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Are The Cavaliers Now A Playoff Lock In The East?


President of basketball operations Koby Altman of the Cleveland Cavaliers laughs during a press conference introducing Donovan Mitchell at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on September 14, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers have some real excitement for the first time since LeBron James left.

A relatively quiet offseason got a jolt on September 1st when they traded for Donovan Mitchell.

Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, three unprotected first-round picks in 2025, 2027, and 2029, and two first-round pick swaps in 2026 and 2028 were sent to the Utah Jazz in return for the three-time All-Star guard.

The blockbuster trade comes after a disappointing end to the 2021-22 season for the Cavaliers.

Consecutive play-in-game losses followed up an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

But it was a step in the right direction for a team that failed to win more than 25 games in three straight seasons.

With a superstar acquisition comes higher expectations.

An eighth-place finish and play-in appearance would be a disappointment with Mitchell now in tow.

Even in a strong Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers should be a lock for a playoff spot.

 

A Look at the Cavaliers’ Roster

Cleveland sent out three players in the trade for Mitchell.

Markkanen was a full-time starter for the Cavaliers last season, averaging 30.8 minutes across 61 games.

Sexton was also a full-time starter but only appeared in 11 games before a torn meniscus ended his season.

Agbaji was Cleveland’s first-round pick in this year’s draft.

When looking at the Cavaliers from last season, they are only losing one regular rotation player from a team that won 44 games.

But they are adding one of the most dynamic offensive guards in the NBA.

Four of the five starting spots are set in stone – Darius Garland, Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen.

Lineups featuring Garland, Mobley, and Allen last season were effective.

Across 1,514 possessions, they recorded a +7.1 differential, a number good for the 87th percentile in the NBA.

And the main problem in those lineups was scoring the ball.

The 111.6 points-per-100-possessions they averaged was in the 44th percentile league-wide.

Those three will now be joined by Mitchell, who just averaged 25.9 points per game.

Cleveland’s “Core Four” will be joined by the likes of Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and Robin Lopez.

Mobley and Allen will help mask any point-of-attack issues the Cavaliers have on the defensive end.

Mitchell and Garland will help power what should be a much-improved offense.

Cleveland should have a strong starting five but may need to add some bench depth near the trade deadline.

 

Eastern Conference Competition

As mentioned previously, the Eastern Conference is fairly deep this upcoming season.

The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Miami Heat are heavyweights at the top with real title aspirations.

While they may be a question at the moment, the Brooklyn Nets could quickly join those four if those questions are answered.

After those five, the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, and Atlanta Hawks will all be competing with the Cavaliers for that sixth automatic playoff spot.

Toronto did not make any splash additions this offseason but also did not lose much from last year’s 48-win squad.

The Bulls will be hoping for better health for Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball to improve on their 46-win campaign.

And the Hawks will be looking at Dejounte Murray to elevate one of the league’s worst defenses a season ago.

But the Cavaliers should be able to earn the nod.

Markkanen is the only rotation member not returning from last season.

Cleveland allowed the fifth-fewest points per game to opponents and should remain in that range assuming Mobley and Allen continue to improve.

While Mitchell should be able to elevate the 25th-ranked offense from a season ago.

Between the Raptors, Bulls, Hawks, and Cavaliers, Cleveland should have the best two-way balance.

The Cavaliers will break their four-year playoff drought.



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