The 2021-22 season featured many individual leaps from Cavaliers players and one giant leap for Cavs-kind.
The team was projected to draft in the top five yet again, well on its way to another sub-.500 season.
But rather than hanging with the Pistons, Magic, and Pacers, the Cavaliers instead found company among the East’s elite, at least for the first half of the season.
By season’s end, they were good enough for a spot in the play-in tournament, a nice pat on the back for a feel-good season.
Darius Garland took a huge step forward, essentially ending any questions about his long-term fit on the team.
And let’s be honest, there were questions about his ability to lead a winning team.
A full season of Jarrett Allen also did wonders for the squad, as he helped lead a defensive juggernaut.
And next season, the team should set its sights on continuing to ascend the East’s pecking order.
The Bucks have proved to be beatable, although, with the NBA’s best player in Giannis Antetoukounmpo, they should never be counted out.
The Heat are aging, the Sixers are in a state of mild disarray, and ditto for the Nets.
Boston looks the part of a strong, young team.
Cleveland can look around and find excuses to continue rebuilding for another season.
But it can also look around and decide now is as good a time as any to claw its way back into relevance.
In order to become even more competitive in the East, the Cavs will need big leaps from the following two players:
1. Evan Mobley
Once upon a time, Evan Mobley seemed destined for Rookie of the Year honors.
He came out of the gate red hot, earning the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for October/November.
An injury down the stretch derailed his campaign as the NBA’s best freshman, as well as the Cavs’ hopes for an extended playoff push.
That is to say, Mobley is as good a proxy as any for his team’s respective chances.
When Mobley played, the Cavaliers were a strong 40-29.
Without Mobley, the team was a mere 4-9.
What other player matters this much to his team?
The Sixers were atrocious without Embiid, and it’s hard to imagine where the Heat and Mavs would be without their respective stars in Butler and Dončić.
Evan Mobley is just as important to Cleveland.
So a leap from him next season would be massive to the team’s future.
It’s hard to imagine his defense improving, which is more a credit to the high level he already plays at.
Instead, the Cavs should expect Mobley to improve as a shooter, including increasing his volume of shots behind the arc.
Fortunately, Mobley is already back in the gym putting up shots.
Evan working 👀 pic.twitter.com/bPTUCyObG0
— Cavaliers Nation (@WeAreCavsNation) May 15, 2022
If Mobley can develop a reliable (or even mildly threatening) three-pointer, he will have taken a substantial leap forward.
2. Isaac Okoro
While Mobley’s Cavaliers career has been full of excitement and pay-off, another former lottery pick is still working to live up to the hype.
Isaac Okoro went fifth in the draft just two years ago.
For reference, Mobley was taken third the year after.
It is hard to fault the front office with the pick, Okoro filled a need at forward and, unless the team was willing to take a massive risk on Saddiq Bey or Precious Achiuwa (who weren’t taken until 19 and 20, respectively), Okoro was a faultless pick.
But Okoro has failed to develop much outside of a decent defensive game.
His shooting numbers ticked up down the stretch, however.
In February and March, for instance, Okoro hit on 44% of his threes.
Marcus Smart YR 2: 27.7 MIN, 9.1 PTS, 34.8 FG, 25.3 3P, 42.7 2P, 77 FT, 4.2 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.5 STL, 11.3 PER, 2.9 WS, 0.4 VORP, -1.0 BPM#Cavs Isaac Okoro YR 2: 29.6 MIN, 8.8 PTS, 48.0 FG, 35.0 3P, 55.5 2P, 76.8 FT, 3.0 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.8 STL, 10.4 PER, 4.2 WS, 0.1 VORP, -1.7 BPM
— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) May 20, 2022
That should be a sign of positive things to come next season from the Auburn product.
Further, a big step from Okoro would help give the Cavs more confidence to pursue a star running mate with Darius Garland.
It’s year three for the Cavs forward, and the kid gloves are coming off.
The team should encourage and expect a major offensive move from Okoro.