3News contributor Danny Cunningham offers his thoughts on what the Cavs need to do to qualify for the 2023 playoffs.
CLEVELAND— Editor’s Note: The video in the player at the top of this story was originally posted in a previous Locked On Cavs podcast on May 17, 2022.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the surprises of the 2021-22 season. The team has been an afterthought in the NBA since LeBron James left for Los Angeles via free agency – but that has changed this year. The Cavs were one of the best stories in the NBA and looked like a safe bet to make the playoffs until injuries torpedoed them on the stretch.
The Cavs ultimately finished seventh in the Eastern Conference at 44-38 that season and lost both of their qualifying games, becoming the first 44-win team to miss the Eastern Conference playoffs since the 1970-71 Boston Celtics. The Cavaliers were a team that clearly wasn’t quite ready for the big stage, but are only steps away from joining the ranks as a contender.
Here are three things the Cavs need to do to qualify for the playoffs next season.
A good piece on the wing
The biggest hole on Cleveland’s roster right now is unquestionably talent on the wing. This year, the team unveiled their three-big-giant lineup which featured Lauri Markkanen playing the small forward position despite his 7-foot height. It helped at times, but the Cavaliers had no defensive answers to follow when the opponent had an All-Star-caliber wing. It’s a glaring weakness for the Cavs, and looking at the current NBA landscape, it’s extremely difficult to win without a winger who can defend opposing wings at a high level or a winger who can terrorize opponents offensively. . Teams that remain in the NBA have both, and the Cavs currently have neither. Adding a small forward, who can become a starter and is able to shoot almost 40% from beyond the arc while playing on middle defense, is the most important thing that would take this team to the higher level.
RELATED: Cleveland Cavaliers Remain 14th Overall Pick After 2022 NBA Draft Lottery
Additional rooms in the rear area
One of the reasons for the team’s downfall this season was that the Cavs had trouble finding a usable backup point guard. Ricky Rubio was lost for the season with a torn ACL in December and his absence was notable as the season continued. The Cavs traded veteran guard Rajon Rondo after Rubio was injured, but he was in and out of the lineup with his own injuries and wasn’t always effective when playing. Maybe the Cavs will see that need go away if Collin Sexton returns and takes on a bench role, or maybe Caris LeVert can stay healthy and help out in that area as well. A combination of these two may be just good enough to do the trick. Having Darius Garland play as well as he did last season was a huge boost for the Cavs, but they struggled to look like an NBA team offensively when he wasn’t on the court. When Garland was on the floor, the Cavaliers averaged 113.6 points per 100 possessions. When he sat down, that number dropped to 103 points per 100 possessions. For reference, Oklahoma City finished with the worst offense in the NBA this year, scoring 103.8 points per 100 possessions. Finding a way to keep the offense afloat while Garland rests is a must for the Cavs.
RELATED: Kyrie Irving expresses regret over leaving Cleveland Cavaliers
Fathers Day and Ongoing Player Development
Last year, the Cavaliers selected Evan Mobley with the third overall pick in the draft, and they were instantly made to look like geniuses even though the pick was a no-brainer. Mobley was terrific as a rookie, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting and being unanimously named to the All-Rookie team. Mobley looks like the type of player who is going to make the Cavs a playoff team for years to come no matter what because of his quality. That, combined with Garland’s potential rise to an All-NBA-caliber point guard and Jarrett Allen’s continued play at the All-Star level, gives the Cavs the kind of top-notch talent they’ll need to be contenders.
RELATED: Cleveland Cavaliers PF Evan Mobley is a unanimous NBA All-Rookie selection