By most indications, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ big summer swing for Donovan Mitchell was a home run. He’s provided the high-octane spark behind improving last season’s so-so offense.
But that was to be expected. What is far more surprising is how Mitchell’s seamless integration hasn’t seen the Cavaliers lose a step on defense. In fact, they’re actually better this year (No. 2 overall defense) than last (No. 5 overall defense).
There were many criticisms of Mitchell’s defense with the Utah Jazz, especially during Utah’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks during last year’s playoffs. And according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, Mitchell heard the complaints.
“’You can stay off your phone as much as you want,'” Mitchell told Mannix. “‘But you hear it.'”
“I wasn’t a scorer. I wasn’t some dynamic dude. I got drafted because of defense.”
Coming to Cleveland has rejuvenated Mitchell’s career. He was an All-Star starter back in February and is recording career highs in points (27.6 PPG), field goal percentage (47.8%), and true shooting (61.0%).
Mitchell Grateful for Jazz Struggles
If there’s one thing hindering the Cavs’ playoff chances this season, it’s a lack of experience. Jarrett Allen has appeared in two playoff series, both losses. Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and Evan Mobley will be playing April basketball for the first time in their careers next month.
But for Mitchell, the playoffs are a territory well-tread.
But equally true is that the playoffs have been a constant source of heartache for Mitchell. His Jazz squads routinely sat atop the Western Conference during the regular season, only to falter in the playoffs.
But looking back, Mitchell has nothing but gratitude for those hardships.
“‘Wins are like ‘Oh, you’re supposed to do that.’ But when you lose it’s a big deal. We were so talented, [and] there were different things we didn’t accomplish. … Things didn’t go well, but I appreciate it because it’s helped me grow to be the player that I know I can be,’” Mitchell told Mannix.
With the playoffs in sight, head coach JB Bickerstaff will be leaning on Mitchell and Danny Green to help prepare the young squad for what to expect come the postseason.
Bickerstaff Praises Mitchell’s Preparation
Speaking of Bickerstaff, the Cavs skipper had nothing but praise for how his All-Star prepares for the game.
“’The way he thinks [about] the game, it’s both sides of the floor. It’s not just an offensive thing, but he has a great eye for understanding what his opponent is trying to do. And then he has a way of dissecting that to create an advantage for us. And I think he’s able to see it on the fly. It’s not an, ‘Oh, shoot, I went home and watched the film and saw what they were doing.’ It’s a, ‘This is what they’re doing right now. This is how quickly I can shift and make them pay,’” Bickerstaff told Mannix.
Bickerstaff also highlighted one skill necessary for keeping the peace and ensuring players feel seen: empathy.
“He has the ability to orchestrate, he has the ability to play-make, he has the empathy to understand what his teammates need and the ability to put them in position to be successful.”