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2023-24 NBA Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

Are the Cleveland Cavaliers Eastern Conference contenders? Check out our thoughts in our NBA Teams preview below! (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 NBA Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

Training camp for the 2023-24 NBA season is officially here! Up until opening night on Oct. 24, we will be previewing all 30 NBA teams! Today, to begin the series, we will be previewing the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference last season!

What happened last year?

Mere weeks ahead of training camp last September, the Cleveland Cavaliers swung for the fences by acquiring former Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell in exchange for Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, then-rookie Ochai Agbaji and draft capital. Mitchell was a pretty seamless fit, vaulting Cleveland from a higher-end play-in team to the brink of Eastern Conference contention.

They finished 2022-23 with the league’s best defense and the 8th-best offense, winning 50-plus games for the first time since LeBron James departed after 2017-18. Though the Cavs couldn’t get over their shooting and defensive struggles, however, against the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. They got bounced in five games, but Evan Mobley’s sophomore leap and Darius Garland’s continued development as a lead playmaker alongside Mitchell were prominent developments for the Cavs last season.

Offseason recap:

After finishing the season in the bottom half in 3-point rate and 3-point attempts per 100 possessions, the Cavaliers did a good job addressing their need for long-distance shooting this offseason. They plucked Max Strus from the reigning East champion Heat on a four-year, $63 million in a three-team sign and trade involving the San Antonio Spurs; they also nabbed Georges Niang from the Philadelphia 76ers. They did lose wings Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens in the three-team sign-and-trade, but I believe the Cavaliers better improved their depth around the dynamic Garland-Mitchell-Mobley-Allen quartet.

Projected Starting Five?

Darius Garland, G — Garland’s numbers were eerily similar to that of 2021-22. Garland averaged 21.6 points and 7.8 assists on 46.2/41.0/86.3 shooting (58.7 TS%), forming a good partnership with Mitchell in their first season sharing a backcourt.

Donovan Mitchell, G — Mitchell posted a career-best 28.3 points on 48.4 percent shooting, including 38.6 percent from 3-point range in his first season in Cleveland. His future beyond this season is up in the air, but the 27-year-old is in the thick of his prime and is in line for another All-NBA season this year.

Max Strus, G/F — As I mentioned above, Strus was one of two names brought in this offseason to help with Cleveland’s plagued 3-point shooting struggles. Strus shot 35.0 percent from long distance on 7.0 triple tries per game last year–six percentage points lower than his 41.0 percent from deep (6.5 attempts) in 2021-22. If Strus can be more consistent with Cleveland, it will be seen as a solid return on investment from the $63 million they paid him.

Evan Mobley, F — Mobley (and Allen) rightfully struggled to hold their own against the New York Knicks, but the 22-year-old still had a very good sophomore season. He averaged 16.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and rejected 1.5 shots on their back-line. Mobley will need to improve his screening and physicality–which will come with time, as he improves his frame–but I’m intrigued to see how he continues to add to his arsenal in his third season.

Jarrett Allen, C — Allen was a very good vertical threat for both Mitchell and Garland, one of the best playmakers in basketball. He posted 14.3 points and 9.8 rebounds, but will need to do a better job on the defensive glass this season.

Notable Reserves:

Isaac Okoro, F — Okoro is still a shaky 3-point shooter, but improved to a career-best 36.3 percent from deep, albeit on 2.3 attempts per game. He’s still a solid wing defender that can provide complementary defense next to Garland/Mitchell, but must continue to improve his spacing as he enters his fourth season.

Georges Niang, F — Niang, perhaps the most consistent catch-and-shoot threat on the Cavs’ roster as it stands, is the second shooter they brought in this offseason, coming over from Philly. He averaged 8.2 points on 40.1 percent 3-point shooting last season and is a career 40.3 3-point shooter in the NBA across seven seasons–never dipping below 40 percent (min. 15 3PA) in a single season. Expect him to carve out a 15-20 mpg role off the bench.

Biggest X-Factor? Cavs frontcourt

The Cavaliers couldn’t engineer anything offensively against the Knicks, and the problems emasculated themselves when the Knicks were corraling and converting on second and third possessions. It was arguably the biggest question heading into the series. While they added to their shooting, the Cavs did not make substantial improvements in their already-thin frontcourt this offseason, so the growth from both Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen–both individually and collectively–would hypothetically be the biggest reason why they get over the hump (if they can make shots).

Season projection?

I currently peg the Cavaliers going 54-28 with the third-best record in the East.

***

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