8 days until the Cleveland Cavaliers take the court in Brooklyn in Game 1 of the 2023-24 NBA season. 8 days until the games count. 8 days until a regular season with plenty of expectations begins in earnest.
The Cavaliers and their fans are excited for the upcoming season, and the preseason has been an opportunity for offseason changes to be displayed. How has the new offense looked? Which bench players have been showing out?
It’s Tuesday, so that means it’s time for the latest edition of Cavaliers News!
Last season the Cavaliers’ offense was designed around a pick-and-roll attack. That makes sense; Darius Garland cut his teeth running the pick-and-roll with Jarrett Allen, and Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert ran a lethal two-man game in Utah. It made sense that they would lean into the action last season. They ranked fourth in the NBA in the frequency of possessions ended by the pick-and-roll ball-handler and third in those ended by the roll man.
The offense looks very different in the preseason; there are still some possessions of pick-and-roll basketball, an action that should only be enhanced by having increased shooting around it, but now the Cavaliers are working in significantly more off-ball motion and cutting.
They are giving the ball to Evan Mobley at the elbow and running dribble handoffs or split cuts that Mobley can hit with passes. Max Strus and Garland are running off screens or cutting behind the defense to find open pockets on the perimeter. They are averaging 46 3-point attempts per game through three preseason games, a total they hit in just one regular season game last year.
It will be a very different offense for the wine and gold this season.
The Cavaliers chose to rest their starters in Monday night’s preseason game against Maccabi Ra’anana, starting the second unit (more on them in a moment) and giving increased minutes to players at the back-end of the roster. The team’s leading scorer on the night was none other than rookie Emoni Bates, who continued a strong preseason by scoring 16 points on 4-for-9 shooting from deep.
In three games Bates has now scored 38 points in 49 minutes, hitting nine of his 20 3-point attempts (45 percent) with one of the smoothest releases you will see in a 6’9″ player. He doesn’t yet have NBA strength and his athleticism and defense will always be an issue, but Bates has had about as good of a start to his NBA career as he could have.
With Jarrett Allen still out with an ankle bruise and J.B. Bickerstaff sitting the other four expected starters, it was the “second unit” that got the start: Ty Jerome, Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert, Dean Wade and Damian Jones.
Did that mean that Wade has passed Georges Niang in the rotation? After the game, Bickerstaff spoke to intentionally pairing Niang and Emoni Bates together so Bates could learn from Niang, but that explanation didn’t make a lot of sense; Bates could learn from Niang in practice, and developing chemistry between the two players specifically wouldn’t be more important than Niang’s chemistry with the other second-unit players he would be playing with.
Wade has been tremendous in the preseason thus far, shooting 9-for-15 from deep (60 percent) and playing his usual solid defense. What’s more, Wade has attacked the glass, including 8 rebounds in 21 minutes on Monday night. Niang was signed to be the primary backup 4 and has been similarly active, shooting 6-for-14 (42.8 percent).
If Wade is going to shoot at a similar percentage and volume to Niang, his defense, size and rebounding should propel him above Niang. Have Bickerstaff and the coaches already landed at that conclusion?
Here are some Cavaliers pieces to read from the past week:
- Chris Fedor highlights how something more important than basketball took place on Monday night when Maccabi Ra’anana took the court
- Izzy Sy previews an exciting season for Darius Garland and highlights three goals for the star point guard
- It’s been reported that if the Cavaliers fall short this season massive changes could be in order. Caleb Crowley takes a look at what those changes could be if the season flops
- How could the Cavs reach that point? Josh Cornelissen looks at three nightmare scenarios for the Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers will be in Indiana this Friday to wrap up the preseason slate. It’s expected that this game will be something of a “dress rehearsal” simulating a regular rotation.