Ranking The Rosters: Cavs And Knicks 1 Through 29

Ranking the Rosters: Cavs and Knicks 1 through 29

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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and thelandondemand.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham.


The Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks are set to being a best-of-seven series in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday evening at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. This series figures to be one of the more fascinating first round matchups.


Heading into the series it’s a fair thing to say that the Cavs feature more star power but the Knicks are the team with the better depth. This makes ranking the players on each roster from top to bottom a fun exercise.


Tier 1: True Superstars

1.     Donovan Mitchell

-       Mitchell is head and shoulders the best player in this series and the guy that had the best season of anyone on either team. He’s a lock to make an All-NBA for the first time in his career and likely will end up being named to the first team. There are other players on this list that have the ability to take over a basketball game, but not as frequently as Mitchell can.

This season he averaged a career-high 28.3 points per game with the best shooting splits he’s had in his career. Mitchell had 13 40-point games in the regular season and it would be surprising if he didn’t have at least a couple of those games against the Knicks if this series is any longer than five games.


Tier 2: All-Stars

2.     Evan Mobley

-       Mobley’s play down the stretch of the season has vaulted him up to the second-best player in this series, which is quite an accomplishment given some of the stars on both sides. His impact on the defensive side of the ball has him staring at a top three finish in the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year race. Over the final couple of months this season he took a substantial jump offensively, averaging over 18 points and nine rebounds per game since mid-January.


3.     Jalen Brunson

-       This season has mostly been a continuation of Brunson’s fantastic playoff run last spring with the Dallas Mavericks. While there’s an argument to be made that Julius Randle was the best player on the Knicks this season, there’s a greater argument that Brunson was the most important player on that roster. In his last matchup against the Cavs on March 31 Brunson had a career-high 48 points. If he plays like that, the Knicks will win this series.


4.     Darius Garland

-       After making the All-Star team last year Garland had to adjust his role a little bit this season with Mitchell entering the equation for the Cavs. His year as a whole was fantastic with his numbers close to where they were last season on better shooting percentages. Since Garland missed a game in Miami on March 10 due to a leg injury, he’s shot just 28.6 percent on 3-pointers. That number needs to be higher for the Cavs to advance out of the first round.


5.     Julius Randle

-       Randle has had a terrific season for the Knicks. He made his first career All-NBA team back in 2021 before having a down season last year. This season his numbers have returned to All-NBA form with 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. The biggest question with him is what condition he’s in physically. Randle injured his ankle in a game against Miami back on March 29 and hasn’t played since. He’s set to be re-evaluated on Thursday, just two days before Game 1 in Cleveland. If Randle is on the floor but nowhere near 100 percent, that actually may help the Cavs instead of the Knicks.


6.     Jarrett Allen

-       This season for Allen hasn’t been quite as good as last season was, but he’s still been a very effective rim defender for the Cavs. He’s shifted from being the best defender on the team earlier this season to a clear No. 2 behind Mobley. What Allen does provide better than anyone on the Cavs is vertical spacing. His rebounding when matched up with Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein will be vital for the Cavs.


Tier 3: High-end role players


7.     Immanuel Quickley

-       This season has been a breakout for Quickley after much of the offseason was spent with external debates as to whether or not the Knicks should include him in a trade to Utah for Mitchell. Obviously, that never happened, and New York has enjoyed Quickley’s rise to a top candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.


8.     Caris LeVert

-       LeVert has enjoyed the best defensive season of his career while also shooting lights out over the last month of the season. From March 1 through the end of the season he’s been shooting 48.8 percent from beyond the arc and finished the year at 39.2 percent. If he keeps up this recent hot stretch offensively it could swing the series.


9.     RJ Barrett

-       Barrett hasn’t exactly lived up to the billing of a former No. 3 overall pick, but he has had a decent season for the Knicks. If he can carry bench units while Brunson and Randle are on the bench for New York, the Knicks can’t ask for much more.


10.  Josh Hart

-       Hart was acquired from Portland for Cam Reddish and a first-round pick around this season’s trade deadline and has given the Knicks a boost ever since. He’s not a guy that’s going to blow anyone away with his stats, but he does all the little things that help teams win. Hart was a guy that the Cavs were rumored to be interested in around the trade deadline and if the Knicks win this series because of him, fans will be loud about not having the ammunition to get a deal done before the Knicks did.




