In the early going here, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not had nearly their full arsenal as a group. Cleveland is yet to have Jarrett Allen in action because of a bone bruise in his ankle, and Darius Garland has missed the past four games with a hamstring strain. Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert have missed a game with hamstring ailments, also, and Ty Jerome has missed most of the last three contests with an ankle sprain.
The injury issues early on haven’t been the sole reason for the Cavaliers’ losses, but they certainly are relevant, given what Garland and Allen mean to the team. Both have reportedly made progress and shouldn’t miss a bunch more time it doesn’t seem, though, and both are questionable for Cleveland’s first In-Season Tournament game at the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
Fortunately, lately, the Cavaliers were able to get a much needed win at the New York Knicks in the second leg of their back-to-back mini-series on Wednesday night. RJ Barrett was not in action for the Knicks, but that was a game where Cleveland did the little things well, and defended far better. Timely buckets were big, too, for them to snap a three-game losing streak.
Objectively, while the Cavs might want to bring in more lead guard help with Garland and Jerome dealing with injuries, and Ricky Rubio away from the team, and their absences have played some into offensive lulls and inefficency for some guys, a guy who has impressed is Max Strus.
Strus has had ups and downs thus far as a shooter, partially due to Cleveland’s primary playmaking injuries. Still, even with that in mind, he’s still made a difference for the overall group.
Strus has shot 31.1 percent from three-point range thus far, and shot one-of-12 from deep in the mini-series with New York. In those outings, he was two-of-nine and then three-of-nine from the field for six and then nine points.
He did knock down four threes and have 21 points in Cleveland’s loss to the Pacers on Saturday, but, he went seven-of-20 from the field in that contest, a 35.0 percent clip. Through Cleveland’s five games, Strus has had an effective field goal shooting percentage of 44.9; that was 56.6 with the Miami Heat.
It hasn’t been a great start shooting-wise for Strus, and Cleveland being without Garland has assuredly factored into that, and to some degree, not having Jerome, a good passer, has had some of one as well, possibly.
At least in Garland’s case, regardless of the Cavaliers stressing having more man and ball movement in their offense this year, the offense being without Garland’s vision and creativity has been somewhat detrimental to guys like Strus. The same applies for players such as Georges Niang, and Donovan Mitchell has a heavy burden, and Caris LeVert has had to bail the Cavaliers out of too many possessions.
On the plus side, Strus has helped the team as a connective passer, his chemistry with Evan Mobley is getting better by the game, and defensively, Strus has done pretty well early. Strus has had 3.8 assists per contest, to go with averaging 7.0 rebounds.
He’s more than held his own on the defensive end, has had some timely impact plays as a result of picking off looks when from playing passing lanes, and though it’s not going to be sustainable for the entirety of the season, his rebounding has been outstanding. With Cleveland without Allen available early on, Strus’ efforts and positioning as a glass cleaner have given the Wine and Gold a boost in that aspect.
Granted, in terms of the general outlook for him, everybody wants Strus to knock down his threes. That’s why Cleveland brought him via sign-and-trade over the offseason, and he has to less extended off stretches in games.
But, with Strus’ constant motion off the ball, his cutting and transition run-out urgency, he’s still found ways to help free up other Cavs. And when the Cavaliers get healthier and Garland is back, Strus should find more of a perimeter shooting rhythm. He’s missed some shots early on that are normally looks he’ll splash, and fans shouldn’t overreact to the early-season splits.
All things considered, however, despite some off shooting nights early, Strus has still found a variety of ways to help the Cavaliers. That shouldn’t be disregarded.