Before the 2021-22 National Basketball Association season began, Vegas Insider listed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ final projected win total at 26.5 victories. With the team’s preseason expectations in mind, it was a stunning moment for the basketball world to see the Cavs finish the regular season with a 44-38 record and part of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.
But watching the Cavaliers’ season end with a 107-101 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the second game of the play-in tournament, one game away from the NBA playoffs, left a foul taste in the mouth of most Cleveland fans. Despite ultimately falling short of a playoff berth, the Cavaliers have set a foundation for future success.
The Cavaliers saw success in the 2021-22 season from three of their core players, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and rookie Evan Mobley.
As Garland entered his third season with the Cavaliers, many expected him to take a leap and become more solid at the starting point guard position. Garland exceeded that expectation as he averaged 21.7 points per game and 8.6 assists per game as he led the Cavs’ offense and was named an Eastern Conference all-star for the first time in his career.
In his first full season with the Cavaliers after being traded from the Brooklyn Nets during the 2020-21 season, Allen had a career year as well. Allen averaged 16.1 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game, both of which were career highs for the 23-year-old as he also made his first all-star appearance.
The Cavaliers also saw great things from their rookie Evan Mobley who the team selected third overall in the 2021 NBA Draft out of the University of Southern California. Mobley averaged 15.0 points per game, but the most intrigue in the young prospect was placed in his defensive abilities. Mobley could use his length and athleticism to block shots while also showing enough agility to guard smaller players outside the three-point-line despite his 6’11” frame.
With Garland, Mobley, and Allen, the Cavaliers have a trio of future all-stars. The big question facing Cavs general manager Koby Altman and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff as they head into the offseason is how they will supplement their young talent.
The Cavaliers must look to fill the gaps on their roster with either high-potential young players or veterans still in the primes of their careers.
The Cavaliers were a dominant offensive force early in the season when their bench unit was being led by 31-year-old Ricky Rubio and 33-year-old Kevin Love. Rubio suffered a season-ending knee injury in late December and the Cavaliers were never truly the same team. Cleveland tried to fill the void left by Rubio with another veteran point guard, Rajon Rondo, but his impact was nowhere near as significant as the impact of Rubio.
If the Cavaliers want to continue improving, Altman must find more veterans like Rubio and Love to help guide their young teammates.
The Cavs also must continue looking for young talent. Collin Sexton, Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2018, missed most of the 2021-22 season with a knee injury after averaging 24.3-points-per-game the year prior. If Sexton can return to his pre-injury level of play, he could be a key player for the Cavaliers.
Another silver lining for Cleveland as they head into the offseason is that they will get to make a lottery selection in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Cavaliers’ 2022 first-round pick was sent in a trade to the Indiana Pacers for guard Caris LeVert. But wisely, the Cavaliers placed lottery protection on the pick, meaning that since the Cavs missed the playoffs, they will get to make their selection. If the Cavaliers can find another player in the draft who benefits from their nightly rotation, it could help them make a playoff push in the future.
While the Cavaliers’ 2021-22 season ended in disappointment, there are reasons to believe that playoff basketball is not far away in the city of Cleveland. If Garland, Allen, and Mobley continue to improve and the Cavaliers can add solid players around them, Cleveland could be NBA contenders soon.