I guess when it comes down to it, I’m just a sucker for a comeback story. Call it homerism, or a Great Lakes bias, or Stockholm syndrome — it doesn’t much matter to me — because I am here for the redevelopment plans that are starting to come together in the Central division. The Bucks provided the blueprint: Invest heavily in your own (Giannis, Middleton) and then bring in outside help (hello, Jrue!) to get you over the top. After breaking through in a big way last year with their own in-house Big Two of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, the Cleveland Cavaliers seized on New York’s hesitation and snatched an in-his-prime All-Star guard to help them get where they want to go. The cost of doing business was steep in both cases — the Cavs only have one future first-round pick from now until 2030 — but that’s what it takes to trade for a player as good as Donovan Mitchell. Spida arrives in Believeland carrying 25 points per game, and while there will be an adjustment period as the usage rates find their new levels, his presence makes it all the more challenging not to take Cleveland seriously in a fiercely competitive Eastern Conference. There’s still a hole on the wing and the depth is a bit shaky, but the youth of the core four puts the Cavs in a position of strength for years to come as they try to replicate the Milwaukee Miracle on the shores of Lake Erie.
|PG||Darius Garland||Raul Neto||Ricky Rubio|
|SG||Donovan Mitchell||Dylan Windler|
|SF||Caris LeVert||Isaac Okoro||Cedi Osman||Lamar Stevens|
|PF||Evan Mobley||Kevin Love||Dean Wade|
|C||Jarrett Allen||Robin Lopez||Isaiah Mobley|
Guards and Wings
It took a while to get over the shock that the Knicks once again had squandered an opportunity to get better, but now that I’ve had a chance to sit with it a while, I think I’ve come around on the pairing of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the same backcourt. Prior to the deal, Mitchell and Garland both could be seen bubbling up into the second round — too early even then — but now have settled in with ADPs in the 30s. This seems about right to me, though it could still be a touch on the high side. I haven’t drafted either this summer, but that’s more of a reflection of my draft positions and taking guards earlier. I’d imagine that Garland’s scoring and Mitchell’s assists will be the two categories most impacted by pairing the two. Given the dearth of guard options (at least until Ricky Rubio returns) and the shoehorning of Caris LeVert into the 3, I’d anticipate quite a bit of staggering with the two lead guards, which should minimize how much they cut into each other. In a vacuum, I’m taking Garland ahead of Mitchell, mostly because I don’t know how much stock to put into Don’s 1.5 STL rate last year (the highest mark in four seasons) and because he won’t be drawing a usage rate of 30%+ as he did in Utah. Garland’s assists, which was his most valuable stat in last year’s breakout campaign, seem much stickier to me. I have no issue taking either if you’re able to snag a first-round big and think that top-40 production is reasonable for both.
As for the aforementioned Rubio, it might be easy to forget that he was absolutely ballin’ last year before tearing his ACL 35 games into the season. A revitalized Ricky was posting 13.1 points, 6.6 dimes, and 1.4 steals in 28 MPG as a true feel-good story. When the injury hit, Garland went nutso as the only starter-caliber guard on the roster, and Cleveland shipped Rubio off to Indiana to collect the last checks on his contract and rehab. Back in town again on a new deal, it’s hard to muster up much excitement about the Spanish veteran, especially for fantasy. There will be some “break glass in case of emergency” steals and assists when he works his way back to full health, but the minutes and opportunity will be greatly hampered by Mitchell’s presence. Raul Neto will be keeping his seat warm in the meantime, but you won’t need to worry about him for our purposes unless there’s another significant injury in the backcourt.
Despite bolstering the group of guards, Mitchell’s arrival in Cleveland does nothing to address the persistent problem that exists on the wing. I’m not sure if it’s exactly true that LeBron James was the last good wing in Cleveland, but after years of experimenting with Cedi Osman and Isaac Okoro, it certainly feels like that’s the case. Cleveland invested a top-5 pick on Okoro three years ago with the hope that he would be able to guard the position and space the floor. While the defense is solid enough in real life, it hasn’t translated to fantasy value (0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks last year) and the threes have been non-existent (0.8 3PM on 2.3 attempts) despite seeing almost 30 MPG. Okoro is still young enough that shutting the door on a step forward would be hasty, but he’s certainly in Prove-It mode now. As for Osman, he was the guy who lost his starting job to Okoro two years ago, which should tell you all you need to know about his viability as a starting three. He has streaks of scoring every year, but the minutes are trending the wrong way and there isn’t much more to his statistical output anyway.
