Projecting the Cavs’ top 4 defenders in the 2022-23 season

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Mike Conley, Utah Jazz and Ricky Rubio, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /

The Cleveland Cavaliers ranked as the 5th overall team in the 2021-22 season when it came to defensive rating. Falling behind teams like the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, and the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland is definitely in good company. With the Cavs continuing to develop at a fast pace, their potential for being a defensive powerhouse in the NBA is certainly on the horizon.

Looking ahead to this coming season, it is possible we see the Cavs take a leap to the 4th, or 3rd spot overall in general defense. Four players in particular stand out as the ones who will elevate Cleveland’s status as one of the best defensive teams in the league. As we look ahead to the 2022-23 season, the Cavs’ potential to be a top 3 defensive team rests on three young players and one veteran.

It’s not like the Cavaliers are desperate for a drastic leap in their defensive capabilities, however investing in their skills and continuing to implement J.B. Bickerstaff’s various schemes will only benefit the team overall on the defensive side of the ball.

Throughout this article, we will predict the top four defenders for the Cavs, and discuss their potential stats and other contributions they can make to this team for the 2022-23 NBA season. Let’s begin with our 4th-ranked defender.

Projecting the Cavs’ 4 best defenders in 2022-23 – #4: Ricky Rubio

When someone hears “Cleveland Cavaliers” and “Defense” in the same sentence, their mind might naturally go to one of the many big men on the roster. Ricky Rubio may not be the first name someone would select as the 4th-ranked defender for this Cavs team, but his statline from last season tells a different story.

Last year Rubio averaged 4.1 rebounds per game. For a 31-year-old veteran in the league, a consistent average of 4 rebounds a game is fairly impressive for a guard. However, what was more impressive was Rubio’s average of 1.4 steals per game. Leading the Cavs overall last year in steals per contest in his games in, Rubio definitely made his contribution to the teams’ defense.

As a defensive playmaker, Ricky was absolutely integral to the teams’ success last year. In hindsight, losing Rubio to injury in the latter half of the 2021-22 season hit the team harder than they realized. Soon after the guard would be traded to the Indiana Pacers, and the Cavs would bring back Caris LeVert. Thankfully the basketball gods were looking out for the Cavs this offseason, and the front office was able to sign Ricky Rubio to a new 3-year contract.

Bringing Rubio back on a multi-year deal might not be one of the flashier moves of this NBA’s offseason, but in my opinion it was certainly one of the moves most sensible. Has Rubio slowed down a step or two? Sure, when you start to hit your 30s in a sport like this, it only makes sense you’d start to ease on the brakes. Unless you’re a particular player from the Northeast Ohio area that’s currently playing in LA, father time has a way of catching up.

So, what do we predict Rubio’s stats will look like for the upcoming season on the defensive end of things? Well if we look back at Rubio’s last few seasons in Phoenix and Minnesota prior to him joining the Cavaliers, there is something interesting to note.

During Rubio’s time as a Phoenix Sun, he averaged 4.7 rebounds per game for the 2019-20 season. The next year in the 2020-21 season Rubio only averaged 3.3 rebounds per game with the Timberwolves. Following that, in Cleveland he averaged 4.1 rebounds per game. I predict that Rubio’s total rebound average will actually increase from 4.1 per game to 4.5 per game.

Moreover, the last 3 seasons of his career, Ricky has managed to keep a consistent average of 1.4 steals per game. I believe he will continue this trend in the 2022-23 season.

Although his success may be contingent upon him finding his groove after his second ACL tear in his left knee, Ricky Rubio gets my vote for the Cavs’ potential 4th-ranked defender for next season in terms of impact. With that being the second time he has suffered an injury of that caliber in the same area, Ricky might need to ease back into the season, but I do not foresee that being too much of a complication for the veteran guard.

Overall Ricky Rubio will be a key defender, not necessarily because of the rebound and steals average, but more so due to the non-numerical advantages he provides to the team and as a heady team defensive presence. As a veteran guard, his defensive grit, and playmaking experience will provide consistency for the team.