There is no one leading and six riders competing for a small starting spot

INDEPENDENCE – After the first practice of training camp, Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff may be named while not competing for the small starting spot.

His list is long, and he said there is no frontrunner for the job.

Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert, Cedi Osman, Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens and Dylan Windler is “all in the mix,” Bickerstaff said.

The open position was thrown when last season’s starter, Lauri Markkanen, was among those traded in the September 1 deal with the Utah Jazz for three-time All-Star guard, Donovan Mitchell. Bickerstaff hopes to have a good idea of ​​the decision by Oct. 14, but will experiment when the four-game preseason schedule opens Oct. 5 at Philadelphia.

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“We might throw some wild lines out on the floor because that’s what we like to do,” Bickerstaff said Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “And then we’ll get a good measure of that when we get some tape and film and go from there.”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) interviews forward Cedi Osman (16) during the NBA basketball team’s media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

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The regular season opener is set for October 19 at the Toronto Raptors, with the home opener on October 23 against the Washington Wizards.

Okoro (6-foot-5 and 225 pounds) is considered an outsider favorite because of how he’s handled the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best player over the past two seasons. But his offense has been slow to develop, even though he shot .442 from long range after the 2022 All-Star break.

LeVert (6-6, 205), a Columbus native acquired from the Indiana Pacers in February, struggled to find his rhythm as injuries limited him to 19 games (10 starts) with the Cavs. He averaged 13.6 points in 29.8 minutes.

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Osman (6-7, 230) has been wildly inconsistent. He was inactive for six games in December and January and did not play in four games in March. But his .559 shooting percentage on 2-pointers was the second-best of his career and his .357 on 3s was the third-best.

Wade (6-9, 219) just received a three-year, $18.5 million contract extension that will keep him in Cleveland through 2025-26. Undrafted after starting four years at Kansas State, he has steadily improved since signing a two-way contract in the summer of 2019. Bickerstaff praised Wade Tuesday for his skills as a perimeter defender.

Stevens (6-8, 225) was the inspiration for the Cavs’ chain of Junkyard Dogs awarded after a victory. Finishing as Penn State’s leading career scorer, Stevens took the same route as Wade, and Stevens signed a two-way contract with the Cavs in November, 2020.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Dylan Windler (9) catches the ball against Orlando Magic's Chuma Okeke (3) and Jeff Dowtin (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Cleveland.  (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dylan Windler (9) catches the ball against Orlando Magic’s Chuma Okeke (3) and Jeff Dowtin (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The wild card in the equation is Windler (6-6, 199) who has been plagued by injuries since being drafted 26th overall in 2019. Windler appeared in 50 games last season, averaging 2.2 points and shooting .378 from the field and .300 on 3s in 9.2 minutes.

Bickerstaff said Windler has been “fantastic” since returning to Cleveland after Labor Day.

“You look at the work he’s put in, but you look at the guys who are picking up. And he’s taken him and his game to another level,” Bickerstaff said.

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Bickerstaff said having so many players in the position should benefit the team.

“That competition will push everybody else to be better,” Bickerstaff said. “I know, of course, we have some people who have just earned it, but they are also competing. And they’re pushing it and they’re pushing each other. So it’s going to raise the overall level of the team.

“Imagine what your practices are like, but now you’re moving into games, and everyone’s stepping up, but everyone’s going to have a chance to earn it.”

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45), Darius Garland (10) and Caris LeVert (3) pose for a portrait during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Cleveland.  (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45), Darius Garland (10) and Caris LeVert (3) pose for a portrait during the NBA basketball team’s media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Bickerstaff said that he and his team have to decide if they want their most talented player at the 3 or more spots of “spacer, ball movements.” The former may favor LeVert, the latter Okoro, whose contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet.

“It’s interesting because, there are two schools of thought … and you want to see what works best,” Bickerstaff said. “The best and most talented players are put on the floor. Let that talent, especially with our group, what I really believe is that they have the ability to make shots, they have the ability to spread the floor, and keep people honest.

“And then a guy who’s a spaceman, a ball mover, those types of things is less used, because there’s so many guys who can handle the ball and make plays. We’ve gone back and forth on that, I’ll be honest with you guys, but we’re going to give him a chance to see exactly what works best and what’s the most troublesome for defenses.”

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Mitchell agrees with the premise and implications of the open trial.

“I think that brings out the best in guys. I think that’s only going to make us better,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think it’s going to be looked at in a negative way. I think guys are going to approach it the right way. Whoever it is, you have to earn it and you have to work for it.

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“Ultimately that will not only help the guys who will be trying the 3-pointer, but also everyone throughout the team because the intensity will be high, every possession will be important, every practice, every situation, every detail. You’re doing that now, that will pay dividends down the line.

“Ultimately, we have depth that way as well. It’s going to be exciting and good to watch and it’s going to get the best out of everyone.”

February 15, 2022;  Atlanta, Georgia, USA;  Cleveland Cavaliers guard Caris LeVert (3) reacts to a call during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

February 15, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Caris LeVert (3) reacts to a call during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Bickerstaff mentioned depth when discussing what he was looking for from his humble beginnings.

“We’re looking for the best fit. What we try to do is put together the best five-man units we can,” he said. “It’s not something we’re going to rotate or anything like that. It’s something we want to put together so that guys have an understanding of who they are and where they fit in and when their minutes are going to come.

“Whoever can help that group be the best group on both ends of the floor, that’s the group we’re going to put in. And then that doesn’t always mean they’re the group you finish games with. I think there can be two distinct groups here.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert among Cavs competing for small starting spot

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