Season Thoughts and Reactions Mini-Series Introduction and Part 1
It’s been quite a while since I had the time, energy, or even desire to sit down and write about the NBA but I’m finally on vacation and the Bulls keep winning so it feels like the right time. Some of the opinions are going to be half-baked and in all honesty, just not as well thought out as in the past because, besides a couple of teams, I just haven’t had the bandwidth to watch more games. I’ll break it down into a few different categories to highlight big stories and players and/or teams to watch moving forward. It will consist of topics that I’ve been wanting to discuss, so yes some things will be skewed just to fit in my personal agenda. I will split them into multiple pieces so there isn’t too much to read all at once. Let's begin with a pleasant and unexpected surprise for this year.
Team that caught the NBA by surprise: Cleveland Cavaliers
I had heard and been a part of a few conversations in the off-season discussing this Cavs team, most of which were optimistic about their future. Each of those discussions was centered around how this young core of Sexton, Garland, Mobley, and Allen could become formidable in the next 3–5 years. Not a single time was there a mention of the 2021–22 Cleveland Cavaliers being in the playoffs, not play-in, during this season. As I’m writing this, they sit at 20–14 (Win PCT 0.588). BetMGM Sportsbook set their O/U for wins at 26.5, the fourth-lowest in the league, and they seem to be on pace to obliterate this total by the end of the season. If I told you that Collin Sexton would suffer a season-ending injury in November, Kevin Love would be coming off the bench, and the team would be ravaged by COVID for a stretch of the season, then you would reasonably predict their record to be far below a 0.500 winning percentage. What exactly has been the driving force for this surprising leap? There are two big factors in setting their success in hyperdrive: Darius Garland’s emergence and Evan Mobley’s immediate impact.
Garland was already making a leap this season when Collin Sexton was playing, but in his absence, he’s had the ball in his hand even more often, really becoming an improved scorer and playmaker. The basic “counting stats” are the easiest to interpret and have continually improved throughout his young career. In Per 36 stats, he is now up to 20.5 points and 7.7 assists on 47.9%/38.4%/90.5% shooting (FG %/ 3-point %/ FT %). His advanced stats back up the improvement as well as he’s boasting a career-best 17.8 PER and 0.594 TS%. The numbers can always be skewed, but when you watch the game you can really see him starting to impose his will when necessary and becoming a great playmaker for all of the bigs on the team.
Speaking of bigs on the Cleveland Cavaliers, rookie Evan Mobley has been outstanding. Yes, I purposely put the word rookie in bold and italics because what he is accomplishing this early on in his career is rare for any rookie, let alone a center. He’s played 26 games in his career and is averaging 14.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. He is active on the offensive end, setting good screens, rolling to the basket, and finishing at the rim. He’s only shooting 48.5% from the field at this time, but this early into his career, I fully expect those numbers to improve. The most impressive portion of his game to me is his defensive presence. His IQ on that end of the floor makes it seem as if he has been in the NBA for 3 seasons already! Even when he isn’t blocking shots, he has a way of impacting most possessions and he plays with a high motor with rare possessions with low effort. His per 100 defensive rating (DRtg) is 101, ranking 10th in the league amongst players who have played in at least 15 games this season. For a young player to already have this level of impact on the defensive end is rare but it proves why many thought he was the most talented player in the draft this summer. He’s got all the makings of a generational talent to pave the way to Cleveland’s relevance and maybe even the return of Lebron James to his homeland. Yes, people have already started the rumors back up because of this disappointing Lakers season, but we’ll get to that in a bit.