Let’s be honest, the start of this season has not been great, and somehow it has gotten worse. Losing Darius Garland and Evan Mobley for an extended time has put a damper on the spirits of many Cleveland Cavaliers fans.
A lot of fans have been thinking some very dark thoughts, like will Donovan Mitchell be traded, and/or are they going to tank? It’s natural to think that losing two important pieces of your roster will lead to terrible results. But if you look deeper at the analytics, their best lineup arguably does not even include Darius or Evan.
The lineup that the Cavaliers went with on Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks proved to bring good vibes. The Wine and Gold raced out to a 70-52 halftime advantage that included the offense feeding Jarrett Allen over and over again. Allen would start strong with 17 first-quarter points and finish the game with 25 points and 14 rebounds. He showed that he can be the man in the middle while Mobley is not there and his performances going forward will be key for this team.
Can Point Mitchell be the answer?
Another guy who had it going on Saturday was Spida. It wasn’t the usual filling up the bucket Donovan Mitchell, but rather Point Guard Mitchell. Donovan played 41 minutes and finished with 22 points and a career-high 13 assists. There are always rumblings across the basketball universe about how Darius and Donovan are ball-dominant guards who have a tough time co-existing. If Mitchell has a good run playing point while Darius is out, their rumblings might be proving true. Either way, the offense was efficient on Saturday against a terrible defense of the Hawks. We will have to see a bigger sample size before we can make any judgments.
Speaking of sample size, the NBA Advanced Stats on Cleveland Cavaliers lineups are quite interesting. One of the best offensive lineups for the Cavs does not even include Darius Garland. The lineup of Caris LeVert, Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Georges Niang, and Max Strus has an offensive rating of 129.5 and a defensive rating of 116.1 to render a +13.4 net rating. This lineup also has a 108.9 pace and 69.9 true shooting percentage. Inserting Allen for Mobley, actually produces a -37.4 net rating, so that might not be the solution going forward.
The NBA Advanced Stats show that the best 4-man lineups do include Allen, which is encouraging. The lineup of LeVert, Mitchell, Allen, and Strus has an offensive rating of 123.6 and a net rating of +9.5. Replacing Strus with Dean Wade yields a net rating of +25.6 and a defensive rating of 97.5. Using either of these 4-player lineups and adding a 5th player might be the reason J.B. Bickerstaff gets paid the big bucks. Could the 5th player in a potential starting unit be a bench player who deserves some bigger minutes?
More CPJ, TT?
One thing that has been of constant criticism this season is Bickerstaff’s bench rotation. In most games, he has only called on 7 or 8 players with ample run to get the job done. But with Darius and Evan out for extended time, he might need to look down the bench a bit more. One player that the fans have been clamoring for is Craig Porter Jr. The undrafted rookie has made a splash early on in mid-November, highlighted by 21 points in a win against the NBA Champion Denver Nuggets. Since early December, he has not been featured much, but that could be due to Darius Garland’s resurgence or that he has a two-way contract where he can only play 50 games.
Another player that can step up with all the Cavs’ injuries is 13-year NBA veteran, Tristan Thompson (including his last playoff stint with the Los Angeles Lakers). With Mobley out, TT’s strong rebounding and rim-protecting will be key for this young team. Signed in the summer just to provide a veteran presence in the locker room, even the guys at the Ultimate Cleveland Sports show are surprised to see how much he is contributing. To be honest, the man is an NBA Champion and has done it at a high level for a long time. Now, the Cavaliers might need him to produce at that level while Mobley is out.
All in all, we will see if the Cavs will grow stronger from this adversity or descend into a dark place in the next couple of months.