Donovan Mitchell is heading east, though not as far as what was initially thought.
The Utah Jazz finally dealt away the three-time NBA All-Star almost two months after they sent their other franchise cornerstone Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
While the New York Knicks were consistently pegged as the most likely landing spot for Mitchell, the Cleveland Cavaliers swooped in to further bolster their promising young roster.
The Cavaliers traded away Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, three first rounders, and two pick swaps in exchange for Utah’s star guard.
The 25-year-old Mitchell will essentially fill the starting shooting guard slot that was supposedly Sexton’s. These two young players may seem quite similar on the surface as two undersized shooting guards with a knack for scoring the ball, but Mitchell has proven to be a more consistent scorer and, more importantly, a better distributor.
This should make him a better fit next to Cleveland’s up-and-coming point guard Darius Garland who just made his NBA All-Star debut last season. The presence of Mitchell will help free up Garland and ease the heavy burden that he had to carry as their sole remaining playmaker late last year.
There are more risks associated with Sexton as well as he is coming off a torn meniscus that he suffered early last season and has kept him sidelined since. Given how influential injuries were in derailing the Cavaliers’ promising start to the ‘21-’22 season, their move to mitigate some of this risk is within reason.
Mitchell’s addition gives Cleveland an enviable core that features three participants in last year’s NBA All-Star game (Mitchell, Garland, Jarrett Allen) and the 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Mobley who could very well make his first appearance as early as this season.
The 6’1 Mitchell boasts regular season career averages of 23.9 points and 4.5 assists per game and has upped those numbers to 28.3 points and 4.7 assists in his 39 playoff games.
Although he is a spectacular offensive player, he is not without his limitations–particularly on defense. During his time with the Jazz, he benefited greatly from the safety net that Gobert’s rim protection provided whenever his man blew by him.
Now that they are no longer at Utah, this responsibility of covering Mitchell’s back will be shared on the Cavaliers by the capable duo of Allen and Mobley. These two averaged a combined three blocks per game last season and their defensive capabilities were a major reason behind their strong start. In exchange, Mitchell’s presence is expected to free them up for much better looks inside on the other end of the court.
Cleveland’s starting five is likely to be rounded out by either Caris LeVert or Isaac Okoro. The latter makes more sense and is a much better fit in theory as a defensive specialist alongside the more ball dominant Garland and Mitchell. LeVert could thrive as their sixth man alongside fellow reserves Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio once he returns from a torn ACL.
The Cavaliers have a solid eight man rotation and are in a prime position to improve on last year’s play-in game appearance. If they can immediately build chemistry and stay healthy, a deep postseason run is not out of the question.
Mitchell has been given the gift of a promising new environment and a strong chance to eventually make it to his first ever conference finals. What he does with it will be crucial to his legacy as he transitions from his days as a rising star into his prime years as a basketball player.