Still trying to find their identity post-LeBron, how does the future look for the Cleveland Cavaliers in comparison to the New York Knicks?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the New York Knicks‘ closest neighbors in the basement of the NBA Eastern Conference. GM Koby Altman is feeling his way as the primary decision-maker after selecting point guards in back-to-back drafts ahead of a lead guard rich draft class this year, which shows questionable planning.
With the fifth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Cavs drafted Isaac Okoro, a complete front court player with a bright future. He should be in the running for Rookie of the Year. Cleveland has a formidable, if older, front court with Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Larry Nance Jr., JaVale McGee, and Cedi Osman. These veterans offer a strong supporting cast for Cleveland’s developing young guards.
Kevin Love is a 32-year-old All-Star stretch four, as well as a superior rebounder and passer. A commitment to the future would dictate trading Kevin Love and his three year contract to a ‘win now’ team for future draft picks. Drummond is still only 27 and on an expiring contract. Larry Nance Jr. will be 28, puts up decent numbers and is signed through 2022-23. Along with 25-year-old Cedi Osman, he looks to be set in Cleveland for a while.
Of greater concern to Knick fans may be the depth at guard that Cleveland has accumulated over the past two years. It is questionable if Sexton and Garland can form a dynamic duo. In fact, that seems unlikely. Look for Colin Sexton, rather than Darius Garland, to be traded. Although the match-ups below do not coincide by position, they are arranged more in order of importance to a rising team.
How the Knicks stack up to the Cavs
Statistically, the young Knicks certainly take a backseat to Cleveland’s group of younger players. Mitchell Robinson is the only Knick with a significant edge. If we switch out Barrett to SF and compare him with Osman, RJ is the higher, but less efficient scorer, and the better rebounder.
The overall advantage the Knicks have is the balance of their young group. All five positions are represented. Mitchell Robinson was named one of the Athletic’s Top 125 players. The Cavs had two, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond. If he re-signs, Drummond would be a contributor over the next few years.
There is also a significant size advantage in NY’s favor. Beyond the lack of size, the backcourt pairing of Garland and Sexton may have problems playing together at a reasonable efficiency. Like the Wall and Beal combo, Garland and Sexton’s strengths and weaknesses are so similar that one or both will have to defer on offense, and therefore, fail to maximize their games. With Kevin Porter Jr. as the second option at shooting guard, the Cavaliers front office may decide to move either Garland or Sexton.
Much like RJ Barrett’s advance stats, Darius Garland’s rookie performance rated very poorly.
"“Garland was last in Win Shares, Value Over Replacement Player and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus — a player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions that also takes into account teammates, opponents and other additional factors,” Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor recently wrote."
Colin Sexton was All-Rookie 2nd team two years ago. His offensive numbers speak for themselves. He is primarily a scoring guard.
"“Out of all guards with at least 400 minutes played, Sexton ranked ahead of only Bradley Beal and Isaiah Thomas in defensive win shares. Of course, the Cavaliers were a poor defensive team as a whole, so that has an effect on Sexton’s performance,” Cavs Nation’s Sam Penix recently wrote."
The same article points out how much better Darius Garland is as a lead guard. Stats or opinions presenting either of these guards as a defensive-minded player were nowhere to be found.
Light years ahead of these two, Kevin Porter Jr. still ranked as slightly below average on defense according to Red Team Scouting.
Koby Altman probably did not like what he saw from Colin Sexton as a rookie and drafted Darius Garland as Sexton’s replacement. At PG, a distributor is more important than a scorer because he elevates those around him. The trade for Kevin Porter Jr. makes this even more likely.
The future Cleveland Cavaliers backcourt looks to be Garland and Porter, with Colin Sexton as the 6th man or traded.
The long-term threat posed by the Cavaliers is not great at this point. Their veteran front court players will not be part of Cleveland’s future. Nance and Osman are not future All-Stars. Along with the uncertain future of Colin Sexton, the New York Knicks are further along than the Cleveland Cavaliers in their rebuild. Of course, if Altman is able to reap a windfall by trading his front court veterans, then the Cavs would have a step or two on the Knicks.
The one solid prediction here is that all these young players will progress at different rates. Some will become legit starters, some rotation guys, one or two will be future All-Stars and perhaps one will be a perennial All NBA player. The Knicks group looks to have the higher ceiling for those of us wearing Leon Rose colored glasses.