How High Can Mitchell Propel Cavs?


Are the Cavs a force to be reckoned with?

And for the first time in a long time, without the services of LeBron James? Cleveland’s decision-making in the offseason seems to imply that the answer is nothing but yes.

The Cavs acquired three-time NBA All-Star Donovan Mitchell in a blockbuster move late this past offseason. Cleveland now possesses three All-Stars from the 2021-22 season, and none of those players include potential superstar Evan Mobley.

Coming off a 22-win campaign in the 2021 season, the Cavs took an unexpected leap last year. Despite injuries across the board, Cleveland finished with its best regular season since LeBron’s last year with the team in 2018. The team banked on a leap from Most Improved Player candidate Darius Garland, Mobley’s superb rookie season, and the fifth-best defense in the league.

Despite going 0-2 in the 2022 Play-In Tournament, the arrow is pointing nowhere but up for Cleveland, and that was without acquiring Mitchell. With Mitchell, the Cavs could be in play to make a deep postseason run.

Mitchell’s Career with the Jazz

Since his arrival in the league in 2018, Mitchell has been one of the best scoring guards in the NBA. Since his rookie season, Mitchell has averaged north of 20 points per game on career 44/36/83 shooting splits.

The biggest improvement for Mitchell has been his ability to keep his three-point efficiency consistent while increasing his volume there. In the first three years of his career, Mitchell shot nearly 36% on 5.5 attempts per game. In 2021 and 2022, he upped his volume to 9.3 attempts per game and shot above 36%.

Mitchell has also taken massive strides as a playmaker and ball-handler. In 2022, he averaged 5.3 assists per game, improving his assists numbers in all five seasons of his career.

By far and away, the biggest appeal for Mitchell is his playoff production. Comparing his regular-season and postseason numbers, the improvement across the board is legit:

Donovan Mitchell (Regular Season vs. Playoffs):

  • Regular Season (345 games): 23.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 44/36/83 shooting splits
  • Playoffs (39 games): 28.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, 43/37/87 shooting splits

If Mitchell maintains this production, he could be the necessary piece Cleveland needs to take another leap forward.

Mitchell-Garland Backcourt Fit

On paper, Mitchell brings nothing but upside to a promising but limited Cavs roster.

Last season, Cleveland ranked 25th in points scored per game, 29th in field goals attempted, 20th in three-pointers attempted, and 20th in offensive rating.

The Cavs relied heavily on Darius Garland to carry the load on offense. Cleveland also dealt with a lack of personnel that could reliably space the floor, especially when playing both Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen together. Last year, only Garland and Kevin Love were big-minute players who shot above 38% from three.

With Mitchell, Cleveland boosts its offensive floor without sacrificing its defensive ceiling. Mitchell’s defensive effort has been a cause of concern, especially toward the end of his Utah tenure. But the Jazz quietly also took steps back on defense due to Rudy Gobert‘s subtle decline and the lack of defensive personnel.

In Cleveland, Mitchell will be surrounded by both Allen and Mobley. Mitchell can settle into a role where if he’s just reenergized, the Cavs will still maintain a top-10 defense in the league.

The biggest question left to be answered is how the Garland-Mitchell backcourt will fit together.

Last season, Garland took one of the best scoring leaps in recent memory.

On offense, the Mitchell-Garland pairing could be arguably the best-scoring backcourt in the NBA. Both players are elite shooters, three-level scores, and reliable playmakers. The Cavs could stagger Mitchell and Garland so there’s always a minimum of one elite creator on the floor at all times. Together, both players could carry the load on offense, reserving themselves more for the postseason.

The two biggest concerns are health and defense. Mitchell has missed 34 games in 2021 and 2022 combined, while Garland missed 32 and wore down by the end of last season. Small guards who love to attack the basket will suffer wear and tear, especially over the course of an 82-game season.

And, despite fielding a great defensive roster, there are concerns about the lack of size in the Garland-Mitchell backcourt. The Cavs banked hard last season on their elite defense. If Cleveland takes a step back on that side of the court, that could lower the team’s ceiling.

With that said, the Garland-Mitchell pairing has more positives than benefits. At the price they got, landing an All-Star scorer was exactly what the Cavs needed.

Cleveland’s Floor and Ceiling in 2022-2023

Acquiring Mitchell means the team believes it is capable of making a deep playoff run. When contextualizing the Cavs within the rest of the Eastern Conference, that assessment appears correct on paper.

So far, both Boston and Milwaukee will be the favorites to come out of the East. Given their offseason moves, Philadelphia should be on the outer rim of that conversation.

Cleveland falls in a pretty good situation, though. You could make the case that the Cavs might be the fourth-best team in the conference. Miami will probably regress given their quiet offseason, and question marks remain for Brooklyn, Atlanta and Toronto. In the regular season, expect the Cavs to be out of the play-in conversation and geared for a top-six seed in the East.

The Land’s outlook in the postseason remains largely unknown, however. The Garland-Mitchell pairing is sustainable in the regular season but not as certain in the playoffs. You also can’t overlook Utah’s playoff blunders under Mitchell.

Cleveland will still struggle to be one of the best offenses in the league. The playoffs are like a math problem: if a team doesn’t reach x number of points, their likelihood to win decreases substantially. Teams with larger offensive upside tend to fare better than those with defensive upside. The Cavs are more the latter than the former.

Regardless, the Cavs put themselves in a great spot to take another leap with this iteration of the team. Now armed with Mitchell, expect Cleveland to finally make its way on the map toward championship contention.

About Dominic Chiappone

    Recommended for you

    Powered by