The history of the Cleveland Cavaliers is not as illustrious or fantastical as the dynastic franchises in the NBA, but the zeitgeist of Cleveland players throughout the years has a long list of memorable favorites.
With Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley at the helm, the Cavaliers are creating a new era of franchise history. Last season, the Cavs earned a playoff berth for the first time without LeBron James since his draft night in 2003. Though the short five-game series against the New York Knicks was a heartbreak across the Land, it signaled a paradigm shift in the team.
From beginning a seemingly lengthy rebuild in 2018 to becoming a dark horse contender in 2023, the Cavaliers are poised for years of competitive success if they continue to develop their young core and build around them.
This offseason was the first step toward building depth for their core, as Max Strus of the 2023 Eastern Conference Champions Miami Heat and career sharpshooter Georges Niang joined the ranks of the Cleveland Cavs in free agency. The addition of Strus and Niang provided Cleveland with crucial upgrades on the perimeter, an area of the game that cost them severely throughout last season and postseason.
Since his arrival in northeast Ohio, Max Strus has commanded plenty of attention. After a strong performance as the starting small forward for the Miami Heat’s Finals appearance, Strus entered free agency as a premier wing option for every team across the league. In the end, Strus joined the Cavaliers via sign-and-trade after conversations with former Cavaliers champion Kevin Love.
Not only does Max Strus offer something new for the Cavaliers starting lineup, but he also offers something old that has given both the Cavaliers and Donovan Mitchell plenty of success in the past.
Max Strus opened his Cavaliers tenure by having seven 3-pointers, which tied a league record of 3-pointers made in a franchise debut. His 27 points and 12 rebounds led the charge for a sluggish Cavs roster in a 114-113 victory on the road against the Brooklyn Nets. Although Cleveland struggled to find their footing in the absence of Jarrett Allen and Dean Wade, Strus was unwavering in his impact.
A day before the season opener, Donovan Mitchell spoke with Spencer Davies on his newest teammate, comparing him to one of the best long-range deadeye shooters in NBA history.
Mitchell’s comment was not the first time Strus’ stylistic resemblance to Korver was noted, though this last time was recently by a teammate, in that sense. Both players are elite movement shooters and can find any small opening to make a dynamic play. Over a 17-year career, Korver connected on 42.9 percent of his 3-point shots and currently sits at fifth overall for 3-pointers made in NBA history. With such a memorable career, comparing Strus to a legendary shooter like Korver is no small compliment.
First and foremost, Mitchell praised Strus for the unpredictability he provides by always hunting for an opening, whether it’s a hot spot on the perimeter or a sneaky open lane. After a season in dead-last in pacing, the Cavaliers have appreciated Strus’ ability to push the tempo and pressure defenses. His skillset and athleticism opens up opportunities for his teammates, forcing defenses to stay alert at all times.
Following Mitchell’s initial comments, Davies asked Mitchell about the impact Strus’ floor spacing had on Mitchell’s scoring chances. Mitchell mentioned his past Utah Jazz teammates Jordan Clarkson and Royce O’Neale, two other lethal wing shooters and suggested that Strus’ playstyle will instantly connect with Mitchell on the court.
The praise for Max Strus in Cleveland has been seemingly non-stop this year, and his opening showing lends credence to that excitement.
Later that day, Strus responded to the comments with a confident answer, saying he believes he provides even more than the comparison suggests.
"“No disrespect to Kyle Korver. I think he’s a great player, but I just think I have a little more to my game. He’s probably a better shooter than I am, but I think I can do a little bit more with the ball in my hands or getting in the paint and creating for others as well.”"
Davies asked Strus if Korver was one of the players whose film he studied as he prepared for the NBA. Along with Korver, Max Strus cited three other strong NBA shooters in J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson and Marco Belinelli.
With so much hype around Strus, the expectations will continue to rise as his first season in Cleveland unfolds. As strong as his opening night was, the Cavaliers will still need to improve their overall intensity. With Garland and Mobley combining for only 25 points in a tight road contest, Strus’ impact on winning has already been recognized for the Cavs.
Going forward, Cleveland will look to answer the flaws and push for a better result than last year. Making the most of Strus as shooter, rebounder and slasher will likely be a major role in that after this start.