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First Impressions From The Cleveland Cavaliers First Week Of Training Camp

Caris LeVert is healthy, Ricky Rubio is rehabbing and the Wine and Gold are emphasizing running the floor.
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The trees are changing, the air is cooling, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are back to work at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence.

After a busy week on the floor that featured multiple two-a-day, the Cavs wrapped up their first week of training camp with practice Saturday afternoon. Early in camp, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has emphasized two things: defense and conditioning.

Big shocker, right?

Bickerstaff said he wants his team to be in better shape this season and has implemented plenty of running in the early days of camp. Mixing in some good old-fashioned sprints with traditional conditioning with the ball in-hand, there’s been a distinct pace to the flow of camp so far.

You could reasonably expect that to continue as the team ramps up for its first preseason game in Philadelphia on October 5th. The season tips off for real in just 19 days and there’s still plenty of work to get in before the games start to count.

But what else has stood out through the team’s first seven practices together?

Who will be the starting small forward?

There’s an open competition in camp between a handful of guys for the open Small Forward position. It’s a safe bet, providing sports betting was legal in Ohio, that Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen will occupy four of the five positions.

As for whoever fills that last role, it could be either Cedi Osman, Dylan Windler, Dean Wade, Caris LeVert, Lamar Stevens or Isaac Okoro. Bickerstaff has given absolutely no inclination as to who the frontrunner might be.

It’s a situation that could very much be left up in the air based on matchups on any given night. Each option brings something different to the table. It’s a good problem to have, and the last five days have given J.B. and Company time to experiment and tinker with different combinations.

Expect that to continue in the preseason.

Caris LeVert is healthy

After arriving in a midseason trade from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Ricky Rubio and a handful of draft picks, LeVert is feeling a whole new level of comfort following an offseason spent focused on getting in shape and wiping the slate clean.

By his own admission, he never felt right immediately following the trade that essentially saw LeVert swap locker rooms while the Pacers were in town on February 6th.

LeVert missed nine games with a foot injury and averaged 13.6 points in 19 games, shooting 43% from the field but just 31% from 3-point range. Compare that to 18.6 PPG and 45% from the field before the trade.

But the Cavs acquired the talented swingman that can score to draw defenses away from the paint and give Garland an option to distribute the basketball to. LeVert refined his diet, opting for a more Keto-friendly route.

The result is a burst of energy. A healthy foot, after suffering a sprain immediately following the trade to the Cavs, should also go a long way in providing a jolt.

LeVert even went so far as to say there were some lingering injuries from his time in Indiana that took a toll. He missed part of the Pacers training camp because of a stress fracture.

None of that is an issue now.

Building Chemistry

Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are focusing on building chemistry together on the floor. During a workout in the offseason before the trade was consummated, Garland immediately began thinking of what a backcourt featuring the two would look like.

Dream no more.

While Bickerstaff said he planned on using them to the fullest extent as a tandem, he also said he would like to have either Garland or Mitchell on the floor at all times; particularly as Ricky Rubio is still a couple of months away from returning from a knee injury.

Bickerstaff expects Mitchell to flourish in a backcourt with Garland, allowing him to have fresher legs and have the pressure taken off of him offensively. Early in camp the Cavs have been working with him on the weak side but make no mistake Mitchell will be a large part of what the Cavs do offensively.

Garland credited Mitchell’s playoff experience as a valuable, particularly his performance in the bubble, as a valuable resource this young team can tap into that is often overlooked.

Is playoff experience always valuable? Sure.

Does it mean more to this group because the playoffs are their aspirations? Perhaps.

Defensive Player of the Year?

Evan Mobley said during his introductory press conference last year that his goal was to win multiple “rookie of the month” honors and build towards winning Rookie of the Year.

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Three months into his rookie season he had been named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November and December. He narrowly missed out on ROY honors to Scottie Barnes of Toronto (cough.. cough… SNUB!)

Excuse me.

Mobley led all first-year players in rebounds (8.3), blocks (1.67) and field goal percentage (.508). His favorite spot on the floor with the ball in his hands was the elbow, but Mobley said you can expect to see him in different spots on the floor this year.

Defensively?

Bickerstaff said at media day on Monday that he wants Mobley in the conversation for DPOY. Mobley has said as much too and judging from some of the comments from his teammates, it’s quietly motivating him this season.

He contested 12.3 shot attempts per game last year good for the third-highest total in the NBA and led all rookies with 115 blocks, 1.7 per night. He was in the Top-Ten of defenders who held opponents to the lowest field goal percentage within 6 feet of the basket last season, at 52.8 %.

Why?

Mobley is consistently in good position and when he’s not, his size and athleticism allow him to recover quickly. He’s rarely ever in foul trouble.

The Rubio Effect

The absence of Ricky Rubio last season, both due to injury and ultimately a trade for Caris LeVert in February had a ripple effect on the team both on and off the floor.

After signing a three-year deal to return, Rubio was straightforward when asked why he wanted to return to the Cavs.

“I feel like we have unfinished business,” Rubio said on media day.

The first matter to attend to is getting healthy. Rubio said it’s tough to put a date on when he could return to the floor but said that could be sometime in December at the earliest.

The Cavs want to play with a pace and Rubio helps that. Without him, there was a clear difference for a team that struggled to consistently execute a half-court offense. Rubio led the Cavs with a pace of 100.9.

Simply put, with Rubio on the court the Cavs got up-and-down the floor better and his ability to create and knock down shots complimented Darius Garland and even accentuated his growth.

Sure, Donovan Mitchell is a walking bucket that will also help in these categories but having Rubio back in the fold makes them deeper, too.

Rubio also has great chemistry with Mitchell from their days in Utah, and the two go a long way towards cementing a defined culture in Cleveland.

What remains to be seen is how Bickerstaff will continue to tinker with lineups and rotations when the preseason tips off Wednesday. Following practice on Saturday, the coach noted that some of the regulars may not see a ton of time in Philly on the 5th.

There are still three other preseason games before the season tips off North of the border. 

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