The Cleveland Cavaliers have won fewer games than expected through the first 10, but it’s no time to panic because a poor start doesn’t automatically equal doom. For example, the 1959 Los Angeles Lakers began its season 4-6 and eventually lost in the Finals. The same is true for the 1981 Houston Rockets and 2023 Miami Heat. As for the Cavs, they’re too loaded with talent and decent coaching for the struggles to persist.
Cleveland momentarily sits one game out of 10th place, the final Play-In spot. Injuries to key cogs have played a factor in the slow start. Yet one of the brightest marks for the team so far is Caris LeVert, who has been one of the three best players so far through the early season.
He’s the first man called from the bench, and if his production rate continues, he will be in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year crown. Quick note: his offensive efficiency numbers don’t do him justice yet because of a horrific shooting display in the opener versus the Brooklyn Nets, and the energy used on defense zaps juice from his legs.
LeVert stands at 6-foot-6 with a wingspan four inches longer and has solid backpedaling speed. On defense, he commits a foul on just 2.3 percent of the Cavaliers’ plays, putting him in the 80th percentile for his position.
The squad has been without Isaac Okoro since the Nov. 3 loss to the Indiana Pacers. In his absence, LeVert’s the man the team has leaned on to stop the ball at the point of attack. When asked how his role came to fruition after the win in Golden State, LeVert said, “It’s about [coach J.B. Bickerstaff] having trust in me. My teammates having my back…whatever matchup I’m given, I just try to attack that matchup and do the best I can.”
He bothers the other team’s best perimeter threat. In two outings against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he guarded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for nearly 13 minutes, giving up 26 points on 59% shooting. Those nights, he countered with 46 points, 13 coming on SGA’s head on five of 12 tries.
Versus the Warriors, he checked Stephen Curry for almost eight minutes, permitting 13 points on half of his attempts through two games. Notably, he didn’t foul his cover and scored three of five times on him.
For the season, LeVert has spent 101 minutes defending guards and, in those moments, holds them to 46.2 field goal efficiency.
Offensively, aside from Donovan Mitchell, no one on the team can create rim pressure off the bounce like LeVert, but he hasn’t finished well at the cup. He takes a fifth of his field goals in the restricted area, only making half. At 3-10 feet from the hoop, he’s converting 48.7 percent of his attempts (the league average is 45.3 percent).
In the current campaign, LeVert has lowered his assist usage significantly in favor of becoming a gunslinger. In 2022-23, he was more focused on involving his teammates and held a .91 assist-usage ratio, which measures how often a player assisted, given how much time they had the ball. This year, it dropped to .74.
Through nine games, LeVert is out to the third-hottest deep shooting marks of his career and recording a new high in tries and makes from the corners. In the future, this will continue to help the Cavs because NBA defenses routinely sag off this spot, jamming the paint to prevent dribble penetration.
In the one game Mitchell missed (Oct. 28 in Indiana), LeVert got the start, dropping 33 points on 43 percent shooting. That night, he blew by Bennedict Mathurin, pivoted past Bruce Brown, and canned 40 percent of his 3-point chances. But in the fourth quarter, he missed all six ventures in 12 minutes. The Cavaliers came up short 113-125.
This season, LeVert is averaging 33.1 minutes and getting to the line for 5.1 freebies per game. He’s fouled on 14.8 percent of his attempts, putting in the 95th percentile for wing players.
LeVert may not start, but he is one of the Cavaliers’ top five guys. He currently provides 9.7 minutes nightly in the last interval and will likely continue to because of his two-way impact.