Should the Cavs be worried about next year’s playoffs?

Donovan Mitchell and J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
Donovan Mitchell and J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /

It has only been a bit over three months since the Cleveland Cavaliers lost in the first round to the New York Knicks, but the Cavaliers are now prepared for next season. With the new additions, Cleveland looks to be a competitive team in the Eastern Conference, and should rack up more wins than they did in the 2022-23 season.

Yes, the Cavs’ playoff series against New York was incredibly underwhelming, but to be fair, it was their first year together as a playoff team, for the most part. Donovan Mitchell was amazing in the regular season, as well as their other core players.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have a young squad, and definitely have plenty of room to get better, but there is still a problem with the roster. The defense is amazing, and the offense is fine. The bench is improved, and the starting lineup is stellar. If none of that is problematic, then what could be the issue?

Why did the Cavaliers lose so badly in the playoffs?

Playoff success on this roster is the main thing to worry about, mainly looking at Donovan Mitchell here. This may be a controversial opinion, but he may not be as amazing of a playoff performer as many people believe.

Statistically, Mitchell is one of the NBA’s best playoff performers in recent NBA history. He has the ninth-best points per game in the playoffs, averaging 27.8 points in 44 total playoff games. Yes, those stats are great, there’s no denying that. Also, Mitchell dropped a whopping 57 points in the NBA Bubble back in 2020, which is the third-most points in a single playoff game in the entire history of the NBA. The stats do not show the full story, though.

Donovan Mitchell has never made it to the Conference Finals, even while putting up those gaudy numbers. In fact, he has made it to the second round of the playoffs only twice in his NBA career. Losing in the first round four out of six times is fine, but considering how great of a playoff performer he has been individually, it is rather confusing that he has not advanced further in the playoffs.

In the 2017-18 season, he made it to the second round as a rookie, which is impressive. The next season, he lost in the first round to the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets. In the NBA bubble, Mitchell and the Jazz blew a 3-1 lead in the first round to the Denver Nuggets. In the 2020-21 season, Mitchell lost in the second round to the injury-riddled LA Clippers after being the best team in the regular season. In the 2021-22 season, Mitchell lost in the first round to a fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks team without Luka Dončić for a good chunk of that series.

Last season, in his first playoffs in the Eastern Conference, Mitchell and the Cavaliers lost in the first round. Does this mean Mitchell is not a great playoff performer? No, that’s an outlandish take. But if Cleveland loses in the first round again next season, could it be time to reevaluate whether Donovan Mitchell is a player that can really lead a team to an NBA championship?

This is not to throw shade at Mitchell, as he’s a great player, and he deserves every penny of his contract. He’s a top-three shooting guard in the NBA, or could even be the best, depending on who you ask. He’s shown an improvement on defense, especially since coming to Cleveland. His leadership and mentality have also been better, as well.

Now, let’s look at Jarrett Allen. Allen got out-muscled and outplayed by New York’s big man Mitchell Robinson in the playoffs, a player who has never even sniffed an All-Star game, unlike Allen.

Jarrett Allen is a tremendous player, and he’s one of the NBA’s most underrated players. Let’s take a look at his playoff numbers. He’s averaged 10.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game in 14 total playoff games, with both Brooklyn and Cleveland.

In the playoffs, Allen has been less effective as a player, which is not really his fault. Looking at recent playoff runs, a player like Rudy Gobert has been ineffective, and sometimes even played out of games because of his performances. A center who cannot stretch the floor or guard the perimeter even decently is terrible for NBA teams, as their opponent can just play small-ball, and force their centers to guard on the perimeter. That’s what happened to Gobert, and what can and probably will happen eventually to Allen.

Faulting Darius Garland and Evan Mobley for their playoff struggles is unfair, though, as it was their first-ever NBA playoff appearance. For Garland, however, let’s look back at some NBA legends and their playoff performances, who played similarly to Garland.

Phoenix Suns legend Steve Nash is an outstanding player comparison, but Garland is not the playmaker Nash was, whereas Garland is a better scorer. Looking at Nash’s playoff stats, he averaged 17.3 points, 8.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game, while also shooting 40.6 percent from distance, as well as 90.0 percent from the free-throw line.

Nash did win two MVP awards, but the playoff success was never up to par with his regular season accolades and stats. Nash had a 57-63 playoff record, and never even played in an NBA Finals game in his 18-year career. Nash was too short to be able to play defense well enough to make the NBA Finals, as he was targeted on defense in the playoffs.

Garland could be the same, as he is only 6’1″. He’s incredible on offense, but on the defensive side of the ball, he will need to get better as his NBA career continues. Garland is still a young player, and will definitely get better and better, and has a great chance to make the All-Star game next year.

The Cavaliers have a great team, but considering the past, they might have a lot of work to do to be able to even make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The NBA regular season doesn’t even start until late October, and the NBA playoffs don’t even start until April of the next calendar year, so we cannot assume that Cleveland will crash and burn.

Next. How do the Cleveland Cavaliers stack up against the East's contenders?. dark

At this point, I am just playing devil’s advocate, but there seriously could be a lot of reason to worry about next year, and the playoff future of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s too soon to worry, but it is something to note.