The Cavaliers X Factor For 2021-22 NBA Season, And It’s Not Darius Garland
The Cleveland Cavaliers are in full rebuild mode. The team from Ohio is looking to replicate their successes from the last decade, where they famously reached four NBA Finals in a row. However, that was mostly due to a roster centered around all-time great LeBron James and if this generation of Cavaliers players can replicate a percentage of that, the fans will be over the moon. In this specific post, we’re looking at the Cavaliers X Factor for the 2021-22 NBA season.
The front office centered around GM Koby Altman has done a respectable job of building for the future. The backcourt of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton is looking very promising, while center Evan Mobley was added through the draft. Free agency was also very active, with center Jarrett Allen signing a massive extension to keep him there for the next five years and with the trade that brought forward Lauri Markkanen from Chicago to the Quicken Loans Arena.
Fit will be somewhat of an issue, with the roster full of forwards and centers. The rotation on the guard spots will be tough to determine, but the potential is there. For the Cavaliers to succeed in the upcoming season, the coaching staff will need to make the most of the squad, but some of the players will need to take major steps forwards.
When the roster for next season was fully formed, the focus was mostly on the future stars in the backcourt, and with good reason. The Cavs spent lottery picks in 2019 and 2018 to have the guard spots set and colloquially known Sexland (combination of last names of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, respectively) has shown that chemistry should not be an issue going forward. However, for the Cavs to take major strides forward, the rest of the squad will need to improve and two names are at the top of the list when looking at X-Factors: Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen.
Staring with the rookie coming out of USC, Mobley is beaming with potential. His physical tools are outside of this world, as he is a prototype of a modern NBA center. He is seven feet tall and very mobile, which he has shown in college when chasing guards around the perimeter on switches. Obviously, the NBA is a different story, where guards are faster and trickier to deal with, but the potential to be a defensive rock, both inside and outside of the paint, is clearly visible.
His offensive game is still a work in progress, but he has shown flashes of an expanded range, shooting 12/40 for three in his only college season. Around the basket, he can finish with good efficiency, as he shot over 50% last season. He will need to improve his free throw shooting, only capitalizing on 69.4% of his attempts at the stripe, but working with NBA-level shooting coaches will give him an opportunity to flourish.
Overall, Mobley will need to impact the team right away on both ends of the floor if the Cavs are aiming for a return to the postseason. He will have some adjustment issues, especially coming from a team where he was the absolute leader and star, but with his physical tools and beaming potential, the Cavaliers have their frontcourt ready for the future.
One major thing he will need to do before the season starts is fill out his frame. He has long hands and is very tall, thus somewhat looking like Giannis Antetokounmpo when he came in the league, but 215 pounds is way too low, especially when considering that he will need to defend NBA centers.
On the other hand, Lauri Markkanen will need to use this season to show the world why the Bulls were all-in on him before. Unfortunately for the Finish prospect, he stagnated in the last two seasons and there is no definitive reason why. It is clear his play was hurt by the Bulls deciding to trade for center Nikola Vucevic, but there are no excuses anymore, now that he is in a new environment that clearly values him.
Markkanen has all the skills to be an NBA star. He is standing at seven feet tall with a sweet shooting stroke, shooting 36% for three for his career. Last season, albeit on a lesser role in the offense, he shot over 40% from behind the arc for the first time in his short career. There is a ton of potential here and it is somewhat confusing why the Bulls decided to let him go, but the Cavaliers must be very happy to include the forward in their long-term plans.
He will need to adjust to a bigger role in the offense again as he had in the first couple of seasons in the Windy City. Markkanen has the ability to be the first option, but he will most likely be behind Sexton in the offense pecking order. However, having the Finish big-man at his full capacity, waiting for passes from Garland and Sexton on the wings, sounds like a great thing for the future, especially paired up with Jarrett Allen or Evan Mobley in the frontcourt.
A lot of analysts do not believe that the Cavs will make the postseason this year, but there are signs that are pointing otherwise. The Eastern Conference is always more forgiving than the West and many teams in the past showed that it is possible to sneak in. For that to happen, the whole squad will need to assume a bigger role. However, while it is true that all of the players need to step up to the plate, it is clear that if Mobley hits the ground running and Markkanen balls out, as it is known he can, the Cavaliers have a much better chance.
One thing is for sure – this is a young and hungry roster. Guys like Markkanen, Mobley, Allen, even Sexton, and Garland will look to prove the doubters wrong and get the former NBA champions back where it feels like they belong, the Playoffs.