Cavs 2023-24 Preseason Team Award Watchlist
The Cleveland Cavaliers had plenty of memorable performances and accomplishments from their more notable contributors during the 2022-23 season.
From the 71-point game from Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell, to achieving the league’s top defensive rating and officially making the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season, Cleveland’s remarkable signs of growth during last year’s regular season resulted in a massive leap forward from years past.
But with a new year comes plenty of new expectations and potential competitors in the Eastern Conference and beyond.
Even with its astonishing leaps from its rebuilding years, the Cavs still must prove they are truly ready to compete with the best the East has to offer when it plays through its share of defining games during the 2023-24 season. It will face the Boston Celtics twice at TD Garden in December before the Celtics travel to Cleveland in March. It will face the Philadelphia 76ers four times this year, including twice in February. It will face the New York Knicks, who defeated the Cavs in a five-game series during last year’s playoffs, in a back-to-back series starting on Oct. 31.
Which Cavaliers could stand out the most during the 2023-24 NBA season? Who has the chance to pave the path toward becoming Cleveland’s Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year next season?
Mitchell led the charge for the Cavaliers with 28.3 points per game during the regular season, a career-high from the former Louisville standout. Mitchell and guard Darius Garland combined for 43.8 points per game during Cleveland’s five-game series with the Knicks, including the 55 combined points they dropped at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Game 1.
Mitchell separated himself as a leader for the Cavaliers early in the 2022-23 season.
“He means a lot to this team,” Garland said, via The Athletic. “He is one of the leaders, one of the heads of the snakes of this team. He has to bring that energy every night. He has to bring that competitive spirit for us every night on both sides of the ball. He’s a huge scorer.
“He’s a true competitor. That’s what everybody on this team does. We compete at a high level every night. He just adds to it and fits really well with us.”
Garland’s increased role as a leader for the Cavaliers will be an important part of a potential leap from last year. The former Vanderbilt guard showed he could be a valuable part of the squad in the regular season, showcasing his proficiency from the 3-point line and as a scorer when he became the fastest player to hit 500 3-pointers in Cavs history in February.
“He’s still young — more years ahead of him than he has behind him,” Cavs guard Caris LeVert said, via The Athletic. “But I think he’s done a great job of feeling it out and not being afraid to put his voice out there, not being afraid to make mistakes even with communication.
“I think for us to just hear his voice is huge because, obviously, we all respect his game. So just for us to hear his voice is huge.”
Cavs Team MVP Watch List: Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley
Cavs Defensive Player of the Year
Cleveland’s defense became a defining part of its memorable run through the 2022-23 regular season.
The Cavs took first place in the league in defensive rating and third in opponent points allowed in the paint, according to NBA.com. They took first place among teams who made the postseason with a defensive rating of 107.3, putting them just ahead of the Knicks and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Both forward Evan Mobley and center Jarrett Allen were important in holding down Cleveland’s defense. The duo combined for 13.1 defensive rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game during the 2022-23 regular season. Mobley and Allen averaged 11.3 and 11.1 contested shots, or “the number of times a defensive player or team closes out and raises a hand to contest a shot prior to its release,” during the regular season, putting them on pace with now-Celtics forward Kristaps Porzingis and Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
“I think (Evan Mobley)’s top-3 in Defensive Player of the Year,” LeVert said during a March practice, via NBA.com. “I think (Jarrett Allen) should be there too, to be honest with you. Just with how he impacts the game, pick and rolls, being that anchor for us at the rim, defensively, protecting and then switching out on guards, too.
“There’s not many bigs who can move the way he can and pick things up as quickly as he can on the fly. He’s been super valuable for our defense.”
Cavs Team DPOY Watch List: Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Cavs Most Improved Player
How will Cleveland’s younger options fare during the 2023-24 season?
Though Mobley proved he could be a fantastic defender and had plenty of room to grow on offense, his growing pains in the 2023 NBA Playoffs showed the former USC forward still has some ways to go before reaching his full potential. Still, the former top-5 draft selection showed plenty of flashes of improvement as the season went along.
“(Evan Mobley)’s gotten a lot better since the beginning of the season, not just from last year. I feel like he gets better every single game,” LeVert said in March, via NBA.com. “When you’re that young, every little bit of experience helps.
“He’s growing each and every game, especially when he has to play the five some games and then going back to his natural position at the four. I think he’s just soaking up so much knowledge right now.”
It will take the growth of Mobley, Garland and forward Isaac Okoro for the Cavaliers to fully become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Cavs Team MIP Watch List: Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro
Cavs Sixth Man of the Year
Cleveland’s bench must show drastic signs of improvement for the Cavaliers to be a more competitive team next season.
The Cavs bench placed near the bottom of the league in points per game, rebounds per game and field goal percentage during the regular season. Cleveland bolstered its bench with the signing of forward Georges Niang, centers Damian Jones and Tristan Thompson and guard Ty Jerome. LeVert, who the Cavs brought in from the Indiana Pacers in a 2022 trade, will again play an essential role on Cleveland’s bench during the 2023-24 season.
“He’s doing everything,” Cavs head coach JB Bickerstaff said in March, via Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor. “His defense has been superb. Offensively, not just shots going in but playmaking and creating for others.
“He’s taken steps and that’s the fun part about it. He’s one of our older players but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to get better and I think what we’ve seen is a really, really well-rounded version of Caris. He’s obviously had some ups and downs, but he’s never let it get the best of him.”
Cavs Team SMOY Watch List: Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Georges Niang
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Author: Alex Sabri