2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

It's another season of grooming and development for the Cavaliers' young prospects.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Can Collin Sexton and Darius Garland lead the Cavs together?

When last seen, the Cavaliers were … seeking stability for their young core. Coach John Beilein, whose college chops supposedly would translate well to young pros, alienated a number of players and was out in February. Replacement J.B. Bickerstaff slid over for 11 games until, oops!, virus shutdown. So what exactly was that? Flashes of promise, interspersed with horrible defense and too many setbacks. In other words, plenty of room for improvement, kids!

What’s New? Cleveland’s most notable acquisition came via the Draft, where it snagged 6-foot-6 Isaac Okoro out of Auburn. Considered the moment he was drafted to be the Cavaliers’ best defender on the wing, some wondered if that was enough to justify spending the No. 5 selection. But desperate times call for … you know. The Cavs ranked last in defensive field-goal percentage, near the bottom in steals, blocks and forcing turnovers, and got outscored by 7.9 points per game. Against that backdrop, Okoro — even as a rookie, who often get schooled individually by wily NBA scorers — can have an impact. Collin Sexton, Cleveland’s primary ballhandler, is a mirror opposite in some ways. He’s a gifted scorer whose passing and defense lag badly, which has a ripple effect in disrupting the offense. Kevin Love and Andre Drummond are expensive known quantities on the front line, not in sync with the rebuild.

What’s Missing: Bickerstaff was stressing effort and intangibles in the truncated training camp. Normally that’s the last refuge of a coach who’s searching, but this team is young and needs to absorb those qualities. Teamwork, unselfishness, consistency, accountability all were ingredients often missing from last year’s Cavs. Individually, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. have skilled but incomplete games in vying for minutes alongside Sexton. Though always-helpful Larry Nance Jr. might come off the bench, he could play a role as big as any teammate. Cedi Osman might shift to reserve status after two years starting.

Potential Starting Five

Collin Sexton | 20.8 PTS, 3.1 REB, 3.0 AST
Proven NBA scorer but still lacking as playmaker, defender.

Kevin Porter Jr. | 10.0 PTS, 3.2 REB, 2.2 AST
Legal trouble, late start puts pressure on early role.

Andre Drummond | 17.7 PTS, 15.2 REB, 2.7 AST
Big man opts back in with big numbers ($28.7 million salary).

Isaac Okoro | 12.9 PTS, 4.4 REB, 2.0 AST (NCAA)
Defensive difference maker for a roster in dire need of D.

Kevin Love | 17.6 PTS, 9.8 REB, 3.2 AST
Veteran offensive talent soldering on in rebuild.

Key Reserves

Larry Nance Jr. | 10.1 PTS, 7.3 REB, 2.2 AST
Overlooked contributor across board with trade value.

Cedi Osman | 11.0 PTS, 3.6 REB, 2.4 AST
Skill set and upside may make more sense off bench.

Darius Garland | 12.3 PPG, 1.9 REB, 3.9 AST
Lottery pick (No. 5) looked overmatched but raw ability clear.

Cleveland Cavaliers, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 19 46 0.292 106.9 26 114.8 30 -7.9 29
2018-19 19 63 0.232 106.8 25 116.8 30 -10.0 30
2017-18 50 32 0.610 112.0 5 111.1 29 +2.0 14
2016-17 51 31 0.622 112.8 3 109.7 21 +3.1 7
2015-16 57 25 0.695 110.2 3 103.9 10 +6.3 4

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Season Prediction

Cleveland’s assemblage of young guards and wings need reps, either to develop into the contributors they can become or to eliminate themselves from the long game. Its bigs can shoulder heavy loads, while showcasing themselves for possible relocations. Bickerstaff finally has a chance without the “interim” yoke around his neck, so he’s going to work as hard as any coach in the league. Add it together and the Cavs should be interesting, if not very victorious.

Predicted finish: 22-50

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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