Let’s take a stroll down memory lane for a moment, shall we?
October 5, 2021.
It was World Teacher’s Day.
It was National Kiss a Wrestler Day.
And it was a day in which the Cavaliers dropped their final preseason game to the Chicago Bulls.
An absolute rout.
The mood around the team was far from optimistic, and for good reason.
I’m ready for the “we fought till the end” tweets all season. pic.twitter.com/p0xv49lWx3
— ᴀᴘ | ᴄᴀᴠꜱ | B̶r̶o̶w̶n̶s̶ (@blackthorfinn) October 6, 2021
In the preseason, the team sported the fourth-worst win total over/under odds.
Let’s just say that sitting here today, this team took one giant leap for Cavs-kind.
Here are three players who took giant leaps this season, leaps that helped turbocharge this team’s rebuild.
One name you will not see on this list is Evan Mobley.
Don’t get me wrong, Mobley was a stud as a rookie, finishing above wire-to-wire top pick favorite Cade Cunningham in ROY voting.
But he was just that, a rookie.
And while the leap from college to the pros is indeed “giant,” this writer preferred going with players who elevated their NBA resume.
That, and the fact that Mobley was a top-three draft selection, so expectations were already high.
1. Jarrett Allen
Looking around the league, a new wave of centers are dominating.
The high usage center (Giannis Antetokounmpo).
The playmaker-ball handler center (Nikola Jokic).
The center who’s mid-range and three is just good enough that it keeps defenses honest (Joel Embiid).
Jarrett Allen isn’t any of that.
But the incredible thing is, he doesn’t need to be any of those, because what he does bring to the table is so effective.
Allen has always been a stalwart defender, but he took steps this offseason to work on his footwork (no pun intended), knowing that the Cavs’ defense would be much more switch-heavy.
But Allen also posted career-best offensive numbers.
His 18.0 points/night are the most of his seven-year career.
He made nearly 70% (68.8) of his shots inside the arc.
His 67.7% from the field tied a career-best.
And his chemistry with Darius Garland (spoiler) was undeniable.
2. Kevin Love
It was not long ago when Kevin Love’s career as a reliable NBA player, let alone a Cavs contributor, seemed in doubt.
Cavaliers' Kevin Love apologizes for lack of effort on inbounds pass: 'I never want that to be who I am'https://t.co/xNEpC7iIo9 pic.twitter.com/RmEhrhDfdJ
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) April 28, 2021
All season he looked the part of an aging has-been, his moods drifting between sulky and fear that his days as a relevant and meaningful contributor were long gone.
Love came back this season a new man; a revelation.
It’s not that he took a giant leap on the court, though his 187 made threes were strong and 39.2% from beyond the arc was his best since 2017-18.
He took a giant leap as a teammate.
Accepting a role as a bench-unit spark plug, he hustled, shot well, and was far from the team spirit-killer from the year before.
Love deserves a lot of credit for his shooting, but even more so for his growth as a veteran leader.
3. Darius Garland
There’s hardly a single offensive category that Garland didn’t have a career-best in this season.
He averaged four more points (21.7) and two-and-a-half more assists (8.6) than his previous high.
And, as already mentioned, his work with Allen was masterful.
The two accounted for the most at-rim assists than any other duo in the league, aside from Trae Young and John Collins/Clint Capela.
In Most Improved voting, the award that literally accounts for leaps like this, Garland finished third this season, behind Memphis’ Ja Morant and San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray.
Looking around the league, expect Garland to be part of a new generation of uber-talented floor generals who take the mantle from vets like Chris Paul and Damien Lilliard.
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