Although Cleveland’s core stays the same, the Cavaliers look significantly different this season as compared to last.
In the offseason, the Cavaliers made wing depth and 3-point shooting their primary focus. With Max Strus and Georges Niang adding to Cleveland’s options on the perimeter, it may suggest the team’s overall plans to shift into a perimeter-centric offense. In that case, however, it will create another issue for the Cavaliers’ lineup. Thus far, the pairing of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen have produced the league’s best defense; however, it has also led to subpar floor spacing and offensive redundancy.
With Evan Mobley’s future at the center of the Cavaliers’ future, his development and growth will be the greatest crux for the team’s success. Both Niang and Strus can complement Mobley’s playstyle, surrounding Mobley with lethal shooters that can help improve Mobley’s growth as a playmaker.
One player whose role is in question after the acquisitions is Mobley’s frontcourt partner Jarrett Allen. Allen joined the Cavaliers in 2021 as part of the massive trade that sent James Harden from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets. The young big man quickly improved Cleveland’s defense, shifting the team’s identity into a defense-first mindset.
During the 2023 playoffs, the Cavaliers’ predictable offense and lack of 3-point shooting gave the New York Knicks the edge, ending in a short 5-game series in favor of the Big Apple. Though Allen struggled, the offensive schemes created a poor environment for Allen to maximize his skillset.
With neither Mobley nor Allen capable of consistently shooting beyond the arc, the respective roles of both big men will need serious consideration this year.
In the newest edition of “Hey, Chris!” with Cavaliers insider Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, Fedor offered an update to Allen’s potential offensive role on the new-look Cavaliers.
Fedor opened by commenting on Allen’s minuscule usage rate of 16.2, the sixth lowest on the team. Allen was relegated primarily to setting screens and rolling to the rim on offense, rarely handling the ball himself. With Strus likely to join the Cavaliers’ starting five on opening night, Fedor notes that Allen will benefit from the improved offensive talent around him. He will not be the top option on offense, given the star power in the backcourt and the focus on Strus and Mobley.
After a weekend practice, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff spoke on Allen’s offensive talents and his productivity for the Cavaliers this season (per Fedor):
"“Jarrett is a threat when he catches the ball in his areas. I think what we have learned about Jarrett is he can make passes from the elbows and he can playmake as well. The more you have to guard those guys when they have the ball in their hand, it just makes it difficult on defenses.”– J.B. Bickerstaff"
With Bickertaff’s comments in mind, Allen’s role may be as a secondary facilitator, swinging the ball to the open scorer in a Cleveland offense with constant off-ball movement. In the first two preseason games this year, the Cavaliers have implemented substantially more variety in their attack, moving the ball constantly and trusting in Mobley and Donovan Mitchell to facilitate from the elbows with Darius Garland as the primary coordinator.
Once Allen rejoins the team, he will likely be placed in a similar spot as Mobley on the elbow, helping lead the offense with off-ball screens, crafty passing and dominant post control.
As Fedor concludes, “Although Allen’s scoring may not increase substantially, his involvement should.”
There is no certainty to Allen’s long-term fit with Mobley in the Cavs’ frontcourt, but for this season, Allen will take on a new role from last year’s stagnant approach. He will probably not be a top scorer on the team, but he will play a crucial role in integrating the improved long-range shooting rather than minimizing Allen in favor of wing shooting.
The Cleveland Cavaliers open their 2023-24 campaign on October 24, playing on the road against the Brooklyn Nets. The team is unsure currently whether or not Allen will be available for game one, but once he returns, he will have a unique opportunity to cultivate his current talents as a post playmaker and interior presence.