Pick almost any category revolving around experience, and one won’t likely find the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ starting five high on that list.
The Cavs have one of the youngest starting fives in the NBA this season, with an average age of 23.2 years. Aside from Donovan Mitchell, none of the Cavs have meaningful playoff experience (Jarrett Allen has played nine games total and is currently riding an eight-game losing streak).
The Cavs know this. They know it’s easy to write them off come the postseason given their lack of experience.
“[Outsiders] looked at us as a young team, and you don’t expect a lot from a young team,” Allen told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps last week. “You expect them to come in and try to figure themselves out.
But Allen knows this Cavs team hit the ground running this season, putting any concerns over inexperience to bed after a strong showing in a loaded Eastern Conference.
“But I feel like we came in and made an impact on the league,” Allen finished.
Indeed, the Cavs picked up right where they left off last season when a string of late injuries derailed one of the feel-good stories of the year. The defense has remained sky-high and Mitchell’s addition propelled last season’s 20th-rated offense to No. 9 this season.
Cavs Still Not Considered Conference Favorite
Despite being one of three teams with a top-ten offense and defense, the “inner circle” of contention has seemingly eluded Cleveland this season.
In the East, the conference race appears to have crystalized around the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks. Indeed, the Cavaliers are a distant fourth in odds to win the Eastern Conference, according to FanDuel.
And the Cavs aren’t insulated from this fact.
“Obviously, it’s no secret that we lack the experience,” Mitchell said, per Chris Fedor of cleveland.com. “When people talk, we’re not in their top 3 or whatever it is, and that’s fine, but the biggest thing for us is we believe we can not just make the playoffs but make a deep run. It’s all a learning experience and about continuing to get better, so, when we get to the playoffs, whatever seed we are, we’re ready.”
Despite the Cavaliers facing skepticism, there are reasons to fear them come playoff time. The Cavaliers are .500 or better against the conference’s heavyweights; 2-1 against the Celtics, 2-2 against the Bucks, and 1-1 against the Sixers.
Taking the conference as a whole, Cleveland is 23-13.
This at least suggests Cleveland can hang with the conference’s elite in the regular season. But in a seven-game series? Much will depend on who coach JB Bickerstaff relies on in crunch time.
Coach Bickerstaff Teases Cavs Playoff Rotation
Come playoff time, the Cavs’ roster will likely constrict and expand given Cleveland’s round-by-round opponent. And if Bickerstaff is expected to be believed, expect more constriction than expansion.
“Eight, nine will probably be the most,” Bickerstaff told cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor when asked how many players will make up the Cavs’ postseason rotation.
“It could depend on our opponent and what we need in the moment. Four of the five starters I think are going to end up playing heavy minutes. So now we’re just trying to piece the guys around them that night to fit the matchups best,” Bickerstaff concluded.