The Donovan Mitchell trade is already paying off for the Cavaliers


When the Utah Jazz decided to blow up their team and let go of their two centerpieces, the Cleveland Cavaliers saw their chance to snatch up another young All-Star to round out their roster. They surprised the entire league and traded for Donovan Mitchell, who many thought was destined to end up in New York, to add some offensive firepower that the young squad was missing last season. Cleveland only ranked 19th offensively last season, and they often fell apart whenever Darius Garland was not on the court to direct his teammates.

Now, ten games into the season, the Cavaliers rank fourth in offense throughout the league despite their floor general Garland missing all but three games. Mitchell proved that he could lead the team, even as a newcomer, and formed a dangerous backcourt with Caris LeVert during Garland’s absence. The two of them combined for an impressive 82 points against the Boston Celtics, which was the most points ever scored by a Cavaliers’ duo in a regular season game. The only other time two Cavs players each had 40 plus points in the same game was game five of the 2016 finals, when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving did it.

Considering LeVert’s inconsistency when compared to how Garland typically performs at a high level, it will be fascinating to see what Mitchell will be able to accomplish in tandem with Garland over the remainder of the season now that the latter is back on the court again. While Mitchell will remain the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, especially when Garland is feeding him passes, he can relinquish the point guard duties and let Garland take the run the offense.

The two guards will look great together on the floor, but the Cavaliers also have the option to stagger them now to keep their offense from stalling or falling apart completely again. Mitchell seems invested in taking on whichever role is thrust upon him. The newcomer reportedly watches film of Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen on the court together to learn the best ways to play with the two big men.

Having so many talented teammates actually seems to be what is allowing Mitchell to shine in Cleveland. Everyone already knew that Mitchell could score – he proved that over and over again with the Jazz – but he looks like a much better team player now, averaging career highs in assists, while he is doing what he was brought in to do at a much higher level than ever before. In his first six games with the Cavaliers, Mitchell averaged 32.6 points. That is the second-highest point average of any player in the first six games with a new franchise in history, just behind Wilt Chamberlain’s performance in 1959.

Over the span of ten games, Mitchell is now averaging 31.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 45.1 percent from three. While the season is still young, these stats show a significant leap from what Mitchell was averaging last season with Utah. So far, he has only recorded less than thirty points in two games and lead the Cavaliers to an 8-2 record. They even beat the Celtics twice, showing that they belong with the Eastern Conference elite.

Ben Taylor, the author of Thinking Basketball, put together the following comprehensive video to illustrate the impact Mitchell has had scoring, playmaking, and on the defensive end:

Mitchell and Stephen Curry are actually the only two players in the league averaging at least 30 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and at least 40.0 percent from three. The three-time All-Star is an absolute scoring force for the Cavaliers, while also making them a much better three-point shooting team. Mitchell shocks defenses with his dribble-attacks, which often leads defenders to leaving open shooters and giving the team a lot more opportunities from behind the arc. Cleveland did not have that kind of kick-out dynamic ever since LeBron James left the team.

Despite the similarity in this particular area, Mitchell is leading in a new post-LeBron era in Cleveland, featuring a young, hungry team trying to prove that they can be the very best. Mitchell fits in perfectly with the Cavaliers’ young core that is collectively reaching for stardom, while also offering some more experience than most of his teammates currently have.

Pairing two dynamic ball-handlers with Mobley and Allen turned out to be a winning formula for the Cavaliers, and Mitchell is the most explosive and talented backcourt partner, Garland has ever had. Mitchell and Garland could possibly be one of the best duos in the future of the NBA, following in the footsteps of iconic duos such as the Splash Bros. Considering that Allen and Mobley, who will follow in the footsteps of his three All-Star teammates sooner rather than later, are also in the mix, the focus in Cleveland will be on how their young core can form the next dynasty rather than on proving that they have the duo of the future handling the ball.

When the trade for Mitchell was made, many thought that the size and limitations of their backcourt would be the Cavaliers’ defensive downfall. While the concerns were certainly valid, the team currently ranks second defensively, outperforming expectations on that end of the floor too. Their defensive success is mostly due to Mobley being versatile enough to guard wing players and Allen effectively protecting the rim, but Mitchell also deserves some credit here for rising above expectations. Mitchell has never been a great defender, but he is putting in the work now and playing the best defense of his career while the two big men firmly have his back.

The Cavaliers gave up a lot to get Mitchell on board and Lauri Markkanen taken his game to another level for the Utah Jazz, but the trade is still paying off handsomely for Cleveland. Mitchell is playing at an All-NBA level, having the best season of his career as he thrives in his new surroundings. He is currently third on the MVP ladder, trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

From the looks of it, Mitchell’s game and everything the Cavaliers have going for them right now are sustainable too and will not fade away as the season progresses. If the Cavaliers keep this type of play and winning mentality up, they are a legit force in the East. If they can keep stringing together performances like the ones they have shown so far, Cleveland might be sitting at the same table as the reigning champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, and other contenders sooner than expected, maybe even this season.

So far, Donovan Mitchell seems to be worth every last player and asset the Cavaliers gave up adding him to their star-studded young, team because he is giving them the offensive energy, they had been looking for all of last season.

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