The Cleveland Cavaliers took a leap last season, and they’re hoping to take an even bigger one in their 2022-2023 campaign.
The Cavs finished with the eight-best record in the Eastern Conference last season. They lost both of their play-in games, but it was still the young squad’s best result since LeBron James left the franchise in 2018.
They entered the 2022 offseason with a lot of question marks, though they’ve managed to check a lot of the boxes they needed to.
Now, with the 2022 NBA Draft and a significant chunk of free agency over, the question is whether the Cavaliers have done enough to move up the rungs, or are they more of the same?
When the Cavs picked Ochai Agbaji with the 14th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, along with Khalifa Diop at No. 39, Isaiah Mobley at No. 49, and Luke Travers at No. 56, they crossed off a key item on their list. They drafted rookies with great potential. The Cavaliers can also stash Diop and Travers overseas as they grow. Meanwhile, they can sign Mobley to a two-way deal since they don’t have enough roster space for four rookies.
The biggest accomplishment of the draft, however, was selecting Agbaji to fill a specific need in shooting. It’s also a big change from Cleveland’s usual draft strategy. This time around, the Cavs selected a more mature player to complement their lineup.
They also did well by retaining Darius Garland. He was one of three 2019 rookie class players to get max-level deals, along with Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. He definitely earned it after a breakout season that featured an All-Star appearance for the 22-year-old. Garland was frequently the lone dependable playmaker in the rotation last season, and now it seems he has more support around him.
Breaking: Darius Garland has agreed on a five-year, $193M maximum designated rookie contract extension with Cleveland that could be worth as much as $231M, his agent Rich Paul told @wojespn.
It is the largest deal in Cavs franchise history. pic.twitter.com/6op9XY4Jqf
— ESPN (@espn) July 2, 2022
The Cavs deserve praise for realizing how valuable Garland is and for taking action to ensure that there is depth on the roster even if Garland is on the bench. Keep in mind that Cleveland’s net rating dropped by 13.9 points for every 100 possessions whenever Garland sits.
By extending Caris LeVert and re-signing Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers have double-down on maximizing their current roster. That’s also a vote of confidence in Garland’s status as the franchise’s leader.
Re-upping on Ricky Rubio was also a good move. He left a lasting impact as a leader on and off the court last season before getting traded. Consequently, the Cavaliers signed him to a three-year contract. The caveat is Rubio’s torn ACL from the previous season may prevent him from contributing until halfway through the campaign. It was a good thing, then that the team acquired Raul Neto as a solid backup PG. Neto should hold down the second unit without any problems.
Despite all those positives, however, the Cavs are not yet a top-four team in the Eastern Conference. At this point and when fully healthy, the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, and even the Miami Heat are still ahead of them on any tier list.
What do the Cavaliers still need to address to close the gap? Let’s see.
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2 biggest needs Cavs must address to become contenders
2. Two-way wings
The most sought-after position group in the league is undoubtedly the wings. The quartet of Sexton, Agbaji, LeVert, and Isaac Okoro is solid, but they remain underdogs when ranged against the likes of Jaylen Brown, James Harden, Khris Middleton, and Jimmy Butler.
They should all be able to hang their hats on offense, but the Cavaliers really need a top-level two-way wingman. Agbaji does have potential, but there’s a ceiling for him at year one in the league.
The @cavs' No. 14 overall pick Ochai Agbaji (@youngoch) talks about what he'll bring to The Land.
2022 #NBADraft presented by State Farm on ESPN and ABC. pic.twitter.com/wQJYr1oBVv
— NBA (@NBA) June 24, 2022
1. 3-point specialists
Speaking of Agbaji, he also kinda fills in the team’s other need, which is to have more 3-point specialists.
During his senior year in the NCAA, Agbaji averaged 18.8 points per game while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc. He was known as the ultimate catch-and-shoot player for the Jayhawks because of his smooth, clean shot. On a Cavaliers team where Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen will attract much of the defense, a guy like Agbaji can have a ton of shooting opportunities.
He is also more of a polished product compared to other rookies, having finished four seasons in Kansas. At 6’5, he’s perfect for a shooting guard in the NBA, but his skill-set also makes him viable to play SF. He will be undersized, though.
Despite having Agbaji, the Cavaliers would still stand to benefit from having more reliable catch-and-shoot guys. Most elite NBA teams have at least two such guys on their rosters. The Cavaliers maybe need one more to tandem with Agbaji if they want to move up and really challenge in the postseason.