Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Photo: Charles Krupa/AP
All summer, the biggest story surrounding the Cavs has been the contract situation of Collin Sexton. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was offered a qualifying offer by the team ahead of his restricted free agent status. Rumors swirled about teams being interested in the 6’1 guard coming off a torn ACL, but his market quickly quieted down, and there’s been reports his camp and the Cavs front office is in no rush to come together on a deal for the 2022-2023 season and beyond.
The Sexton decision is a difficult one to make, but even if the “Young Bull” does not return to The Land, the Wine and Golders have an incredibly deep roster, arguably the deepest 15-man unit in all of the Association.
Looking at the starting five, three out of the five are pegged in for the upcoming season and beyond: Darius Garland at point guard, Evan Mobley at power forward and Jarrett Allen holding down the center position. Even though the wings have not been solidified yet, it doesn’t mean the Cavs don’t have options at both the shooting guard and small forward spots.
Reports have surfaced as of now Caris LeVert is pegged for the “2” spot in the backcourt next to Garland. LeVert, who was acquired at the trade deadline in February, is looking for a bounce-back season after struggling in a Cleveland uniform upon his arrival last season. Competing with LeVert will be Isaac Okoro, who also has a huge “prove-it” year in front of him, and rookie Ochai Agbaji. The No. 14 overall pick in this year’s draft is not expected to start right from the jump, but he is expected to contribute, and if both his contemporaries struggle, and he provides a spark to the team early in the campaign, he could find himself eventually in the starting five.
The starting small forward spot is currently a mystery, and it may remain a mystery, even during the early parts of the season. LeVert, Okoro and Agabji all fit the new mold of the NBA: Versatile wings that can play either the “2” or “3” positions, but last season, the Cavs experimented with a big man lineup that consisted with Lauri Markkenen playing the “3”, with Mobley at the “4” and Allen at the “5”. Playing three near 7’ at the same time was an almost unheard of experiment in today’s NBA that features a ton of “small ball”, but coach J.B. Bickerstaff and the players proved the doubters wrong. In games the trio started together last season, the team scored a record of 22-14. If the Cavs feel their gigantic lineup is the best way to defeat opponents, the former Chicago Bull will be standing next to Mobley and Allen on opening night.
Whichever combination at the “2” and “3” Bickerstaff decides, the reinforcements off the bench almost create another starting-caliber unit. For now, Raul Neto will backup Garland at the point guard position while Ricky Rubio recovers from the torn ACL he suffered last December. A combination of LeVert, Okoro, Obaji and Markkenen will hold the wing spots while Kevin Love and Robin Lopez man the power forward and center positions for the second unit. Love had a career resurgence last year for the Wine and Golders after struggling since the start of the 2018-2019 season due in large part to multiple injuries. Love took on an unfamiliar role in coming off the bench and accelerated in the role, averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 43% shooting from the field and 39% from the 3-point line in 74 games in 21-22. His numbers placed him second in sixth man of the year voting behind Tyler Hero of the Miami Heat.
Lopez, the identical twin brother of the Bucks’ Brook Lopez, averaged seven points and four rebounds a contest in 36 games for Orlando last season, playing around 17 minutes per game. Lopez’ stats don’t scream off the board, but he’s an enforcer in the paint, something the Cavs did not have when Allen was absent from the lineup a season ago.
Players such as Dean Wade and Lamar Stevens (who showed some promise when thrusted into action last season, including a 15-point quarter against the Utah Jazz), may be on the outside looking in for playing time this season unless there’s an injury to the depth of the Cavs current roster. Factoring in the team’s other draft picks outside of Abaji (Khalifa Diop, Isaiah Mobley and Luke Travers), and there’s a reason why Cedi Osman, who was on the Cavs Eastern Conference Championship team in 2018 and played a big role for the Cavs until the end of last season, and Dylan Windler, a once thought of gem of a draft pick with a ton of potential by President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman, are reportedly on the trade block.
Numbers wise by position, this is how the Cavs depth chart looks to start the 2022-2023 season without Sexton in the fold:
Point guard: Darius Garland, Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto (3)
Shooting guard/small forward: Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Ochai Agbaji, Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens, Cedi Osman, Dylan Windler, Luke Travers, RJ Nembhard Jr (8)
Bigs: Lauri Markkenen, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Kevin Love, Robin Lopez, Khalifa Diop, Isaiah Mobley (7)
Here is a look at the roster, in terms of locks vs “on the bubble” players.
Locks: Darius Garland, Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, Lauri Markkenen, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Kevin Love, Robin Lopez, Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Ochai Agbaji, Dean Wade (12)
On the bubble: Lamar Stevens, Cedi Osman, Dylan Windler, RJ Nembhard Jr., Luke Travers, Khalifa Diop, Isaiah Mobley (6)
An NBA roster can have at most 15 players on it at a time, meaning five “On the bubble” players are competing for three spots. The general expectation is Osman and Windler will not be on the 15-man roster come opening night. Stevens is as close as a lock as possible, especially if Sexton does not return, but if Sexton is back on the Cavs, Stevens could be a surprise cut if one or more of the Cavs other draft picks makes the team. There’s been encouraging signs from both Isaiah Mobley and Luke Travers from reports out of Cavs camp during the Summer League.
While the Sexton decision cloud hangs over the franchise for now, the Cavs have one of the strongest rosters in the NBA. Losing the “Young Bull” won’t dampen the teams’ chances of making it back to the postseason for the first time in five seasons come next April. There’s a lot of unknowns at his position, and where he will fit in a Wine and Gold uniform. Sexton returning only would add to the Cavs incredible depth.
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