Mid-Season Awards: Highlighting the best Cleveland Cavaliers of the season

Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Biggest Surprise of the Year: Sam Merrill

While it is no surprise to see Sam Merrill named for this type of fictitious award, it would certainly be a surprise to any fan of the team to hear that Merrill would have any kind of substantial role on the team at the start of the season. Merrill has bounced between the NBA and G-League for the past few seasons. Though he was a member of the 2021 NBA Championship Milwaukee Bucks, Merrill was a forgotten name among most NBA fanbases.

Last season, Merrill played a grand total of 59 minutes for the Cavaliers on a two-way contract. This year, Merrill has played almost ten times as many minutes and emerged as the team's best movement sharpshooter. Merrill has shot 44.2 percent on 5.3 three-point attempts per game, and can seemingly enter any game red hot from deep instantly.

Merrill is not going to usurp anybody's starting role anytime soon, and his role has already diminished to the end of the bench since the team regained their health. Whenever he enters a game, though, the Cavs have a degree of confidence and energy thanks to Merrill's efforts.

While Merrill's emergence has been memorable, it cannot be discussed without also noting the value Craig Porter, Jr. brings as an undrafted rookie. Porter recently signed a four-year deal with the Cavs after becoming a surprise hero during the time without Garland and Mobley. Both Merrill and Porter were discovered in this period and propelled the Cavaliers to numerous wins that seemed out of reach when the news was first released.

Either player could realistically hold this award, but Merrill's continued excellence since the stars returned gives him a slight edge over Porter.

Bench Player of the Year: Caris LeVert

Finally, Cleveland's best bench performer may have been the hardest award to determine. While Isaac Okoro's defensive prowess and improved three-point shooting make him a heavy hitter here, Caris LeVert has led the team's second unit all year dutifully. After a season with a constantly fluctuation role, LeVert chose to come off the bench this season. Even when he could have reentered the starting five due to injuries, LeVert stayed steadfast in his desire to impact the team in a sixth-man spot.

This role has suited LeVert without doubt. The Columbus native swingman has averaged 14.4 points, 4.4 assists and one steal per game this season. LeVert has also drained a handful of last second shots at the end of the quarter in tight matchups, giving the Cavs the momentum entering the home stretch. While LeVert has rarely been in the closing lineup for Cleveland, his impact has often helped the Cavaliers be in a better position to overcome their opponent plenty of games.

it has not been easy to find LeVert's best fit on the team, given the fact he is a guard who thrives best with higher usage. With both Garland and Mitchell heading the backcourt rotation, LeVert could often get lost on offense when he shared the court with both of them. This year, Bickerstaff has optimized LeVert's shot creation and handling by staggering his minutes to place him on the court with only one other playmaker at a time.

Alongside LeVert's offense, his defensive intensity has never been better. LeVert's defense is not a numbers game this season. His energy and ability to stay glued to his man do not show up on the box score, but he has nonetheless been a major contributor for the Cavaliers on that end of the court. If LeVert continues his presence as a two-way talent in the playoffs, it will be difficult for any rival to overthrow the Cavs.

In total, these fake awards still do not serve justice to all the Cavaliers who have made an impact this year, but these six Cavs deserve explicit praise for their efforts. As Cleveland enters the postseason, the team's confidence and momentum should propel to a much greater final result than last year. The Cavaliers could quickly find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals behind the leadership and talent found on this roster.

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