Analyzing Cleveland Cavaliers’ rotation without Jarrett Allen available

Georges Niang, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
Georges Niang, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports) /

Shortly before the start of preseason, Cleveland Cavaliers big man Jarrett Allen reportedly suffered a left ankle bone bruise injury in training camp, sidelining him for at least two weeks until he is reevaluated.

In the preseason, the Cavs have spent considerable time experimenting with their numerous summer acquisitions. Although Cleveland has fallen short in their two preseason games thus far, a number of players have had notable performances, highlighting the upgraded depth the Cavaliers have to enter this next season.

Last season, the Cavs placed in dead-last for pacing among all 30 NBA squads, a point of emphasis that head coach J.B. Bickerstaff plans to reconcile with a more dynamic gameplan this season. Thus far, the preseason has shown that improvement, as the Cavs pushed the tempo and shot a total of 48 3-point attempts in their first match against the Atlanta Hawks, which was only two attempts below their season-high 50 from last season.

Additionally, the Cavaliers ran in transition, scoring 24 fastbreak points, 16 more than Atlanta. With such an instantaneous and drastic uptick in team pacing, Cleveland could be prepared for a varied and dangerous offense. Once Allen returns, he will likely slot into this rotation seamlessly with his transition offense scoring and talent as a lob threat.

The Cavaliers are making the most of Jarrett Allen’s time off

In lieu of Allen’s absence, Cleveland has split the five spot minutes among Evan Mobley, Damian Jones, and Tristan Thompson. Primarily, the Cavs have depended on Mobley to handle the starting center role. In doing so, Cleveland has utilized a more diverse rotation than a season prior, looking to new additions Max Strus and Georges Niang to fill both forward positions and space the floor.

In the most recent episode of The Lowe Post with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Cavaliers insider Chris Fedor of discussed the latest iteration of Cleveland’s offense. While last season most opponents clogged the paint and forced the Cavs into bad shots, this year has already been entirely different.

As Fedor notes, the Cavs have utilized offensive sets with Darius Garland at the point of attack, while Evan Mobley and Donovan Mitchell occupy both elbows. On the corners Max Strus and Georges Niang search for an opening. This setup gives the Cavaliers a number of approaches, whether they force defenders to chase a shooter on the perimeter, follow Garland through a hard screen by Mobley, followed by a handoff and slippery pass to a slashing Garland inside for a layup.

Both Lowe and Fedor mentioned the repetitive, predictable high pick-and-roll offensive scheme the Cavaliers employed in the vast majority of their halfcourt attempts last year. Changing to this fluid, versatile style will not only improve the team’s short-term chances, but it will also impact Evan Mobley’s development as a scorer and offensive hub.

One question was raised in the discussion, though. Once Jarrett Allen returns to the starting lineup, will the Cavaliers maintain this versatility? One answer suggested was that the Cavs will look to stagger Mobley and Allen, rarely playing both Cavs on the court together for long.

Doing so might be the answer for Cleveland’s frontcourt future, giving the Cavaliers a fantastic rotation in the post if it works out. It is not certain yet if the Cavaliers intend to move Mobley to the starting center spot while Allen is on the roster. This would mean Allen is relegated to a bench role, something that seems unimaginable given his talent as a defensive anchor and interior scorer.

For now, however, the impact of Strus and Niang is palpable. Niang specifically has shot 4-of-9 from 3-point range in an accumulative 35 minutes over the first two contests. Though Niang has primarily played in the corner as a sharpshooter, his preseason efforts are only a preview of the type of role he will fulfill in his first season with Cleveland.

Another key factor for Cleveland’s improved offense will be Dean Wade’s health and confidence. After a lingering shoulder injury derailed Wade’s breakout season last year, he will have a chance to reclaim his role and continue to be a versatile forward on the Cavaliers.

As the season approaches, Wade spoke with reporters on returning to form in training camp. Niang has served as a veteran mentor for Wade, challenging him to shoot with confidence and search for his opportunities. Wade also spoke on his defensive commitment, mentioning he plans to elevate his physicality on defense and hit his open shots on offense.

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Until Allen returns, the Cavaliers will continue to entrust their depth to complement Mobley in the frontcourt. It not only is an opportunity for Mobley to develop his offense as a passer and scorer, but it will be a chance for Bickerstaff to implement new variations and solve Cleveland’s stagnant offense from last year.