Tier 4: Unquestionably helpful

11.  Isaac Okoro

-       Okoro is a swing guy for the Cavs in this series. When he’s on the floor he’s the team’s best perimeter defender and will likely spend the bulk of his time defending Brunson. If he can make enough 3-pointers from the corner than it will drastically push things in Cleveland’s favor. His availability is in question though, as he hasn’t played since March 26 with a knee injury.


12.  Mitchell Robinson

-       Robinson is essentially New York’s lesser version of Allen. He provides vertical spacing, shot blocking, and offensive rebounding that helps the Knicks win games. There is an opportunity to get him into foul trouble, though, as he fouled out of four games this year and committed five fouls in six others, all while averaging less than 30 minutes per night.


13.  Isaiah Hartenstein

-       Hartenstein is New York’s other center and provides much of the same things Robinson does. He’s a little less athletic but quite a bit stronger than Robinson. Hartenstein’s push shot from eight feet out never seems to miss, either.


14.  Quentin Grimes

-       This season Grimes has been one of the better defenders for the Knicks and figures to spend time defending Mitchell throughout the series. He’s also been a viable 3-point threat, making 38.6 percent of his attempts from deep on the season.


Tier 5: Roll of the dice

15.  Ricky Rubio

-       Rubio was terrific last season before tearing his ACL in December of 2021. He hasn’t quite found the consistency needed to be in the tier above. In the last game against the Knicks he was benched in the second half in favor of Raul Neto.


16.  Cedi Osman

-       There might be a game in this series in which Osman makes four 3-pointers and it helps the Cavs to win. There may also be a game when he can’t stay on the floor defensively. That’s who Osman is. He’s the ultimate roll of the dice. This tier could almost be named in his honor.


17.  Obi Toppin

-       Toppin hasn’t lived up the billing of a former top 10 pick in New York but the potential is still there. If the Knicks win the 15 minutes per game he averages, it’s going to be a bad sign for the Cavs.


18.  Lamar Stevens

-       Stevens is one of the better defenders the Cavs have, and he’s got the frame to spend time on Randle and slow him down. The last time these two teams met, Stevens spent time defending Brunson and it went rather poorly.


19.  Dean Wade

-       Everything said about Stevens rings true for Wade, except Wade is a little bit lesser of a defender and, theoretically, a better shooter. The only issue is that he’s shooting just 31 percent from 3-point range since returning from a shoulder injured suffered in early December. If Okoro can’t play, Wade makes sense as a starter.


20.  Miles McBride

-       McBride will likely be the last member of New York’s rotation in this series. He’s not a particularly good shooter, but if he makes a few shots it’s a huge boost for the Knicks.


21.  Danny Green

-       Well, here we are. Green saw his first real extended run for the Cavs in their final two games of the regular season, games that most of the regular rotation players didn’t play. He did show in that time he can still make open 3-pointers if the Cavs need him to. The biggest question is whether or not he can stay on the floor on the defensive end of the floor.


Tier 6: If they’re playing, it’s a problem


22.  Raul Neto

-       Neto served as the team’s third point guard until Rubio returned from his knee injury.


23.  Jericho Sims

-       Sims doesn’t play much, but he’ll be a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ option if Hartenstein and Robinson find themselves in foul trouble.


24.  Derrick Rose

-       The former NBA MVP has only played 27 games this year for the Knicks. If he’s in the game, it’s a big advantage for the Cavs.


25.  Evan Fournier

-       Just like Rose, Fournier has played 27 games for New York. Seeing him in the playoffs would be a surprise.


26.  Robin Lopez

-       Lopez being mic’d up on the bench would make for good entertainment. Lopez being on the court would make for a rough go of it for Cleveland.


27.  Sam Merrill

-       Merrill is a guy the Cavs would like to develop, but this isn’t the time for development.


Tier 7: They’re on the roster


28.  Dylan Windler

-       Windler played in three games this year for the Cavs. He’s currently dealing with another injury.

29.  DaQuan Jeffries

-       Jeffries has played 47 games in his NBA career, none of them have been in a Knicks uniform.