While the Cleveland Cavaliers will no longer be the flag bearer of the Eastern Conference, there is still plenty of optimism and reason to be hopeful for the upcoming season.
All-Star power forward Kevin Love does not appear to be going anywhere after signing a new four-year extension last week. But with LeBron James now in Los Angeles, younger players such as Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood (if he is re-signed) and Larry Nance Jr will all see bigger roles and increased playing time.
Clarkson came over from the L.A. Lakers back in February, largely for his ability to score the ball. There were a few games where Clarkson’s talent was on display, but the majority of his time with the Cavaliers last season left many scratching their heads.
Coming into this season though it is only fair to give Clarkson a fresh start. The 26-year-old guard often looks for his own shot and struggles to get others involved at times, averaging only 2.8 assists for his career. We all know Clarkson can score the ball, but if he shows the ability to see the floor better and get his teammates open looks, Clarkson’s game will reach another level.
It is easy to look at what Clarkson did in the 2018 playoffs (19 games, 4.7 points, 30 percent shooting) and scoff at the notion he can be a constant contributor this upcoming season. But many young players take time to develop their game, which is what Clarkson appears to be going through. When he first came into the league all he was asked to do was score, and Clarkson did that (14.3 points, 44 percent shooting) for a struggling Lakers team.
If Clarkson does indeed develop his game more this upcoming season, he will turn into a solid option off the bench for head coach Tyronn Lue.
When the Cavaliers overhauled their roster at the trade deadline, the play with arguably the most hype surrounding him was Rodney Hood. At the time of the deal that sent him to Cleveland, Hood was scoring around 17 points per game (16.8) and was connecting on nearly 39 percent of his three-point attempts.
Hood, like Clarkson, had some excellent nights with the Wine & Gold, but he too could not sustain his success a season ago. The playoffs were a disappointment for Hood, as he too struggled under the bright lights. In 17 playoff game appearances Hood averaged just 5.4 points per game and shot just 16.7 percent from beyond the arc.
At one point it seemed like a long shot Hood would even be back with the team after his refusal to enter a playoff game late in the 4th quarter. Hood was a non-factor in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, but answered the call in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Hood scored 15 points on 7-11 shooting and grabbed six rebounds as well. Now with Hood likely to take over a starting role with James gone, and would likely thrive as one of the main offensive options alongside Love.
Obviously the biggest hurdle for Hood is actually brining him back to the Cavaliers. Other teams have expressed interest in Hood, but Cleveland can match any offer made to the restricted free agent. At this rate Hood likely will not receive the payday he had hoped for, but that actually increases his chances to return to Cleveland.
Continuing with the trend of the young talent acquired at the deadline, Larry Nance Jr will have a chance to flourish in Cleveland’s new look scheme in 2018. After the team gave a contact extension to Love, it was reported that Nance was next up to receive a long-term deal from the Cavaliers. So he too appears to be in the long-range plans for the Cavaliers.
Larry Nance Jr., fresh off his wedding in Hawaii, attended Kevin Love's signing today. Nance is next up on the Cavs extension priority list.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 24, 2018
In 24 regular season games with the Cavaliers, Nance averaged nine points and seven rebounds in a reserve role. With Tristan Thompson’s contract becoming uglier by the day, Nance Jr is thought to be the Cavaliers big man of the future alongside Love.
In an era of position-less basketball, a big man duo of Love and Nance gives the team stability on the back end moving forward.
While Nance is known for his flashy dunks, his skill set is actually perfect for today’s game. His story is also a feel-good one that can give the Cavaliers some good PR and win the fans over. Nance’s calm demeanor and competitive spirit make him the right man to have as part of the new Cavalier core.
With more playing time in Nance’s future, this could be the season his career truly takes off. If Nance is successful at taking his game up a level, that contract extension will not be far behind.
When the Cavaliers made those deadline deals last season, they not only wanted to acquire talent to help them reach the NBA Finals, but also wanted to acquire young players who could help the team in the event LeBron decided to leave at season’s end.
While Clarkson, Hood and Nance Jr all had their ups and downs a season ago, the experience they all gained was invaluable for their careers. Come this season, the Cavaliers young trade acquisitions could all be well on their way to each contributing for a team that will look to be on the rise in the Eastern Conference.