Lamar Stevens returns to starting lineup, keeps Cavs ‘accountable’

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lamar Stevens (8) shoots against Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, December 2, 2022 in Cleveland.  (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lamar Stevens (8) shoots against Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, December 2, 2022 in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

CLEVELAND — In a recent game against the Atlanta Hawks, Donovan Mitchell was scored a few times in short succession. A timeout was needed to restore the defense.

And in the next reunion it was Lamar Stevens, now in a starting role, who was there to convey tough love to the three-time All-Star.

“He came to the meeting and said I was kicking my ass when they scored me twice. I don’t think anyone scored me after that,” Mitchell said, laughing, following the Cavs’ 114-102 win over the Hawks. . “But you need a boy like that. I respect and appreciate him.”

It had been a while since Mitchell had heard of such a thing.

“Was [AJ] Griffin and [Dejounte] Murray, I got shot twice and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Will you stand guard or let them bust your ass?

“I appreciate that when it comes from your teammate, and that’s what you’re ultimately going to need when you want to get to the playoffs, get to the Finals.”

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Stevens was pushed into a starting role earlier this season as the Cavs reshuffled their rotation due to their new offensive look, mostly due to the immediate impact of Mitchell, who was among the league’s leading scorers and the most significant offseason additions in the NBA so far — and he’s battled injuries. Caris LeVert, at his best with the ball in hand and once he can get into a scoring rhythm, has been moved to the bench to make the most of his strengths.

This played a part in propelling Stevens into the starting lineup, where he has to fit in with Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, as well as defending the opposing team’s higher scoring threat on the wing at times.

He won’t be the primary scoring option ahead of Mitchell, Garland or Mobley, especially. But the threat must exist to keep opposing defenses from assaulting All-Star guards.

“He has to be able to give those threats room, but then he also has to be accounted for offensively so the guys have to protect him,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said. “That’s one of the things that — Lamar is supposed to be the all-time leading scorer at Penn State, right? I think he’s seven points adrift and they shut the season down because of COVID. You don’t lead a Power 5 Conference school in scoring if you don’t know how to play up front… So his job is to find his places around his team mates I think he’s been really good so far and I expect him to continue to do so.

Since Stevens was vying for playing time as an undrafted free agent, he knew he needed to add something to his resume, particularly on the defensive end. He has grown into someone the Cavs rely on defensively, which made him perfect for the starting lineup.

“When they put me in the starting lineup, that’s what they expected of me first,” said Stevens. “More than anything, it’s being that defensive leader and really taking on those challenges and being proud of that. I think just being that guy, I’ve embraced that.”

Stevens missed four games with a non-COVID illness but returned to the lineup Friday night against the Orlando Magic and scored eight points in the Cavs’ 107-96 win. In addition to being modeled on what the Cavs’ fifth starter needs, he’s also acted as Senior Director of Accountability on the floor.

“Any big team, you have to communicate,” Stevens said. “Every great defender is vocal. Just to be all on the same page, it takes all of us to be vocal and know where the next man is. It’s just making that decision about how good we really want to be. Sometimes you gotta feel bad about really do great things.”

That element of players holding each other accountable, plus messages coming from the coaching staff, can be an invaluable piece to building a roster, especially one with goals as lofty as the Cavs’ this season.

“It’s the most important thing,” Bickerstaff said. “Coaches, we have relationships with the lads and we can say what we want to say to the players and hope that our relationships can deliver it, but there is no accountability like player-to-player accountability.

“He’s in the locker room, he’s on the bench, he’s on the pitch, you watch the best teams in this league and the coach only has to come in every once in a while because the guys can solve problems and they can hold each other up to standard. I think it’s initially up to the coaches to set that standard, but then more kids holding each other up to that standard is the only way we can become a team we hope we can become.”

Ryan Lewis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

This article originally appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal: Donovan Mitchell Says Lamar Stevens Holds Him Responsible for the Cavs

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