It is pretty fair to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers surpassed expectations this season, even if their year ended in disappointing fashion in the play-in tournament.
Last summer, most felt they would not even come close to making the playoffs, given how young they were and some of the holes in their roster.
But now, the Cavs can look forward to a relatively bright future.
Head coach J. B. Bickerstaff, the son of longtime National Basketball Association coach Bernie Bickerstaff, did a pretty good job this season of molding a green and imperfect squad into one that was very competitive.
But like any coach, his performance this season wasn’t perfect.
Bickerstaff Got His Team To Overachieve
Not much was expected of the Cavs when the 2021-22 season was about to start.
ESPN predicted they would win just 26 games, while FiveThirtyEight had a slightly worse projection of 25 victories.
One of the marks of a truly great coach is how much he gets out of the players he is given to coach relative to what could be reasonably expected from them.
When guard Collin Sexton went down with a season-ending knee injury early in the season, followed by Rubio suffering a knee injury of his own that put him out for the year, the Cavs could’ve packed it in.
Instead, Bickerstaff helped keep them in the playoff picture, as Darius Garland continued to improve and became an All-Star for the first time.
The Cavaliers have paired two elite lob threats with Darius Garland, who happens to be an elite lob thrower. But he also possesses an elite floater. And a good chunk of the time, the defense has no idea which one he’s gonna do until it’s much too late. pic.twitter.com/ry12l4X9Nq
— Brayden Todd (@BraydenBallin) December 3, 2021
He should also be given credit for getting something significant out of Kevin Love, the veteran center and holdover from Cleveland’s 2016 championship team.
Love was thought to be injury-prone and washed-up, but he turned in 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game while shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range and playing in 74 contests.
A Strong Foundation
Traditionally, young teams in the NBA can be potent and exciting offensively, but they tend to be weak on the defensive end.
That was not the case with Bickerstaff and his Cavs.
They finished seventh in defensive rating and fifth in points allowed, two stats that are very impressive for an inexperienced squad such as Cleveland.
Look at the late game defense from the Cleveland Cavaliers. pic.twitter.com/efdEXjSFBM
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) February 1, 2022
Mobley emerged as not only an impact player but likely a future star or superstar, as many scouts are in love with his ultimate potential.
Cleveland’s defense gives it something rock-solid to build on next year and in the years to come after that.
Bickerstaff Could’ve Done Better When It Mattered Most
At age 43, Bickerstaff is still a young head coach, and like many of his players, he still has some growing to do.
After losing to the Brooklyn Nets in the first game of the play-in tournament, the Cavs had another shot at the playoffs versus the Atlanta Hawks.
Cleveland came out like gangbusters, leading by 14 at one point, and it was still up by a solid margin in the third quarter.
But then the team fell apart, as the Hawks tied the game after three quarters and powered through the final frame to claim a 107-101 win.
Perhaps Bickerstaff could’ve stabilized his team emotionally when Trae Young and company were making their run.
Perhaps Bickerstaff could’ve given Love more than 10 minutes of playing time to see if he could’ve given the team a spark offensively.
Overall though, one would have to give him a B grade this season.