Cleveland Cavaliers: 4 Thoughts After the All-Star Game
Good to see you all again!
And good to see you, J.B. Bickerstaff! We’re four games into the JBB Era of Cavs basketball, and it couldn’t be going better -- which says something, because much of this Cavs season couldn’t have gone much worse. Let’s look at a few facets as we head toward the finish line.
1. Things were clearly rocky in Cleveland, but you won’t find many hands in the air when you ask ‘who thought Beilein wouldn’t even make it through year one?’ I’m on the record as having been very pro-Beilein. He always got more out of his players than you thought they had to give -- his track record on player development is still unimpeachable, despite what happened this year -- and with such a young roster, it looked like he had the chance to do collegiate-level teaching with a team heavy on college-age kids. But ‘college-age’ is not ‘in college’ and he couldn’t bridge the gap. Just as Nick Saban found the pros not to his liking in football, Beilein’s particular brand of success was geared to the college fiefdom-style of leadership. Too bad, really, for all involved.
2. Except for maybe Kevin Porter Jr. Indisputably, a lot went wrong for the Cavs this year, but KPJ was not one of them. Now the Cavs obviously liked him enough to send four 2nd rounders and money to the Pistons for him, but not quite enough to snag him when they took Dylan Windler four picks earlier, so anyone in Cleveland who says they thought Porter would be this good, this soon, is blowing smoke. But gosh is he exciting! He’s averaged more minutes and more points per game every month, and just continues to grow into his game and his role on the team. Since the Cavs usually draft too high for a player to be a sleeper, it’s rare for the Cavs fan to feel like they got a steal in the draft -- far more often they’re prone to play the ‘how did we take Anthony Bennett over Giannis?’ game than not. Since the calendar switched over to 2020, he’s averaging 12.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, while hitting on 43.5% of his threes. If the draft was today, would he be a top 5 pick? Or just top 10?
3. Would he get picked before Darius Garland, who I’ve unequivocally been out on, but who has improved noticeably as the season has worn on as well? I probably bought into a little too much Garland hype, forgetting that he played just five games in college, and was out of shape and rusty to begin his pro career, so he effectively was bringing a high school game to the pros. That ain’t gonna fly for a little guy. But I can’t very well espouse the virtues of KPJ’s 12.6-3.2-2.1 2020 statline, and ignore Garland’s 13.8-1.7-5.2 over the same span. I think we’d all like to see a little more of the Curry-range he was supposed to bring, but if you’re looking for the future of the Cavs right now (the top of the draft is a little heavy on point guards, so you can’t rule out the Cavs taking another), a Garland/KPJ backcourt seems to have the most upside. I appreciate Colin Sexton’s ‘fall out of bed and score 20 points’ ability more than most, but that appears to be his sole ability. That’s great off the bench -- not as much when he’s supposed to drive the team. Hell, if Colin Sexton grows into Lou Williams, there are much worse things.
4. So that’s two long-term potential starters in one draft -- who knows if Windler will make three -- and one potentially by trade, because I like Andre Drummond. I know his skillset is on the outs right now, but the Cavs are having a little success zigging while everyone else zags. If Larry Nance Jr. was on the Rockets, he’d be an oversized ‘5’; on the Cavs, he’s a ‘3’ right now. They have more bigs than they can give playing time too, and they’re making it work anyways. Was Drummond redundant? Maybe for now, but if Tristan Thompson leaves in Free Agency, and Kevin Love gets his desired ticket out of town, Drummond will look really good picking up his player option. And you just can’t argue with him at that price. At the bodega down the block from me, they sometimes have a crate when you walk in: cans that were dropped during stocking and are all beat up -- is the carbonation all screwed up? Will it taste bad? It’s a 32oz Heineken tall-boy for a $1: find out for yourself. Cleveland’s drinking Heinekens all the way home.
I know they beat the Heat without Jimmy Butler, and the Sixers without Simmons (and for the most part Embiid), but you play who the other team puts out on the floor, and the Cavs have lost many bad games to many bad teams. Signs of life are welcome in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.