While the Cavs are off to a middling 3-4 star, one pleasant surprise still has Cleveland’s future looking bright.
Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were seemingly the perfect team on either end of the floor. They had the No. 1 overall defense in the NBA and were boasting a top-ten offense too. When the playoffs opened up, it felt like the Cavs had an easy track to reach the conference finals, especially after splitting the regular season series with the Miami Heat and crushing the Boston Celtics three out of the four times they met. The only hurdle for Cleveland was to get past the New York Knicks in the first round. Even though the Cavs struggled against the Knicks all season, every metric available made it feel like Cleveland was the overwhelming favorite heading into the series.
That’s when reality came crashing in on the Cavs.
New York punched Cleveland in the mouth to open the series and never relented. The Knicks had the depth that trumped the Cavs, who realistically only had five to five and a half (if Isaac Okoro wasn’t in foul trouble) players available in their rotation. When the series ended in five games, it became clear that statistics and metrics don’t paint the whole picture. Cleveland went back to the drawing board, and it became clear pretty quickly that what they were lacking was three-point shooting to stretch out opposing defenses. So, when free agency began, the Cavs moved heaven and earth to get their top target and the most pleasant surprise early into the season: Max Strus.
Strus is already shooting his way into the record books
From the moment Cleveland took the floor, it became clear that Strus was a missing link, especially in a more movement-based offense. In his ten appearances between the preseason and regular season, Strus has attempted 77 three-pointers, a product of how many the Cavs are taking. Based on just his 62 attempts during the regular season, Strus is currently on pace to take 715 three-pointers in the regular season, which would annihilate the franchise record 635 attempts Donovan Mitchell set just last season. Strus is also on pace to make 211 of those attempts, ranking him second all-time in franchise history, just behind Mitchell.
Strus shooting so many attempts at such a high volume isn’t what’s pleasantly surprising about him this season. Instead, it’s the fact that he’s looked so comfortable right away with Cleveland, which, in turn, has unlocked a lot of things on offense. His teammates have said it’s been a seamless transition adding Strus to the rotation and credit the time everyone spent together during the offseason. Moreover, the fact that Strus asked the Cavs to send film to Evan Mobley breaking down how he played alongside Bam Adebayo while with the Miami Heat speaks volumes. Strus didn’t want to land a massive payday, he’s actively improving his game and finding ways to fit in rather than fit out with his new team.
In turn, the spacing Strus provides has opened up so many lanes for Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert to attack the basket with open lanes and a full head of steam. It also forces defenders not to pack the paint against Jarrett Allen or Evan Mobley. But, if the defenders stay home, Strus is always there, acting as a reliable kick-out assist on the perimeter.
The Strus is on the loose sharing the wealth
It cannot be understated how surprising it’s been seeing Strus adapt to the Cavs so easily. Not only has that comfort and his shooting acumen unlocked Cleveland offensively. But Strus has shown even more to his game to take the Cavs from great to elite on the offensive side of the ball. In the handful of regular season appearances he’s had, Strus is averaging a career-best 3.3 assists per game. Moreover, Cleveland has scored 54 points from Strus’s playmaking, which would have the Cavs on track to score 633 points across the entire regular season.
Strus seemingly always makes the right play at the right time whenever he’s the primary ballhandler. Some of that can be attributed to the summer workouts and breaking down film of his time with Adebayo with Evan Mobley. But it makes the Cavs even more dynamic offensively and, in turn, harder to plan for when multiple ballhandlers are on the floor.
Everything Strus has brought to the table so far has been everything everyone expected and more. He’s been the missing link in their offense and as the comfort and familiarity he already has continues to grow, Cleveland will only get better.