Does recent NBA history tell us Cavs will sustain their big leap?

Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /
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Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /

The Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t supposed to be good last season. After winning 22 games in 2020-21, most prognosticators thought a modest improvement of a few games was all that was in store for the wine and gold. Boy were they all wrong.

FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model thought they would win 25 games. The ESPN Forecast thought they would win 26. And on and on. Instead, the Cavs established themselves early on in the playoff mix, were at one point riding at the top of the Eastern Conference in net rating, and a late injury-riddled slump still saw them finish with 44 wins and an eighth-place finish in the East.

The Cavs made a gigantic leap last season. What does recent NBA history for other similar teams teach us about whether the Cavs can sustain their success?

The Cavs’ offseason suggested some improvement, but certainly not anything to this level. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen both made leaps, Evan Mobley was an instant-impact defender as a rookie, and additions like Ricky Rubio and Lauri Markkanen both played significant parts.

To look past wins to net rating, a better indicator of how good a team actually was, the Cavs went from a -8.3 net rating in 2020-21 to a +2.1 net rating last season, a leap of 10.4 points per 100 possessions. That improvement year-to-year is the fourth-largest of the past 25 years.

Big jumps can seem set in stone to some people, an indicator of how the team will now perform. They seem like an outlier to others, and an indicator of regression set to come. Which will it be for the Cavs? Let’s look at the Cavs’ future from the angle of those three teams who had larger leaps in net rating than the Cavs to see what history tells us about what to expect.