The Cleveland Cavaliers have not had an easy time of it this season, starting the season 1-4 in the midst of a myriad of injuries. Darius Garland missed five games in the early going, Jarrett Allen five games of his own, and Donovan Mitchell will miss his fourth game (and third-straight) when the Cavs take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night.
Despite being short-handed in nearly every contest, the Cavaliers have battled back to a 7-6 record and a positive net rating. They got above .500 for the first time since Game 1 with a definitive drubbing of the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Sunday evening, a 121-109 win that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests. The defense stifled Denver’s attack and made Nikola Jokic’s night a miserable one.
One of the most remarkable stats from the game came courtesy of Jarrett Allen, who had answers for Jokic at both ends of the court in his best game of the season. Allen was a +42 for the night in 29 minutes, the largest single-game plus-minus for a Cleveland player in nine years and the third-best mark in franchise history.
Dion Waiters improbably holds the single-game record for the Cavaliers, finishing +45 in a 2014 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks. Amazingly, Waiters scored just nine points in the game and shot 4-for-11 from the field. Behind Waiters is Bryant Stith, a guard on the 2001-02 Cavaliers who finished +44 in 28 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Timofey Mozgov and Brian Skinner tie Allen at +42 for joint third.
The most-used two-man pairing for the Cavaliers this season is Evan Mobley and Max Strus, who have shared the court for 356 minutes; that’s not surprising given that they are two of the three Cavs to play in every game (Georges Niang being the third). In part because of the changing lineups around them, that pairing has a +4.8 net rating, which means they outscore opponents by an average of 4.8 points per 100 possessions they play together; that’s a good number, but not great.
Among all pairings that have played at least 30 minutes, Jarrett Allen and Dean Wade make up the best duo with a +21.1 net rating over 79 minutes. With Wade stepping into the starting lineup over the past few games the two have been tied together for much of the rotation, and that has borne fruit for the Cavs as they right the ship.
That starting lineup, by the way, with Darius Garland and Max Strus in the backcourt and Wade joining Mobley and Allen in the frontcourt, is a whopping +26 in 23 minutes this season, all coming in the past two games.
Even as the season is underway and the excitement of actual basketball takes center stage, it’s impossible to avoid the rumor mill in the NBA. The Chicago Bulls are off to a poor start and could be looking to sell off players; the Miami Heat could be in the market for an upgrade. So on and so forth; there are always buyers and sellers wading into the trade waters, and intriguing names find their way into the discussion.
Will the Cavaliers take part? Almost certainly; this is a team that has been aggressive in upgrading the team, acquiring Jarrett Allen, Lauri Markkanen, Caris LeVert, Donovan Mitchell and Max Strus via trade, among others. They could very well make an in-season trade to upgrade the roster, and a number of players could be among those moved.
One of those players who will perpetually be discussed in trade rumors is Donovan Mitchell, and Gage Morgan tries to find an angle from Cleveland’s side for them to consider a deal this season. Another option would be to break up the two bigs, and Caleb Crowley looks at a Western Conference star who could be on the trade block.
President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman was cited for operating a vehicle under the influence in September, a serious charge on its own but also a PR mess for the franchise when the accompanying video showed him repeatedly arguing with the police officer and trying to use his title with the franchise as a way to get out of trouble.
On Monday Altman pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless operation, which is only a minor misdemeanor and will result in fines rather than potential jail time and the continued suspension of his driver’s license, which was reinstated on Monday.
The continual injuries have forced a number of Cleveland Cavaliers players to step up, and Caris LeVert is having an incredible season for the Cavs. He and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff have tried to keep him out of the starting lineup so that he can run the second unit, and the results have been strong: LeVert is averaging 18 points per game and has helped keep the Cavaliers afloat when fitting together unexpected bench lineups.
Could LeVert make a serious run at Sixth Man of the Year this season? Among players who have started two games or fewer this season, LeVert is just a hair behind Tim Hardaway Jr. in scoring this season (Hardaway is averaging 18.2 points per game). LeVert leads the pack in minutes per game by a mile at 33.1, and he is top-6 in steals, assists and free-throws made.
It’s a long season, but if LeVert can maintain solid counting stats and the Cavaliers are a surefire playoff team, he’ll have a shot.
- Chris Fedor highlights the impact that undrafted rookie point guard Craig Porter Jr. has had when he has been called upon this season.
- Caleb Crowley digs into the Cavaliers’ recent success in his weekly column and awards some new “Crowley’s Crowns” to the team’s top performers from the past week.
- Josh Cornelissen highlighted over the weekend three players on the team who should be playing more. Driven likely by injuries more than his column, two of the three have played key parts in the team’s last two wins!
- One of those players is rookie Craig Porter Jr., and Dan Gilinsky takes a closer look at the impressive young guard.
The Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Philadelphia 76ers tonight on national television in their third game of the In-Season Tournament. It’s a must-win for both teams, and the Cavaliers will be short-handed yet again. The game tips off at 7:30 PM ET on TNT.