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Breakout Candidates For The Cleveland Cavaliers

Evan Mobley Jumps For a Layup
Photo/ Associated Press

A new season approaches and every team except the Denver Nuggets hopes to be at least a bit better than last year. That’s no different for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will be desperate to outdo last season. While they had a great regular season, their playoffs was one to forget. With their offseason moves pretty much done for, a lot of the improvement will have to be internal. Here are three candidates for a breakout season: a likely pick, a hopeful pick, and a major longshot.


The Likely Candidate

Cleveland Cavaliers forward <a rel=

Ron Schwane/AP Photo

The most obvious and likely candidate for a true breakout season would be Evan Mobley.  The third-year big man did get better in his second season and has arguably the most potential in the league. Lofty comparisons like Kevin Garnett are often leveled, and it’ll all be about whether or not Mobley can develop his offensive bag. The defense is already there, with a First Team All-Defense selection and finishing third place in DPOY voting. Offensively, he did improve from year one to year two, which is a good sign, but maybe not as much as many would have hoped. To be fair, he was suddenly put down a rung on the offensive priority ladder when the Cavs acquired Donovan Mitchell



Mobley’s Area for Improvement 

That being said, he really only improved on the things he was already good at. We already know he can finish at the rim and can finish the looks others give him. The problem has been, and still is, shooting from further than the rim and creating his own offense. Looking at his shooting splits in 2023, he shot 82% at the rim, and 78% of those were assisted. From 3-10 feet, his percentage drops to 40%. That was the only other spot he had decent volume from. In the other two distances where he took at least 100 shots (which is just over one attempt a game), he shot 35% from 10-16 feet and a troubling 21% from three. The distance shooting is still not there, and his offensive profile isn’t that different from Jarrett Allen, who is not an offensive dynamo. 

Shooting isn’t the only thing he can improve on. Bulking up physically will be a priority, and he could also improve his ball-handling and passing to unlock things on offense. Mobley is a hard worker dedicated to his craft, and he’s still so young. Just getting better in one way could mean a breakout year is in store. It’s time for Mobley to go from potential great to truly one of the best players in the league.


The Hopeful Pick


Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

The guy that Cavs fans should really be praying to have a breakout season is new signee Max Strus. While Strus is on the older side for a breakout player at 27, in terms of NBA experience, this will likely be his first time starting full-time, and he’s really only had two years of any real NBA experience. A lot can still happen for Strus, and it’s not like older players can’t break out. Late bloomers are common in the NBA. For example, Steve Nash didn’t earn his first All-Star selection until his age 27 season.

Not saying Strus will be Nash, of course, but there is a lot of room for growth here, and he could be in for a big season. Strus going from fringe starter to one of the core four players would be fantastic for the Cavaliers. It’ll start with Strus improving his consistency as a shooter. He shot 41% in 2021-2022 but just 35% last year. His playoffs were a similar story. Overall he didn’t shoot well at all, but he was great against the New York Knicks, specifically while being subpar against almost everyone else. 


Adding More Skills

Consistency is one thing, but for him to truly break out, he would need to add something else. He can’t just be a shooter. He’s an okay defensive player, mostly propped up by his versatility, but if he could become a stopper, that would be great. Being able to contribute offensively besides catch-and-shoot threes would also be fantastic, although there are not a ton of opportunities to go around in Cleveland right now. Duncan Robinson showed an ability to attack the rim in the playoffs on closeouts or on cuts, and Strus can theoretically do the same. There hasn’t been a ton of indication that Strus can be more than just a shooter, but again, he hasn’t played much in a big role. 


The Long Shot

North Carolina forward Pete Nance blocks a shot by Boston College guard DeMarr Langford Jr. during a March 8 game. (Chuck Burton - The Associated Press)

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

There are a couple of guys that could go here. Emoni Bates, the only Cavaliers draft pick, had a great Summer League and could be a fantastic shooter off the bench. For a rookie second-round pick to contribute to a playoff team would be a coup. Even more of a long shot would be for undrafted Pete Nance to carve out some playing time, but it’s not impossible. He’s got the ability to be a prototypical stretch four or five, with a legit shooting stroke and a 6’11” height.

While he’s not an incredible athlete, he’s not horrible, and he has defensive instincts and will. If he could essentially be a three-and-player at the five, that would be a valuable addition. Doubly so with the spacing-starved front court, the Cavs have. It’s very unlikely for him to see minutes, it’s definitely a long shot, but it wouldn’t be the craziest thing to happen this year.

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Patrick Yen is a contributor on Back Sports Page.  He has written for NBC, SB Nation, and a few more websites in his four-year sports journalism career. He has been the Back Sports Page beat writer for the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Cleveland Cavaliers. Patrick, a graduate of the Ohio State University, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but moved to Columbus, Ohio, early in his life and has lived there ever since. You can find more of Patrick on Twitter @pyen117.

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