CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the Locked On Cavs podcast in the video player above is from Oct. 25, 2021.
Through the first three weeks of the 2021-22 NBA season, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more pleasantly surprising team than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With a 126-109 victory over the New York Knicks -- the Cavs' fourth win in as many games -- Cleveland moved to 7-4 on the season, good for the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
But whereas the Cavs have gotten off to hot starts in previous years, only to see their seasons soon slide, this year's Cleveland squad appears to have staying power. With that in mind, let's take a look at three reasons why it's time to believe in the Cavs' hot start.
Rubio's for real
Cleveland's acquisition of Ricky Rubio in a draft day trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves largely flew under the radar. But to this point in the season, the veteran point guard's impact on the Cavs has been anything but quiet.
Through his first 11 games in Cleveland, the 31-year-old Rubio has averaged 13.7 points on 40.5 percent shooting, including 42.9 percent from three-point range and 6.8 assists in 27.9 minutes per game. While Darius Garland remains the Cavs' starting point guard, Rubio has been a cornerstone of the team's rotation and has often found himself on the court during the closing minutes of games.
Rubio's impact on Cleveland was apparent on Sunday when he scored a career-high 37 points and tallied 10 assists off the bench in the Cavs' victory over the Knicks. Once thought to be a potential midseason trade piece, the 2009 first-round pick may have already made himself unexpendable for a Cleveland team looking to make its first playoff appearance since LeBron James' departure in 2018.
'Mo Mobley, less problems
Having made a top-eight selection in each of the past four drafts, the Cavs seem to have finally landed the type of blue-chip talent whose arrival can help reverse a franchise's fortunes. Through the first 11 games of his NBA career, Evan Mobley has lived up to the hype -- and then some -- and is already drawing comparisons to the likes of Hall of Fame forward Kevin Garnett.
With averages of 14.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks, the No. 3 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft seems to have helped raise Cleveland's floor on both sides of the court. In particular, his defense has stood out during what is already shaping up to be a Rookie of the Year-worthy campaign.
The best is yet to come
Perhaps the most surprising part of the Cavs' strong start to the 2021-22 campaign is the level of difficulty they've had to overcome to make it happen. Of Cleveland's first 11 games, eight have come on the road, with 10 of the Cavs' first 11 opponents being teams who qualified for either the playoffs or a play-in game last season.
Nevertheless, Cleveland has amassed the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference, thanks in part to a 3-2 road trip that included four games on the West Coast. While the Cavs' schedule won't get easier in the near future, starting with a game against the 7-3 Washington Wizards on Wednesday, Cleveland has already shown the ability to weather challenging circumstances this season.
The latest challenge the Cavs will face comes in the form of Cleveland's leading scorer, Collin Sexton, suffering a torn meniscus, which will keep him sidelined for an extended period of time. But whereas Sexton's absence might have derailed the Cavs in the previous years, their more balanced scoring approach this season could allow Cleveland to stay on track.