1 Cavs player in danger of losing starting job in 2023-24 NBA training camp

The Cleveland Cavaliers are well and truly on the way up. From 2020-21 to 2021-22 they doubled their win total from 22 to 44, and last season they bumped that up even further to 51, making their first playoff appearance since their LeBron James days in the process.

Led by a young core consisting of Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, there’s plenty to like about this team, but the one position in which they’ve had the least security has been at small forward. Unsurprisingly, it’s the player who spent the most time starting there who is at the most risk of losing his starting job in 2023-24.

Isaac Okoro

The Cavs tried a few different starters who can slot in as a three last season, including Lamar Stevens – who started 25 games – and Caris Levert – who started 30. But when they had a full bill of health, it was most often Isaac Okoro who filled the role, starting 46 of his 76 games last season. And as the season wore on, his role as a starter only became more secure. After starting just four of his first 30 games and eight of his first 38, he went on to start every game for the rest of the season. Come playoffs he was also in the starting lineup for the first couple of games, before losing his spot to Caris Levert for the last three as the Cavs searched for a little more offense against the Knicks.

Okoro’s defense on a team with a strong defensive identity is certainly valuable, but when they struggle it’s usually because of an inability to score and somebody who averaged 6.4 points last season isn’t the best person to resolve that issue. Somebody who can help, however, is Max Strus, who the Cavs picked up from the Heat during the offseason.

Strus was a valuable member of the Heat team which made its way to the NBA Finals from the eight seed last season, averaging a career high 11.5 points in 28.4 minutes last season. Though he shot only 35% from long-range last season, he is a constant threat from the outside – he shot 41% the season prior – and has improved his ability to score in multiple ways and make the right read when scoring isn’t an option.

Strus would be something of an outlier in a starting lineup with numerous strong defenders, and offloading some of Okoro’s minutes to him will likely damage their defense to an extent. But what they lose at that end of the floor they will likely compensate for and then some on offense, which is exactly the reason that they brought him in.

Early last season, JB Bickerstaff and his coaching staff appeared to move away from the idea of Okoro as a starter, instead opting for at various points Caris Levert, Lamar Stevens, or even Dean Wade alongside their two front court locks in a bigger lineup. That was after Okoro had started in all but six of his first 134 in the NBA over his first two seasons. But as the season wore on, the stocky 22-year-old made his way back into the good graces of his head coach, returning to the starting lineup of which he had been a feature since being drafted with the fifth pick in the 2020 draft. The pick-up of Max Strus, however, suggests that the Cavs have recognized their need for a little more offensive firepower. It would be no surprise to see that reflected in their starting lineup come the beginning of the upcoming season.

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