It stinks how the Cleveland Cavaliers did not have success in the playoffs. Seeing the Cavaliers go down in only five games to the New York Knicks, who were the No. 5 seed, with the Cavs being the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, was disappointing.
There were concerns for Cleveland’s end going into that, and rightfully so. Credit goes to the Knicks, though, as they outworked the Cavaliers on the glass, did the little things right and Cleveland’s stars were inconsistent on offense.
On the plus side, it was a learning experience for the Cavs, and for what’s largely still a young group, getting their feet wet in the playoffs was crucial for their growth.
It was a 2022-23 season Cleveland can surely build on, too, and next year, they should be better equipped. Adding shooting in the offseason via free agency and/or trade would make a big difference as well, and one should anticipate the Cavaliers will do so.
In the mean time, for us fans of the Association, there is still the NBA Finals to commence here between the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets. A well-rested Denver team took Game 1 at home, and they’re the clear favorite, and rightfully so.
This isn’t discounting what Denver has done, and how great they’ve often looked, but Miami has really had a heck of a run to get to this point. The Heat are not a typical eight seed, no, as they were dealing with injuries for much of the regular season.
Even with that being the case, Miami was originally a Play-In Tournament team, and they’ve been getting significant contributions from undrafted players throughout the playoffs. That sort of thing is something the Cavaliers can definitely take from what this Heat team has done over this stretch, too.
The Heat’s success has shown how the Cavs should leave no stone unturned, and they should consider giving players like Sam Merrill and Isaiah Mobley chances.
The Heat have gotten significant contributions from players such as Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson in the playoffs, all of whom were undrafted players. All of those players have had their share of G League experience over the years, and at least with Miami, first were on two-way deals.
Those players have given Miami a considerable amount of production often in these playoffs, and their impact has proven how the G League and two-way deals can be significant for the growth of players.
This doesn’t take anything from Jimmy Butler, who has still carried the Heat throughout this improbable postseason run, and they’re going up against a juggernaut Nuggets team, but the success Miami has had with these other unheralded guys in playoff time is something that can resonate leaguewide.
Mobley made All NBA G League Third-Team for this now-past season, and had 21.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 blocks per contest in 22 appearances. In Merrill’s case, he had 18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals per contest, and connected on 44.1 percent of his 8.9 three-point attempts per game.
Mobley was on a two-way deal in 2022-23 in his rookie year after being a second-round pick, whereas Merrill was originally a 10-day signing and was then given a standard deal in March, which is non-guaranteed for next season/onward.
For both, it’s not clear if they’ll be around with the Cavaliers next season, but Mobley being on a two-way deal again would appear to be a good possibility, and Merrill’s movement shooting abilities could keep him around.
Neither had a plethora of opportunities with the Cavs this past season, and would seem to be relative longshots for meaningful rotation minutes next season, in fairness, and Merrill being 6-foot-4 could complicate things. Merrill is a knockdown shooter, though, and he could open up more of the floor for Cleveland’s drivers.
Either way, at least with the 6-foot-8 Mobley, who is a high IQ player with some stretch big capabilties and has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, there’s definitely an argument to be made for him getting real minutes with the Cavs next season. For depth and two-way play, mixed in some rotational rim protection, his deal at some point being converted to a standard one wouldn’t be so far-fetched.
Now, over the past few seasons, the Cavaliers have gotten meaningful play from undrafted players such as Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens, both of whom are impact defenders, and could potentially still be solid rotational pieces next season as well. So, there’s reason to believe Mobley/Merrill can be fits within the Cavs framework.
Granted, it’s evident Cleveland has to bring in some more help to boost their offense this offseason, likely externally on the wing/starting 3 and for the bench’s efforts via trade and/or free agency with established veteran players. That figures to be a more realistic way to boost their playoff chances.
But, as Miami’s run has shown, teams have to leave no stone unturned within their roster, and guys on team-friendly deals even playing their share of time in the G League at various points can still be contributors if teams can find ways to maximize them.