Cavs: Lamar Stevens keeps proving he belongs, thanks to his defense

Cleveland Cavaliers wing/forward Lamar Stevens reacts after a dunk. (Photo by Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
Cleveland Cavaliers wing/forward Lamar Stevens reacts after a dunk. (Photo by Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Cleveland Cavaliers signed then-free agent Lamar Stevens to a two-way contract shortly following the 2020 draft, after he which he wasn’t selected in.

Stevens spent four years at Penn State where he started in every single game that he played in, in each year. He finished his college career with averages of 16.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game.

In his junior season, he averaged 19.9 points per game, which is great for a college player. Along with this, he was named to the All-Big Ten team twice and was given the MVP award of the NIT Tournament.

Stevens, with the G League’s limited season/seemingly the COVID-19 element, and with the Cavs’ injuries this season, didn’t appear in game action with the Canton Charge this season, though.

Going into his debut, many did not know too much about Stevens, however, for Cavaliers fans, he has established himself as one of the best defenders on the team.

He ended up getting his chance in the NBA and made his debut with the Cavs on Dec. 27 against the Philadelphia 76ers. He had a relatively quiet debut with only two points and two rebounds in five minutes of play.

Stevens, while injuries have factored into it, got more burn as the season progressed on game-to-game, largely, from there. And on Feb. 23, Stevens had arguably the biggest moment of his rookie year up to this point. Despite not being much of a scorer yet in his young career, Stevens found himself with the ball in his hands in a close game against the Atlanta Hawks.

He would end up hitting the game winner in a 112-111 victory on a dunk off of a Collin Sexton pass.

Although Stevens will never likely be a star in the NBA, he has still shown a lot of raw potential and work ethic to accomplish what he has already.

It is this work ethic that fuels arguably his strongest attribute and what the Cavaliers mainly have him on the floor for. That attribute being defense.

Stevens keeps proving he belongs, thanks to his defense for the Cavs.

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It is very rare that you see someone in the NBA give their all on the defensive end on ever single possession they’re out there. Along with this, it is also rare to see a rookie or second-year player come into the league and be capable of playing elite defense against grown men.

On a number of occasions when he’s been given burn, he’s had difficult matchups. At one point in early February, Stevens found himself guarding Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo in three straight games.

He did more than hold his own in his spurts on the floor. Against the Clippers, Leonard only scored 24 points. Stevens also only had a minus-2 plus-minus for the game, which is impressive considering the Cavs lost by 22.

He struggled against Antetokounmpo in the first meeting, but, there are seasoned veterans who have done a much worse job on Giannis than Stevens did. And in the second matchup between the Cavs and Bucks, Stevens had a hand in having Antetokounmpo have an uncharacteristically off night.

In the second matchup, Antetokounmpo finished the game with 24 points on 53.3 percent shooting from the field. Additionally, Stevens had a plus-minus of 0 in a game that the Cavs lost by 25; so he deserved some credit for that, one could say.

Point being, even while Stevens has only had 4.5 points per game in 13.4 minutes per outing in 33 appearances thus far, he again has proven that he belongs on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster and in the NBA as a defensive specialist. He’s had a solid 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals per-36 minutes, in that realm, too.

Now, this is not saying that he is limited to only being a defender as he showed in college that he can be a great scorer given the right circumstances.

For the time being, though, he will be earning his keep on the Cavs as a defender.

And based on what he’s shown on that end, and with his defensive versatility, if the Cleveland Cavaliers were to eventually convert Stevens to a standard deal with a multi-year deal contract, albeit perhaps one that’d be non-guaranteed following the rest of this season, that wouldn’t seem shocking.

That’d be in the same mold of Dean Wade, involving the non-guaranteed years following the original season/offseason in Wade’s case. Wade has been making a difference for Cleveland lately, too.

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Lamar, either way, has often given Cleveland a jolt when he’s been given burn.