The Cleveland Cavaliers approached this season differently and it’s paying dividends. Most notably, they’re winning. Thirty-one games in, the Cavs are 19-12 and they sit third overall in the Eastern Conference. Few would have anticipated Cleveland’s early-season success. We break down some of the reasons why it’s happening.
Cavs: Young, Talented and Determined
Gone are the days where sports betting enthusiasts can count on NBA teams that have tough, blue-collar bigs who wreak havoc beneath the rim. Centers like Ben Wallace, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal feel like aberrations in the past. Modern basketball is more frequently played away from the rim. Ultra-talented shooters, led by Steph Curry, have paved a new road for success.
Teams rely on exceptional perimeter shooting to change the trajectory of a game and NBA players run at hyperactive paces, with most teams averaging well over 98 possessions per contest. This is working for many teams (the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns come to mind), while others are struggling to catch up.
Other teams are taking an entirely different approach. The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the season after more disappointing results in 2020-21. They won a total of 22 games and they finished 13th in the East. They’re on pace to eclipse that win total by the end of December, and they’re already one of the best teams in their conference. What changed? First, it’s about their ascending talent.
Cleveland’s first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft, 6-foot-11 power forward Evan Mobley, has been a force on both ends of the floor. Veteran journeyman Ricky Rubio joined Cleveland, bringing leadership, poise, and ab underrated defensive effort. Third-year point guard Darius Garland has come into his own, replacing the biggest name on their roster in Collin Sexton, and the Cavs might be even better because of it.
Garland is averaging 19 points and over seven assists per game, while his counterpart, Rubio, is averaging 12.7 points and 6.6 assists. Jarrett Allen is also boasting career highs (16.8 points, 10.8 rebounds per game) in a role where he must feel less pressure alongside Mobley in the paint. Cleveland looks in-sync, confident and there’s very little lapse in motivation among the players, which is not always the case on other teams. That starts with good coaching.
Contrarian Cavs: Two Starting Bigs, Focus on D
J.B. Bickerstaff is in his second season as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ coach, though few would have predicted this kind of success so early in his tenure. Of course, Bickerstaff knew what everyone was gossiping about when he started his new gig: The terrifying challenge of adjusting and rebuilding after LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Instead of trying to recreate what the Cavaliers once had, Bickerstaff chose to invest in new talent and run his team in contrarian fashion. Kevin Love now starts on the bench, Sexton is a non-factor after undergoing season-ending surgery on his meniscus, and the team is now officially lacking a big-name superstar. Instead it’s about the team and it’s about defense.
And it’s working.Allen and Mobley are throwbacks. They play aggressive, attack-the-rim basketball and they guard the net with ferocity. Few teams have figured out how to approach the one-two punch, and bettors would be hard-pressed to find any games where both Allen and Mobley have negative point-differentials. Positive point-differentials are one of the best ways to know how much a player contributes on both offense and defense. Allen and Mobley are proving they’re two of the best bigs in the NBA.
The defensive prowess isn’t just in the frontcourt, either. According to The Sports Rush, Garland and Rubio are an ideal combination on both sides of the floor: “In the 468 minutes that the duo has shared, the Cavs have a net rating of +16.7, the highest in the league.” So far, no one can contest that the new-look Cavaliers aren’t a superior defensive team due to their chemistry and Bickerstaff’s style.
Cleveland is ranked second overall in defensive efficiency and second in points allowed, permitting only 101.1 per contest. They also thrive against the long-ball, permitting only 32.5 percent of their shots beyond the arc, and they’re the No. 1 team in the NBA in opponent shooting efficiency.
Can Cavs Sustain This Level?
Sportsbooks and NBA betting experts probably didn’t expect the Cleveland Cavaliers to be this good. The market is struggling to catch up and the records indicate as much – the Cavs are an astounding 24-5-2 against the spread (ATS), according to TeamRankings. For math buffs out there, that’s an 82.8 percent cover rate. While that’s nearly impossible to sustain, Cleveland continues to shock the betting world. They’re 8-0-1 ATS as a favorite.
If a bettor saw it coming and snagged a futures wager on this team, they’re in a great spot. At BetUS, the Cleveland Cavaliers were +17500 to win the Central Division and +12500 to win the Eastern Conference at the start of the season. Now betting online on the Cavs to win the Eastern Conference sits at +2500 in late December, a significant downgrade in value.
It’s always tough to forecast how good a team will be in the months ahead. With COVID-19 protocols always looming and season-altering injuries a constant possibility, the Association can shift quickly.
As long as the Cleveland Cavaliers can keep their players healthy, it’s hard to imagine they won’t continue to find success. Bickerstaff and the tough-minded Cavs have found a winning formula and, so far, their opponents are still searching for answers.