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Getting the Bigs Back Together

by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Getting the Bigs Back Together

Cavs Frontline Could Get a Boost

We’ve written a lot about the youth of the Cavaliers dynamic starting frontcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. And the squad’s 20-year-old blue-collar rookie, Isaac Okoro, sure looks like he’s blossoming after his baptism-by-fire freshman campaign.

But now that we’ve gotten a decent look at Isaiah Hartenstein – (don’t lie; you guys didn’t know much about Isaiah Hartenstein before) – how interested are you to see him and Cleveland’s other 22-year-old big, Jarrett Allen, working the middle for the rest of the year?

The 2020-21 season began with two veteran big men with exactly 1300 regular season games and 66 Playoff games of experience – Andre Drummond and JaVale McGee. Both have moved to the Western Conference, and the Wine & Gold’s youth movement has gone big.

(While both Allen and Hartenstein are just 22, they’ve seen some considerable NBA action. Allen’s played in 275 career games, regular season and Playoffs; Hartenstein, 90.)

Allen has missed the previous eight games with a concussion suffered in a March 26 meeting with the Lakers, but could be close to returning to the lineup soon. Both he and Larry Nance Jr. – who’s missed the last seven with an illness – practiced with the team on Tuesday before it left for a Wednesday night meeting in Charlotte.

In terms of baptism-by-fire, Hartenstein got thrown right into the mix after being acquired from the Nuggets at the Deadline (along with a pair of second rounders in exchange for McGee).

Jarrett Allen, who hasn't played since March 26, could make his way back into the lineup soon.

David Liam Kyle via NBAE/Getty Images

In Hartenstein’s first game as a Cavalier, he started at the end of a road trip in Utah against the league’s best squad – and came in ready to rumble, leading the squad in both rebounds (14) and assists (7), adding five points and a block. In his next game, he notched double-figure scoring with 12 points, and two games later, went 7-of-8 from the floor and doubled-up with 16 points and 12 boards.

Through his first seven games with Cleveland, the 43rd pick back in 2017 has averaged 10.3 points, shooting an even 60 percent from the floor, including 40 percent from deep, to go with 8.9 boards and 3.4 assists.

The Oregon native has proven to be an above-average passer and has at least one blocked shot in every game – including last Saturday night, when he swatted four shots and led Cleveland with three steals. In an otherwise dismal night, he even had a positive +/- number: +1.

The Cavaliers are looking forward to getting Allen back in general, but also to see how he’ll mesh with Hartenstein. The two have yet to share the floor as teammates. (Kevin Love and Allen have barely played together as well.)

”I’m excited (to play with Allen),” said Hartenstein, following practice on Wednesday. “It’s another great dude. We’re both the same age. I think both of us bring different stuff to the game. So, I think just in general we can feed off that. I’m excited to have another good player out there and I’m excited for what the future holds for us.”

J.B. Bickerstaff has toiled all season to field a healthy lineup, but he’s getting closer as the squad enters into its final 19 games. Count the Cavs coach as one of the many looking forward to see how his 22-year-old seven-footers progress down the stretch.

"We’ve got talent, we’ve got veterans mixed with young guys. We’ve got experienced young guys. And that’s why I’m excited. There’s a lot of versatility there and you can do a ton of different things."

”I feel good about (the pair),” said Bickerstaff. “I think both of them have proven that they can be impactful in games, and we’ve yet to see them ping-pong off of one another, and how that dynamic changes. You think about Jarrett’s ability to put pressure on the rim and vertical space as well as defend. And you think about Isaiah’s ability to play on the perimeter and make those passes, your team can be hard to guard because teams have to adjust to those two guys.

”So, we’re looking forward to getting them out there and getting the opportunity to see what that looks like. But I’m extremely pleased with both of those guys and what they’ve done so far.”

The Cavaliers frontline has been a work in progress literally all season long for Bickerstaff.

Kevin Love was injured in the third game of the year before returning full-time six games ago. Andre Drummond played his last game as a Cavalier on February 12 and JaVale McGee was dealt to Denver two weeks later. Injuries and illness have restricted Nance Jr. to just 29 games this season.

Allen arrived in a trade with Brooklyn in late January and he’s been tremendous in 32 games as a Cavalier – averaging 13.8 points, 9.7 boards and 1.7 blocks, shooting .623 from the floor with 14 double-doubles.

The Cavaliers play three of the next four on the road – facing Charlotte and Chicago twice each over the next six games – and at some point during that stretch, the squad could be as whole along the frontline as they’ve been all year.

As we get a better look at what a healthy young Cavaliers club could become in the future, the rest of the 2020-21 campaign could get very interesting.

”I feel like we’ve got a good group – we’ve got talent, we’ve got veterans mixed with young guys. We’ve got experienced young guys. And that’s why I’m excited. There’s a lot of versatility there and you can do a ton of different things. And (the big man group) could all technically play together. So, we just have to figure out a way to divvy up those minutes. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Hartenstein, who also hasn’t yet suited up alongside Nance, agrees.

”I’m definitely looking forward to it,” said the fourth-year man. “Today I played a little bit with Larry (Nance Jr.), and with his passing ability and my passing ability – along with Delly – I just think we have a lot of guys that can really just play the game, a lot of guys that can feed off each other, a lot of guys that can just play basketball. I’m excited for that.”

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