When the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2022-23 campaign ended in a disappointing fashion by way of a five-game first-round series loss to the New York Knicks, one thing stood out as a glaring weakness. The Cavs needed to improve their perimeter shooting efforts.
Granted, Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell had their inconsistencies, as did other Cavaliers players in the series. There’s no disputing that, and J.B. Bickerstaff got out-coached by the far more experienced Tom Thibobeau, who has coached in 72 career playoff games. Bickerstaff has coached in 10.
Regardless, the shooting from Cleveland was not up to par nearly enough, and there were some ups and downs for the Cavaliers as far as deep shooting in the regular season. With that in mind, it was understandable for the Cavs to have had the free agency approach they had.
Cleveland first re-signed Caris LeVert in the opening minutes of the NBA’s moratorium period, but following that, their next two moves were signing Georges Niang and then executing a deal to acquire Max Strus via sign-and-trade from the Miami Heat. In that move to land Strus, the San Antonio Spurs were also involved, and they took in Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens a future second-round pick; Miami landed a future second-round pick, with no players included for their end.
In bringing in Niang and Strus, the Cavaliers bolstered their shooting efforts around Garland and Mitchell, and they gave their offense more juice in general. That’s with LeVert’s presence, too, provided he continues to get more comfortable within Cleveland’s framework and in his role.
Pertaining to Strus, though, while his deal was for four years and $62.3 million, a decent chunk of capital in years ahead, his impact could be a sizeable one for the Cavaliers. To that point, his shooting and skill set is at least somewhat reminiscent of a former Cleveland flamethrower in recent years past, in Kyle Korver.
Strus is not quite the pure shooter Korver was in his days with the Cavs, but there are similarities between the two as off-ball contributors.
Korver was a big-time shooter throughout the last two seasons of LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, in particular, before ultimately being traded to the Utah Jazz in the early days following James’ second departure.
Korver had a heck of a tenure in the Association, and had a profound impact on several teams with his shooting abilities. He connected on 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts over his 17 seasons, and is fifth in NBA history in threes made.
Simply put, he was a knockdown shooter in every sense of the word, and made quite an imprint in his time with the Cavaliers. He connected on 45.4 percent of his three-point attempts in the regular season with Cleveland, and across two postseason runs to the NBA Finals (40 games), he shot 40.4 percent from deep with Cleveland.
Now, in terms of the comparison between Korver and Strus, Strus is not quite the deadeye shooter of Korver, but Strus’ impact could potentially be nearly the same for this iteration of the Cavaliers.
Strus hit 197 threes in the 2022-23 regular season with Miami, and despite an NBA Finals to forget for him personally, he did still hit 43 threes in the 2023 Playoffs altogether, and was one of the key contributors in an incredible run for a then-No. 8 seed. He made his presence felt the season prior in Miami’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals as well, too.
Strus does not have the track record of Korver, obviously, however, he is absolutely a player with a sharpshooting reputation that opponents won’t be able to rotate off of as a kickout threat. Furthermore, he could be a big-time and volume movement shooter on the wing the Cavs have not really had since Korver was in town, aside from Kevin Love, who was a stretch big.
Strus, like Korver, is a player the Cavaliers can utilize firing off pindowns/coming off curls, to feature with flares and at times elevator screens and as a dangerous shooter sprinting out in transition. The same should apply for sequences throughout games with handoffs, and could result in Cleveland using inherent counters off those, as they deployed in the days with Korver and his gravity.
Strus’ 35.0 percent hit rate from three-point range in the past regular season didn’t necessarily indiciate it, but he did knock in 41.0 percent of his deep attempts the regular season before, and no matter what the splits are, his constant motion helps open up others.
So, while he might not have the face value impact of Korver, clearly, Strus’ reputation as an off-ball player and movement shooting threat could be Korver-esque for this Cavs team in years ahead. And Strus can make some plays for himself and others to counter hard closeouts, which was not really part of Korver’s repetoire.