Cleveland Cavaliers: Lamar Stevens’ case will be as situational defender

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lamar Stevens defends on-ball. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lamar Stevens defends on-ball. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Last season, I thought Lamar Stevens did a nice job for the Cleveland Cavaliers when he was given opportunities, and although injuries played into it, he was a pleasant surprise.

Stevens, who was previously signed to a two-way deal last offseason following him going undrafted, didn’t light up the traditional box score for Cleveland. In 40 appearances, he had 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per outing.

Also, although he wasn’t much of one in his four-year collegiate career at Penn State, Stevens was not able to provide much of a three-point shooting threat, as he knocked in only four-of-25 from there, a 16.0 percent clip. So, no, he’s not a player we could consider a floor spacing presence.

Stevens did look to be a capable driver at times, on the plus side, and his strength led to him getting his share of free throws; he had a free throw rate of 37.5 percent. His cutting feel was a positive as the season wore on, too.

In any case, it’s apparent that for Stevens, defense was his calling card, and could be looking onward. He typically did commendable work on-ball, and with his 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame, proved to be multi-positional on defense, and his team defensive feel/defensive rebounding positioning gave Cleveland a lift.

For Lamar, I’d think that his selling point is his defense, generally, as well.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Stevens’ case will be as a situational defender.

As we alluded to, Stevens’ defense was the biggest positive takeaway from his play in meaningful time in games last season.

While I had questions about it coming into the season if PT was to arise for him, Stevens was surprisingly fluid in how he was able to contain perimeter driving threats, by and large, which I didn’t discount. And as he became more comfortable, his feel for navigating through off-ball screens improved game-to-game.

Both of those things to me could result in Stevens potentially getting some PT in relief of Isaac Okoro next season and if the Cavs were to draft him, Stevens’ versatility could aid the likes of Jalen Green, Evan Mobley or perhaps Jonathan Kuminga. That’d be along with Darius Garland/other guys.

In regards to the off-ball/team defensive realm, Stevens was far more often than not in the right spots to help deter drivers, and though there were some rookie fouls at times, his shot contests aided others in that way, too. Plus, Stevens’ block rate of 2.3 percent and a steal clip of 1.2 per-36 minutes were not something that I gloss over for a guy that was undrafted.

Overall, Stevens’ defensive versatility in being able to realistically match up pretty well 2-4, his instincts off-ball and his 6.9 rebounds per-36 minutes all demonstrated that he gave the Cavaliers a boost on that end in 2020-21.

His contributions on defense/the energy he provided, also in relation to helping generate some more transition opportunities, seemingly were the key reasons why he was eventually signed to a team-friendly, multi-year deal mid-season.

Stevens’ deal, like Dean Wade’s last offseason, is set to be non-guaranteed from here though, and in fairness, injuries did play into Stevens getting his share of PT. That was involving Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr., and somewhat with Dylan Windler and Taurean Prince, too, for further context.

However, even with others factored into the rotation, I could still foresee Stevens maybe end up sticking around for next season/maybe onward if he can improve his shot, at least with corner threes. Albeit either way, his case looking onward will likely be as a strong situational defender that the Cavs can feel comfortable with in spurts defending key perimeter/forward threats.

When he was in regularly and before his season ended with a concussion, Stevens made an impact in that way, and if he sticks around, would continue to do so, I believe.

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And the 24-year-old could end up establishing himself as a token glue guy in the process. But we’ll have to see, with the draft potentially affecting that sort of thing for him as well.