The Cleveland Cavaliers enter the 2023-24 campaign with a confidence not seen since LeBron James donned the wine and gold. For good reason, the Cavaliers are coming off their best season — while being without James — since the early 1990s. The Cavs finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 51-31 record, marking their first 50-win season and playoff berth since 2017-18. However, they were upended in the first round of the playoffs in five games by the New York Knicks.
2023-24 NBA Power Rankings Offseason Edition: No. 10 Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland has improved in each season under J.B. Bickerstaff. The Cavaliers went 5-6 over the final 11 games after Bickerstaff replaced John Beilein in the first seat. The Cavs won 22 seasons in Bickerstaff’s first full season and then 44 in 2021-22.
Cleveland also has improved on both ends of the floor since Bickerstaff took over the team. But the biggest improvement has come on the defensive end. The Cavaliers went from 25th in defensive ranking in 2020-21 to seventh in 2021-22 before finishing first last season. The Cavs allowed a league-low 106.9 points in 2022-23. Their defense ranked first in field goal makes and third in field goal attempts. They were also second in 3-point makes, first in 3-point attempts, and fourth in turnovers forced.
Cleveland has also improved their efficiency on the offensive end under Bickerstaff. The Cavaliers had the ninth-best offensive rating in 2023. However, they were only 25th in scoring due to their lack of 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding.
Cleveland has one of the best starting lineups in the league. Donovan Mitchell is coming off his best season shooting and scoring the ball, while Evan Mobley showed nice improvement over his rookie campaign.
Cleveland’s goal this offseason was to upgrade their wings and bench. The Cavaliers accomplished both goals by re-signing Caris LeVert and acquiring Max Strus via a sign-and-trade. The Cavs also brought in free agents Ty Jerome and Georges Niang and traded for Damian Jones. They drafted Emoni Bates in the second round and signed him to a two-way deal.
Best Offseason Move: Acquiring Max Strus
Cleveland accomplished their goal of improving their wings by keeping LeVert and trading for Strus. While I believe the Cavs overpaid for LeVert, I’d like the trade for Strus. They got Strus in a three-team deal with San Antonio and Miami while sending out Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens.
Shooting was the Cavaliers’ biggest issue last year. The Cavaliers ranked in the league’s top half in shooting this past season, finishing fifth in field goal percentage and 12th in 3-point percentage. However, the Cavs were just 19th in 3-pointers made and 24th in 3-pointers attempted.
The biggest problem area was at small forward. While the Cavs’ small forwards shot the ball well, they produced 17.4 points (27th in the league) and 2.6 threes a game (20th). They were 23rd in 3-point attempts at 10.1 a game.
Strus, undrafted out of DePaul in 2019, has become a valuable NBA commodity through hard work. Strictly a 3-point threat, Strus put up career-high numbers in 2022-23. He averaged 11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 treys, and 2.1 assists while shooting .410/.350/.876 this past season. Strus made 2.7 threes a contest while ranking 18th in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 41% in 2021-22.
Worst Offseason Move: Failing To Upgrade Front Court Depth
The Cavs believed they needed to improve their wing depth, which they did. But they didn’t really address their frontcourt depth, as evidenced by Kevin Love’s absence. Love had his worst season as a professional last year, but the Cavaliers were 24-17 with a + 2.0 scoring margin in the games he played.
Cleveland went just 13-8 down the stretch, though they were 27-14 in games Love didn’t play. Overall, the Cavaliers were better without Love, with the lone exception being on the defensive glass. However, the Knicks took advantage of Jarrett Allen’s poor defense in the first round of the playoffs. Without Love, Allen played nearly 40 minutes a game in the playoffs.
Cleveland did bring in Niang and Jones. Niang is an excellent rotational piece who can stretch the floor with his shooting, which is something Mobley nor Allen can do. Mobley will shoot an occasional three, while Allen is no threat outside the paint. However, Niang is a disaster on the defensive end.
Meanwhile, Jones is limited offensively. But he is a big body who is solid defensively. Jones will help the Cavs out on the glass on both ends of the floor.
Isiaah Mobley possesses a two-way deal. Mobley played well, particurly on the defensive end, in the 12 contests he appeared in for the Cavs.
What’s Next: Filling Out Roster
Cleveland only has 13 players on standard contracts. The Cavaliers could use another wing, though their biggest concern is Ricky Rubio. Rubio left the team for mental health reasons at the beginning of August. It is unknown if or when Rubio will return to the club.
Rubio, who missed over a year because of a knee injury, appeared in 33 games last year for the Cavaliers. He averaged 5.2 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.1 rebounds while shooting 34.3% from the field and 25.6% from the 3-point line.
If Rubio does not return by opening night, the Cavs could scour the waiver or go with in-house options. Mitchell could slide over to the one where he is very comfortable when Darius Garland is resting. Jerome, LeVert, and Sam Merrill — on a partially guaranteed contract — are also capable of running the point.
Cleveland has all three of their two-way spots filled. If the Cavs don’t go the free agent route to fill out the final roster spot, they could convert Mobley’s deal.