Despite showing promise throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers young core remains heavily underrated.
The path to rebuilding the Cleveland Cavaliers following the second departure of LeBron James has been difficult. Although the Cavaliers have selected four players in the first round over the last two seasons, the team has gone just 19-109 in James’ absence and has been projected as the worst team in the league for the next three seasons by ESPN.
ESPN’s goal was to predict which squads will experience the most success in the foreseeable future. The Cavaliers’ low ranking is indicative of their young core who has been relentlessly criticized by the national media.
The criticism is deserved to an extent. If Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland were so talented then they would be winning more games, right? But this isn’t exactly fair. The Cavaliers have been under quite a bit of turmoil since James left and are scrambling to pick up the pieces.
Let’s begin with Kevin Love. The former star was able to negotiate a hefty four-year extension that has rendered him untradeable for the Cavaliers. This has made it difficult for the team to transition smoothly from their days of being championship contenders into a full rebuilding stage.
This, of course, is the fault of the front office. However, the decision to offer Love an extension is understandable. The franchise had just lost Kyrie Irving and LeBron James in back-to-back summers. It was only right they attempted to hold on to at least one member of the Big Three to avoid total doomsday for the fanbase.
Since then, the Cavaliers have been doing their best to create a quality environment for their young core to grow. This hasn’t always gone to plan. Sexton has already played under four different head coaches and he isn’t even finished with his sophomore season.
The coaching staff isn’t the only thing constantly changing. Over 20 different players have joined and left the roster throughout the last two seasons. These rapid changes are certainly affecting Cleveland’s young players.
Even with all this being said, each member has shown promise. Sexton hasn’t missed a beat in his development, improving in nearly every aspect during his second season. Since January, Sexton has averaged 23.6 points and 3.6 assists while shooting nearly 50.0 percent from the field.
Sexton has heard all of the criticism and worked diligently to become a better playmaker. His IQ has increased tremendously throughout his sophomore campaign and he is beginning to make the correct pass more often than not.
As for Garland, the 20-year old rookie weathered a poor shooting storm through the first half of the season and is now posting 13.8 points and 5.0 assists across his previous 28 games. He is hovering at a 35.0 percent clip from deep but is looking more comfortable and confident in his shot.
Lastly, Porter has taken advantage of every opportunity he has been given. His flair for highlight plays has made him a fan favorite and his production is no joke. Few players on the roster can impact a game like KPJ when he is feeling himself. Shortly before the season was suspended, Porter dropped a career-high 30 points as he led a massive 19-point comeback in the fourth quarter versus the Miami Heat.
Still yet to make an appearance is Dylan Windler. The 3-point sniper is sure to help space the floor for Cleveland and act as a reliable scorer whenever he returns from his leg injury.
The road to rebuilding has been bumpy for Cleveland but this young core has shown flashes of potential. With a pivotal 2020 NBA Draft approaching, there is reason to have faith in the Cavaliers. If you ask Sexton, he believes they will reach the playoffs as soon as next season.
This is a bold statement from Sexton. However, there is reason to believe the Cavaliers will return to the playoffs before other bottom feeder teams such as the New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets.
It’s going to take some work for the Cavaliers to earn the respect of the rest of the NBA. Only winning will help them take the next step towards rebuilding, but it is safe to say this team and their young core will use ESPN’s ranking as motivation to prove the world wrong.