When you look at the starting lineup for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there is youth that spreads throughout the depth chart. Lauri Markkanen is the oldest member in the starting five at 24 years old. Everyone else ranges between the ages of 20 to 23. While the youth on the team is great for a squad trying to rebuild, can it translate to success in the regular season?
The Phoenix Suns featured a relatively young lineup before the likes of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder came to town. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges were all homegrown draft picks that developed into big-time contributions on the team’s rise to the NBA Finals last year. Outside of Markkanen and Jarrett Allen, both acquired via trade, three members were drafted by the team. Are the Cavs just a veteran or two from getting back to the NBA Finals?
Point Guard - Darius Garland
After an empty college experience at Vanderbilt, Garland has proved the last two seasons that he is an NBA-caliber point guard. In his rookie season, Garland averaged 12.3 points, 3.9 assists, and shot 40.1% from the field, including 35.5% from three-point range. The 21-year old stretched those totals to 17.4 points, 6.1 assists, 45.1% from the field, and 39.5% from three-point range the following season.
Garland is so beloved by the team that there are rumors that Collin Sexton could be traded this year. Sexton, originally drafted as a point guard, has moved to the two-guard position to allow Garland to play his natural position. In the end, Sexton is the better overall scorer, while Garland is the better playmaker. This will be Year 3 for Garland, and that is when we start to see the transition towards stardom if they have what it takes.
Shooting Guard - Collin Sexton
Every year, Sexton has shown improvement, which should make fans happy to see from the 22-year old. Sexton has the scoring abilities of a player such as De’Aaron Fox, witches should also frighten fans given how much money Fox is making for a poor Sacramento Kings team. Sexton went from averaging 16.7 points to 20.8 his sophomore year to 24.3 last season. His overall shooting has been over 40%, while his three-point shooting has hovered around 38%.
Despite moving to shooting guard, Sexton averaged a career-high 4.4 assists last year. The backcourt of Garland and Sexton has some real potential, but it all depends on what the Cavaliers want in the future. One of these two players has to make an All-Star Game soon to make the Cavaliers truly believe in this combination. Sexton has a shot next year if he can improve his scoring one more time.
Small Forward - Isaac Okoro
The 20-year old is a great value version of Mikal Bridges. The Suns’ small forward stands 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, while Okoro stands 6-foot-6 with a wingspan of 6-foot-7. Both players are not necessarily added to the team because of their shooting, but because they can provide a long athletic defense. What separates the likes of Bridges from Okoro is his three-point shooting.
Okoro virtually cannot hit anything from deep, exemplified by his 29.0% shooting from deep. Not to mention, his 9.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per game were also lackluster. Okoro played in 67 games last year. One would think his sophomore season will be better. It will have to be if the team wants to move with Okoro in the future.
Power Forward - Evan Mobley
If it didn’t already feel like the days for Kevin Love were numbered, then this certainly helped. Mobley was drafted as the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft after a stellar freshman season at USC. Mobley was once heralded as the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2020. As a freshman, he averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, and 2.4 assists. He was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Freshman of the Year.
With Mobley winning the trifecta, he became the first player to accomplish that feat since Anthony Davis in 2012. Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, Mobley has a lot to prove, but when your name floats around with Davis, then it certainly turns some heads. Assuming Mobley can become elite, the young backcourt could form an elite trio of youth moving forward.
Center - Jarrett Allen
Giving $20 million per year to a center that owns a career 20% three-point shooting percentage seems steep. Allen is no more than a traditional center that feels out of place given today’s advancements in the game. With that said, the Suns are our model, right? In 51 games, Allen averaged 13.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks with the Cavs. In comparison to Deandre Ayton, Allen finished just one win short in defensive win shares.
Allen may not be as talented as Ayton, who is a former No. 1 overall pick. With that said, Allen averaged a double-double for the first time in his career last year. He has a huge upside which gives fans optimism that this could work.
Ricky Rubio, Damyean Dotson, Cedi Osman, Dylan Windler, Lauri Markkanen, Lamar Stevens, Dean Wade, Kevin Love, Mfiondu Kabengele, Tacko Fall
Markkanen is going to be an interesting fit for this team. Bulls fans were happy to get something back in return for Markkanen as he was not part of their long-term plans. With that said, it’s surprising that the Cavaliers were open to parting with a first-round pick to sign and trade for his services. Markkanen hasn’t shown much over the last two years besides shooting 40% from three-point range last year.
Granted, he is two years removed from a season that saw him average 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and shoot 36.1% from three. Then, Jim Boylan came along and everything fell apart, while last year he lost his role with Billy Donovan. Maybe, a fresh start is exactly what Markkanen needs. The upside is there, but the money is concerning if he reverts to the average play that sent him to the bench last year in Chicago
Adding Ricky Rubio was an underrated addition. If you didn’t watch him in the Olympics, you missed out because he displayed highly impressive playmaking skills. Cedi Osman remains an effective backup in this league, while the rest of the bench are names that are looking to make a name for themselves. Except for Tacko Fall. Who doesn’t want to see Fall emerge late in the game?
Remaining One Veteran Away From Competing
Easily, the biggest question mark is what to do with Evan Mobley? Kevin Love is still on this team for now. Despite his name being listed on the bench, Love was a former All-Star in this league that could contribute to a contender right away if a team was willing to take his hefty salary. Love is also a buyout candidate, but we have heard little about what is going to transpire with that. Assuming Love stays, you have Love, Allen, Markkanen, and Mobley altogether.
That just seems like too much to fill the space. For now, we can assume that Mobley and Allen will share playing time at the center, or power forward and center. With that said, the Cavaliers have an interesting proposition with moving Markkanen to small forward to allow Mobley and Allen to be on the court together. Markkanen is a substantially better shooter than Okoro, which could open things up more.
However, it likely will not be enough. Sorry to break your hearts Cleveland, but this is still not a playoff team. We see this all the time. A roster is filled with young talent with so much potential, but it always falls short. Think about the last few years. The Memphis Grizzlies remain on the outside, which is why they traded for some veterans. The Suns were on the outside, so they signed Chris Paul and Jae Crowder. The Chicago Bulls made moves for Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucecevic.
When you are rebuilding, you want young pieces to build your core. However, you don’t want the entire core to be young. This team lacks veterans, especially when three of the starters are 22 or younger. The last time we saw a young team in their lower 20s make a deep playoff run was the 2012 OKC Thunder. To be frank, there isn’t a single player resembling Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or James Harden on this team.
Love is not a true veteran you can count on anymore. Rubio is nothing more than a journeyman that plays well on bad teams. Some of these players need playmakers. Assuming the Cavaliers can prove they are close to the hump with this young core, maybe it will entice a free agent to come to town.
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