With the festivities of NBA all-star weekend in the past, many teams are focusing in on the last stretch before it’s time for the playoffs, and surprisingly one of those teams is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In a preseason power ranking down by ESPN, the Cavs came in towards the bottom, being listed at 27 out of the 30 teams. They were projected to be the second-worst team in the east, only ahead of the Orlando Magic.
At least on the Cavs part, those rankings were a swing and a miss on ESPN’s part.
Coming out of the all-star break the Cavaliers aren’t 14th in the east, but rather 4th, currently only 2.5 games out of the top spot in the conference. They sit ahead in the standings of preseason favorites like the Bucks and Nets.
This sudden rise to the top begs the question, how did they get here?
The obvious answer is that the Cavs are young and that they are constantly getting better. That all-star game conveniently played in Cleveland, featured two Cavaliers. Darius Garland and Jarett Allen both took part in the festivities.
Garland is enjoying a breakout year. In his third season in the league he is averaging over twenty points a night and has doubled his assists per game since his rookie year. All the while being more and more efficient.
Another talent that was drafted and developed by Cleveland is Isaac Okoro. The former fifth overall pick has started 37 games this year for the Cavs, and was also participating in all-star weekend in the rising stars competition.
Cleveland’s drafting success seems to have continued in this past year’s draft. They selected big man Evan Mobley with the third overall pick, and it is already paying off.
Mobley has started all 50 games he’s played in and is averaging a very solid 15 points a game to go along with 8 rebounds.
The other, slightly sneakier way the Cavs have found themselves getting good players is in low-profile trades. Their acquisition of Jarret Allen comes to mind.
The Cavaliers acquired Allen as a footnote in the James Harden trade that sent the star guard to Brooklyn. The Cavs stepped in to help Brooklyn clear some cap space in the trade, and as a result they got themselves an all-star player on a discount.
Some of the other Cavs contributors ended up in Cleveland in a similar fashion. The Cavs made a sign and trade in the summer to get Lauri Markkanen from Chicago, only giving up Larry Nance Jr. a second round pick.
This season with Cleveland Markkanen has started every game he’s played in, averaging 13.6 points a night.
The Cavs got point guard Ricky Rubio from the Timberwolves in August during a trade that wasn’t seen as a major move. Before his season-ending injury Rubio played extremely well off the bench for the Cavs, and played a considerable part in getting them this far.
Though the days of Lebron and Kyrie are over, one holdout remains. Kevin Love has hung around through some of the dark times in Cleveland, and once again finds himself as an important contributor on a winning Cavs team.
Coming off the bench, Love is averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds. No longer the superstar he once was, Kevin Love provides veteran leadership to a young group. That experience may prove to be more valuable than ever as the Cavs seem ready to compete now.
Less than three games out of the top seed in the east the Cavs are already overperforming, but the hype train doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon for a contending roster built under the radar.