Are the Cavaliers a playoff team?

By: Chris Choe

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are off to an interesting start to the 2020-21 regular season. Outside of their contributions in the blockbuster James Harden trade, the Cavs have been making noise around the league because they are surprisingly winning games now. After 18 games, the Cavs are 9-9 and sixth in the Eastern Conference, which is a complete turnaround from what fans are accustomed to seeing from this team for the past few years.


By the time the Cavaliers played their 18th game last year, they were 5-13 and stood close to the bottom of their conference, which has been the case for this team ever since Lebron James departed for LA back in 2018. Since the idea of playing in Cleveland without James does not motivate any top free agents to sign with the Cavs, they have relied on trades and the draft to end their playoff drought. It took a few years for fans to see any promise in the team’s rebuilding process, but it seems like the Cavs might have something special with their current roster.


It is still too early to judge but based on the games that have been played already, including the two victories against the new-look Brooklyn Nets, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the next up-and-coming team. If they can continue their success as the season continues, they could find themselves competing for a playoff spot this year.


The Rise of Sexton and Garland

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Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have been the Cavs’ leading men. It was a risky decision for Cleveland to draft two star-studded point guards in two consecutive drafts, but it seems like they have struck gold with that decision, especially when you look at Sexton’s season so far. Sexton has been balling like an all-star this year, averaging 25.2 PPG with 4.2 APG on a 52/47/81 shooting split and his play has made him the poster boy for Cleveland basketball.


Darius Garland’s performance has been impressive as well. Even though his recent right shoulder injury has slowed him down a bit, Garland was playing great along with Sexton at the start of the season. In the first five games, Garland averaged 19 PPG, 7.2 APG, on 50/50/100 shooting splits. These two guards have shown promise and if they continue to improve their game in the next year or so, they can be considered as one of the best backcourts in the league.


The Land of Giants

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Cleveland was stacked with big-men to start the season and even more so now that they acquired Jarrett Allen. Although it may seem overwhelming for a team to have as many centers as Cleveland does in their rotation, they have managed to find success in it so far. Andre Drummond continues to play like an all-star calibre player with averages of 18.9 PPG and 14.7 RPG, while Jarrett Allen and Javale Mcgee have been great coming off the bench.


The benefit of having this many big men on a team shows with all the little things in basketball, such as dominating the paint and creating second-chance opportunities for themselves. They are second in points in the paint, fifth in offensive rebounds per game and just above the league average in second-chance points. We still have to wait to see how Kevin Love can fit into the rotation when he returns in mid-February, but his presence should not disrupt what the Cavaliers have going for them right now.


Finding an Identity

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There is not a lot to say about the Cleveland Cavaliers without mentioning Lebron James. Everything from the franchise’s one championship title, their absurdly high market value, and their identity as a whole revolve around James’ tenure with them. The franchise has not had a winning season without James since 1998. In the 21st century, the Cavs’ were only recognized as Lebron’s team and never as a legitimately good team.


This current Cavaliers roster could be the start of a new beginning for Cleveland basketball. Their grit and grind system has shown that it works well with this team and it could be the first building block in the Cavs’ new identity. Almost like how the Memphis Grizzlies’ made the grit and grind system an integral part of their identity, back when Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley were still playing together. So if the Cavs continue with what they have now, they might have themselves a playoff-contending team with a big three of Sexton, Garland, and Drummond (or Allen if they do buy out Drummond’s contract).