cavs began to break out after the unfortunate injury to Colin Sexton, who led the Cavs in scoring by averaging 20 points per game in 21-22. The injury to Sexton, however, seemed to allow pg Darius Garland to blossom, as he made his first all-star game appearance along with fellow Cavs big man Jared Allen. Also, the emergence of promising rookie and number 4 overall pick Evan Mobley, has given the Cavs a talented young core with a world of potential. Cavs perennial all-star Kevin Love has made the transition from starter to 6th man and has excelled. Head Coach J.B Bickerstaff instilled a defensive identity and the Cavs responded by posting the number 7th overall defense in the league.
So let’s fast forward to this season
The Cavs did not stand pat during the off-season, as they sent out a slew of draft picks and players to acquire all-star guard Donavan Mitchell. It was indeed an unforeseen move that sent shockwaves through the league, the former Utah Jazz guard was snatched out of the hands of the New York Knicks in exchange for forward Lauri Markkanen, rookie wing Ochai Agbaji, guard Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) and two pick swaps (2026 and 2028).
What was amazing about this trade is that Markkanen is the only player in the trade that was a major contributor during the Cavs ascension in 2022. So they were able to add Mitchell, a significant upgrade over Sexton, and pair him with Garland, Allen, Mobley, Love, and LeVert. They also were able to pick key backup point guard Ricky Rubio, who sustained a season-ending ACL tear injury in Dec of 2021.
The 2022 season has begun well for the Cavs
They are off to a 3-1 start and arguably should be 4-0. Donovan Mitchell has seamlessly fit in thus far, averaging over 30 points in his first 3 games as a Cavalier. He has also excelled as a playmaker, getting the ball to open shooters and feeding Mobley and Allen in the post with both passes and lobs. The team has been without Garland, who sustained an eye injury during the first game of the season against the Raptors. Allen has elevated his game, playing at an all-star level and anchoring the defense.
He is averaging 13.5 ppg and 11.5 rb, often making it hard for teams to drive inside. Along with fellow twin tower Mobley, they roam the paint as the last layer of defense and daring teams to attack the rim. Mobley is still rounding into form as he missed all of the preseason with an ankle injury.
The Cavs have gotten key contributions from Love, LeVert, and big man Robin Lopez. Lopez is an under-the-radar signing that has paid off handsomely thus far. Dean Wade, a 6/9 forward with 3-point range who can defend, was inserted in at SF for the game against the Magic with LeVert starting at the 2. Ultimately the inability of SG/SF Issac Okoro to provide a scoring threat led to the change. Love, Osman, and Lopez have been effective off the bench, and with the expected return of Garland in a few days and Rubio before the end of the year, expect this group to only get better.