Cavs

Mitchell Soaring Cavs to Nostalgic Heights

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How can a franchise recover from losing its greatest player twice?

By taking a risk on an unwanted star, perfecting attention to detail, and knowing that the Larry O’Brien properly belongs only in The Land.

Are the Cavs legit? And, for the first time since the days of Mark Price and company, competitive without the services of LeBron James?

It appears so based on the small sample size to begin the year.

Cleveland has started with an 8-2 record, sitting at 2nd in the Eastern Conference. So far, the Cavs’ 2022-23 campaign includes two overtime victories against the Boston Celtics (3rd in the East).

At first, there was concern Cleveland could regress without a significant addition over the offseason. After all, the Cavs shot up to 44 wins after finishing between 19-22 wins the previous three seasons.

But then, feelings soured in Utah. And suddenly, Cleveland positioned itself to acquire a Jazz star in distress.

Three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell looks excellent out of the gate. If the performance keeps up and the Cavs keep winning, Cleveland could be a dark-horse contender in the East.

Mitchell’s skyrocketing efficiency

So far, Mitchell’s offensive jumped up from All-Star to All-NBA-caliber production levels.

Mitchell is averaging 31.2 points per game in nine games, nearly five points higher than his next-best scoring season (26.4 PPG in 2021).

The most significant takeaway from Mitchell’s start is his overall increase in efficiency:

Donovan Mitchell Shooting Splits (Career vs. 2022-23)

  • Career: 24.1 PPG, 44% FG (19.5 attempts/game), 36% 3PT (7.7 attempts/game)
  • 2022-2023: 31.2 PPG, 51% FG (21.3 attempts/game), 45% 3PT (9.1 attempts/game)

Compared to his career numbers, the hot shooting from three on more volume commands the most notice. The biggest knock for Mitchell was playing like a heliocentric star but with sub-par efficiency compared to James Harden and Luka Dončić.

With Mitchell, the Cavs possess two of the league’s best offensive creators at the guard spot. There’s plenty of value in staggering Mitchell and Darius Garland, who is also coming off a breakout season in 2022.

Similar to past years, Mitchell thrives as a secondary playmaker and is great at putting pressure on the rim. However, his shooting improvements make him more potent and, most importantly, improves Cleveland.

At first, there was concern over whether it was brilliant for Cleveland to give up so much for Mitchell. Although in a small sample size, the investment is paying off.

Mitchell’s fit with Garland, the rest of the team

Acquiring Mitchell gave the Cavs a much-need scoring boost without sacrificing much defensively.

The numbers back up Cleveland’s plan of attack to begin the season. In 2021-22, the Cavs finished fifth in opponent points per game but ranked just 25th in points scored.

This season, Cleveland is seventh in points per game and third in opponent points per game. Compared to the rest of the league, the Cavs are only one of a handful of teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating.

By trading for Mitchell, the Cavs opened up opportunities for the rest of its young core. There isn’t as much pressure for Garland to play 40+ minutes or dominate the ball endlessly. Mitchell also puts youngsters like Evan Mobley into a better position to succeed without carrying much of the load on offense.

Shooters like Dean Wade (49% from three), Caris LeVert (44%), and Kevin Love (42%) open up the floor for Mitchell to attack the rim. And unlike in Utah, Cleveland possesses more than one elite defender on its roster.

Looking ahead, Mitchell will easily find his way into the All-NBA conversation and potentially fringe consideration for MVP. Compared to the rest of the league, the Cavs look dominant on both ends of the court.

This season, bookies projected Cleveland to finish in the 46-47 win range. Now, Cleveland is pushing towards the high-fifties or low-sixties in the win column.

Is it time to start talking championship discussion?

Where do the Cavs stand compared to the rest of the East?

There’s plenty of time left this season to go through for Cleveland. After all, between now and April, anything can happen.

But it might be time to push the Cavs towards title-contention conversation. At the very least, they’ll be considered safe picks to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

So far, only Boston, Milwaukee and Cleveland are emerging as legit candidates to represent the East in the Finals. Miami, Philadelphia and Brooklyn have struggled out of the gate due to injuries and off-the-court drama. Toronto and Atlanta fit more as potential playoff teams than legitimate championship contenders.

Moving forward, the Cavs will enter unfamiliar territory. Before last season, Cleveland had never had a winning record without James since 1998. There’s a direct correlation between Cleveland’s relevancy in the league and LeBron’s presence.

It appears Cleveland could have one of the best young cores in the NBA. Mitchell is still 26, while Garland is playing in his age-23 season. After this season, the Cavs still retain Mobley on his rookie deal for two more years.

A team stuck in perpetual mediocrity without LeBron suddenly emerged as one of the best teams in the East.

This offseason, Cleveland went all-in to acquire Donovan Mitchell. The Cavs might have hit the jackpot if he maintains this upper-echelon-level production.

About Dominic Chiappone

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