Cleveland Cavaliers stay afloat thanks to shining role players in Week 9

Sam Merrill, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sam Merrill, Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages
1 of 2

First, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley fell to major injuries last week. This week, Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Donovan Mitchell missed the majority of games due to an illness.

With such a long list of unavailable players, the Cavaliers managed to end their week with only one loss, beating the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. Cleveland survived this week with a surge from unexpected contributors with the Cavs extending far into their depth chart.

Cleveland's 3-1 record in the past week put them into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only half a game behind the sixth-seeded Miami Heat and fifth-seeded New York Knicks. For a team missing their key contributors, the Cavs have looked far more fierce than they were expected to be over this stretch.

The worst is yet to come, though, with Garland and Mobley still out into the new year. Garland will hopefully return in January, and the Cavaliers thankfully have the 26th-toughest schedule remaining, per Tankathon. If the Cavs can maintain their next-man-up mentality until Garland and Mobley return, what looked like doomsday news for Cleveland may result in a late-season resurgence for a team with undeniably better depth than the prior season.

All hands on deck for the Cavaliers

At the start of the 2023-24 campaign, the Cavs boasted their potential for a fast-paced, energetic offense. Though the Cavaliers rank dead-last in pace over their last four games, they have made the second-most 3-pointers (17.8) and have shot from deep with the 11th-best percentage (37.8) in that timeframe. For context, the Cavaliers have made only 12.4 3-pointers per game on the season, placing them 16th overall with the 23rd-best percentage at 35.3.

Not only have the Cavaliers changed their offensive scheme, they are getting everybody involved. In their three games without Donovan Mitchell, no single player has scored 30 or more points, and the overall rotation has expanded to include up to 10 players stepping on the hardwood in a game.

Three of their last four games have included three undrafted NBA prospects in the starting lineup, as Craig Porter Jr., Max Strus and Dean Wade have all entered the starting five and played heavy minutes over the past week. The full starting lineup with Jarrett Allen and Isaac Okoro rounding it off has now played the second-most minutes of any Cleveland five-man lineup this season.

The level of depth the Cavaliers can employ has led to their impressive wins. Whether it can withstand full duration without Garland or Mobley is not certain, but the Cavaliers will nonetheless look much better in the Eastern standings when they return than initially anticipated.

Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has shown a newfound trust in his squad, making quick substitutions and telling his team to make the extra pass every time down the floor. Without any single star player to force help defenders to gravitate toward them on a drive, Cleveland has relied more heavily on swinging the ball around the court and playing through constant hand-off actions until the right shot manifests.

This playstyle culminated in the Cavaliers assisting on 28 of their 39 total field goals in their 109-95 road win against the Chicago Bulls, ending the Windy City's three-game win streak.

While it has been a tremendous team effort to regain their momentum in the wake of injury, these three Cavaliers have been nothing short of exceptional in their role over the last week.