The Cleveland Cavaliers blew past most expectations during the 2022-23 season. The Cavs won 50 games and, by most metrics, rating as one of the best teams in the entire NBA. Trading for Donovan Mitchell was certainly worth it, even if it cost them Lauri Markkanen, a player who blossomed into an All-Star with the Utah Jazz.
However, the Cavs underperformed during the playoffs. Despite having two of the most imposing interior presences in the NBA in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, the New York Knicks ended up outmuscling the Cavs on the interior on both ends of the floor. As a result, the higher-seeded Cavs bowed out to the Knicks in five games.
Given the Cavs roster’s overall playoff inexperience, underperforming to that degree shouldn’t necessitate some drastic moves from the front office. And the front office’s moves in free agency certainly evoke the sense that they maintain belief in the current core’s ability to, perhaps, mount a deep playoff run next year.
Adding Max Strus and Georges Niang gives the Cavs two lethal marksmen from deep who could fill in minutes at the 3 — the team’s most glaring weakness.
However, given how the Cavs’ playoff run ended, it’s fair to wonder whether a certain move or two could be in the cards for them to better balance out the roster.
Here is the situation the Cavs may still need to address even after the dust has settled on the first weekend of free agency.
Cavs’ biggest need: Figuring out the Jarrett Allen/Evan Mobley situation
For most of the regular season, the Cavs dominated the opposition in the paint thanks to the long-armed frontcourt duo of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Mobley is an incredible defensive force. He has quick feet, allowing him to cover spread pick-and-rolls with ease. Standing at 7’0 with a 7’4 wingspan, Mobley is also an incredible help defender, as his ability to react on the defensive end as well as his timing when rising up for blocks is impeccable.
On the backline, Allen helps cushion the Cavs’ defense even further. Allen is an expert at going straight up when deterring would-be scorers at the rim, while his ability to haul in rebounds is crucial in ending possessions. The Allen-Mobley frontcourt duo helped propel the Cavs to the best defense in the association — and the second-best net rating, behind only the Boston Celtics.
Defense is not the problem with those two, that’s for sure. It’s on offense where the two’s fit is a bit more clunky than the Cavs would hope.
Jarrett Allen began his career attempting the occasional triple with the Brooklyn Nets, but now, he is a rim-runner first and foremost. Allen shot 10 percent from deep last year, so any hope of him developing an outside shot appears to be out of the question.
Evan Mobley’s three-point shooting, however, is certainly a more interesting thing to watch out for, since he’s the Cavs’ nominal power forward in their best lineups. But through two seasons, Mobley has shot 23.2 percent from three — mostly on wide-open attempts. (He shot 22.8 percent on one wide open three per game during the 2022-23 regular season, according to NBA.com).
Relying on the inconsistent Isaac Okoro and the streaky Caris LeVert did not help matters at all for the Cavs when the going got rough against the Knicks. Perhaps playing Max Strus and Georges Niang — two players who breathe fire from deep — would help.
In fact, Strus, as a shooter who thrives off movement, could unlock a different part of Evan Mobley’s game, allowing him to become a dribble handoff hub and, in turn, minimizing the adverse impact of his inability to space the floor similar to how the Golden State Warriors utilize Draymond Green.
But it’s a disservice to utilize Mobley — a man who shot 77.6 percent from the restricted area last season — as a Draymond Green clone given how much more dangerous he is as a scorer than the Warriors forward. There’s also a possibility that the Cavs, in trying to make the Mobley-Allen pairing work, end up clipping the 22-year old big man’s wings.
Knowing how dangerous of a scoring threat Evan Mobley is in the paint, it’s not too difficult to imagine him becoming a 20-10 threat — maybe even a 24-12 interior beast — if the Cavs free up the center spot for him. In turn, the Cavs could start four players who could space the floor, making them more impervious against teams that pack the paint in the postseason, like the Knicks did against them.
This is not to say that trading away Jarrett Allen is a pressing order of business for the Cavs. They are an excellent team with Allen in town anyway. But if the team is serious about contending for a championship, they may have to make some difficult decisions sooner or later.