Virtually no one outside of the state of Ohio was expecting the Cleveland Cavaliers to have any shot at making the National Basketball Association playoffs coming into this season.
But instead, they were one of the league’s most pleasant surprises.
Instead of posting a paltry win total in the mid-20s, as many national pundits predicted, Cleveland finished with a decent 44-38 record, good enough for the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference and a spot in the play-in tournament.
It came within minutes of its first playoff berth since LeBron James left for a second time when it blew a sizeable lead against the Atlanta Hawks in the second game of the tournament.
Some view that as a failure, but the fact is that the Cavs have a legitimate foundation to build on now.
What should be a reasonable expectation for them next season?
The Cavs Have A Few Foundational Pillars In Place
In 2019, after an ugly first season without the greatest player in franchise history, Cleveland was gifted the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft, which they used to select Darius Garland.
Garland had a very nice season, averaging 21.7 points and 8.6 assists per game while making 38.3 percent of his attempts from 3-point range and earning his first trip to the All-Star game.
He seemed to come of age in the Cavs’ first play-in game versus the Brooklyn Nets when he had 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting, matching the scoring output of Kyrie Irving.
“Darius Garland isn’t built for big moments” 🥴🥴 pic.twitter.com/QGHfkD3fRu
— Projectnba_ (@Projectnba1) April 30, 2022
Evan Mobley, the rookie out of the University of Southern California, was also impressive, putting up 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds a game this year.
Just Evan Mobley things.
— Cavs Nation (@CavsNationCP) May 2, 2022
He also shined bright against Brooklyn with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Many feel that superstardom is in Mobley’s future, and a few even think he will someday be an MVP candidate.
In addition, Kevin Love had a positive bounce-back season with 13.6 points a game while knocking down 39.2 percent of his 3-point shots.
There is always the chance that the Cavs trade him away this summer, as he has been involved in trade rumors for a few years, but if not, he can continue to be a healthy element on next year’s squad.
Internal Improvement Or External Help?
There is no doubt that the Cavs need more pieces in order to become a true force in the NBA, just as they were during James’ better years with them.
But as is always the case, trades are hard to pull off, especially since they don’t have a ton of tradable assets that seem attractive to other teams.
After all, its calling card is defense (the team ranked seventh in defensive rating this season), and defense is always something that a squad can rely on, regardless of its roster.
With the Cavs’ need for help at the wing, it would help them even more if Isaac Okoro develops into a good 3-point shooter and gets better on the defensive end.