Most NBA rebuilds start, and end, with the young stars a team adds through multiple years of taking high spots in the NBA Draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are no different.
Though it was former Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell who took a leading role for Cleveland last year, guard Darius Garland and forward Evan Mobley showed plenty of signs of becoming impactful young stars for the Cavaliers during the 2022-23 season. Garland nearly matched his production from his All-Star season the year before despite sharing the backcourt with Mitchell. Mobley was a finalist for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, joining Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez.
If there was any time for the Cavaliers to prove they could roll with the best of them, it would be next season.
Mitchell, Garland and center Jarrett Allen will be under contract for at least the next few seasons, according to sports salaries and contracts website Spotrac. Mitchell will have a player option in the 2025-26 season. With a handful of new additions to complement the team’s big four, the 2023-24 season will be a defining one for the blossoming Cavaliers.
The team addressed its need for extra shooting with the sign-and-trade for guard Max Strus and the signings of forward Georges Niang and guard Ty Jerome. Niang finished last season with a 40.1% clip from the 3-point line on 4.9 attempts per game. The Cavs brought in extra options at the five with the trade for center Damian Jones and the signing of center Tristan Thompson.
“I was really excited about our core and our youth,” Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said in a July media availability, via The Elyria Chronicle-Telegram Cavaliers beat writer Bob Finnan. “Now is the time to really complement those pieces with some shooting and spacing.
“I’m really, really happy with our acquisitions. That was a big thing, (they were) targeted and intentional to put around our core four, if you will. It’s some dynamic shooting in Max Strus, Georges Niang and Ty Jerome. They really add to our offense in a dynamic way. We wanted to diversify our offense.”
How much further can the former top-5 draft picks grow during the 2023-24 season?
Mobley, a former All-Rookie First Team selection, showed improvement on both sides of the floor during his second season in the NBA. He took third place on Cleveland’s roster in points per game with 16.2 points per game and second place with nine rebounds per contest. The 22-year-old forward and Allen combined for 2.7 blocks per game during last year’s regular season, playing key roles in building a defense that took first place in the NBA in defensive rating and third in opponent points in the paint.
“The Cavs have plans to use Evan Mobley as an offensive hub,” Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor wrote in July. “Will he be ready? That’s the best way for him to make that famous third-year leap.
“The Cavs expect it to happen. They need it if they are going to take another step forward.”
Evan Mobley ended the 2022-23 season with a usage percentage, or “the percentage of team plays used by a player when they are on the floor,” of 19.9%, according to NBA.com. The figure put him just under Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann, who all recorded percentages of 20%. His usage rating dipped to 15.6% in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Having Evan Mobley become an “offensive hub” for the Cavs, especially with their talented new additions and their need for extra scoring, would help Cleveland take the next step in its quest for its first Larry O’Brien Trophy since 2016.
Garland, the former No. 5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, must also continue to take noticeable strides next season for the Cavs to solidify themselves as one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.
It didn’t take long for Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to notice Garland’s ability to dissect the game at a high level last year.
“Darius is really good, first and foremost,” Bickerstaff said in January, via The Athletic. “He understands when his time is and when it’s time to call his number, when it’s time to get other guys involved. And he’s dissecting the game in front of him more instead of just going out and letting his talent take over.
“He’s being cerebral, and he’s thinking the game at a higher level this year, for sure.”
Darius Garland finished the year with a career-high assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7. The former Commodores guard dished 10 or more assists 18 times last year, including the 14 assists he recorded during a January loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. He notched 10 assists during Game 4 of Cleveland’s 2023 NBA playoff series against the New York Knicks.
The 23-year-old guard and Mitchell already proved to be essential parts of the Cavs’ offense during the 2022-23 season. Darius Garland must improve his defense and further build upon his ability to score, shoot and distribute for Cleveland to take its next step forward to championship contention.