Thus the Cavaliers have settled on Caris LeVert to be their opening night starter on the wing, a role that certainly won’t help his fantasy game. LeVert is a low-efficiency scorer who thrives when the rock is in his hands — something that he’ll see precious little of when sharing the court with Mitchell and Garland (to say nothing of the offensive options in the frontcourt.) Ever since the arrival of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, Caris has been getting squeezed out of his preferred job, and history looks to be repeating itself once again in Ohio. LeVert has shot better than 35% from three exactly once in his six-year career, and the ideal three in Cleveland is someone who can knock it down from deep. I’d like LeVert a lot more if he were coming off the bench and given free rein to run the second team, but given the makeup of the squad and the offensive needs, it seems like he’s locked into a role that he’s miscast for. Maybe he gets moved? Regardless, LeVert isn’t someone who is on my radar at this point.
Dean Wade — who just got a three-year deal this offseason — and Lamar Stevens both could see time as the fifth starter, depending on how the LeVert experiment fares. In my mind, Wade is the only player worth taking a shot on here (and only in deep leagues. I drafted him in the 25th round of the RazzJam) because he’s the closest thing to a competent three-point shooter in this group. At just 36.5%, Wade by no means has the job locked down, but the other options on the roster aren’t great. Even if Wade wins the spot, he won’t be anything more than a triples stream.
If you’re reading this right now, it means you’re probably familiar with the Fantasy Master Lothario Grey Albright and his penchant for quoting himself. If somehow you’re unfamiliar with this bit, it looks a little something like this:
“Evan Mobley – I know, I know. I want to believe too. The ROY runner-up massively impressed as a 20-year-old, especially defensively (1.7 swats, 0.8 steals), inspiring a smattering of Tim Duncan comps. I’m holding Mobley in a keep-forever dynasty league, so I don’t say this without some degree of frustration, but maybe we should take a deep breath before we assume that a big second-year leap is guaranteed. Mobley played without Jarrett Allen for portions of last season, goosing his numbers a bit, and usage hog Donovan Mitchell was still in SLC then. After drawing just 20.7% usage last year, that figure could actually decrease in year two. The defensive stats might improve as the game continues to slow down for the phenom, but he was a top-90 player on 33 MPG last year. I don’t know if he’ll get enough oxygen this year for the fire to really catch.
Jarrett Allen – Similar to Gobert, Allen is an excellent option if you’re only seeking the three big-man stats. If you went to Jarrett last year, you took home 16 points, 10 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game on 67% shooting and a cool 70% from the free-throw line. Low usage and a lot of mouths to feed in Cleveland may take a bite out of the scoring, but the rest of it strikes me as fairly bankable. He might be my favorite option in this tier.”
And that’s me quoting me from my Finding Your Center article! It’s a good bit, right?
Though his best is certainly well behind him at this point, Kevin Love is still a useful enough fantasy contributor to be on your radar at the end of a standard 12-team draft. Love enjoyed good health last year and played in 70+ for the first time since the Obama administration. Love hurts, we know this, but he’s healthy at the moment and will function as the backup big to both Mobley and Allen. It ain’t the glory days, but even in just 22 minutes, there will be some points, some boards, some threes, and decent percentages for Love, who should enter the season with both forward and center eligibility. He’s not the upsidey guy you want to take at the back end of drafts in head-to-head formats, but I’d bet there’s going to be a time this year when you’ll be tempted to pick him up off waivers. The end is nigh, but it isn’t here yet.
Don’t sweat Robin Lopez or get fooled in an auction when someone nominates Evan Mobley‘s brother. Neither are guys you’ll want to roster.