How Donovan Mitchell is carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers with Darius Garland

How Donovan Mitchell is carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers with Darius Garland

The arrival of Donovan Mitchell was always going to raise expectations for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was acquired at a high price and has created a postseason or bust mentality that the Cavs haven’t had since LeBron James was on the roster.

Mitchell has already set the tone by leading Cleveland to a 3-1 start. He scored a franchise-record 100 total points in his first three games and leads the team in both points and assists, leaving no room for excuses with Darius Garland on the sidelines.

A change of plans

Previously, JB Bickerstaff planned to have either Garland or Mitchell on the floor at all times to kick things off. That fell apart pretty quickly, as Garland played just 13 minutes on opening night before suffering an eye injury. The All-Star led the Cavs in points and assists last season.

now? It’s the Donovan Mitchell show. He has started the season attempting a team-high 22.0 field goals per game and logging his most intense minutes at 37.7 per game.

Mitchell’s offensive production has given the Cavaliers a much-needed boost in Garland’s absence. He’s an effortless scorer and has done a fantastic job of spreading the ball around as the Cavs try to play long stretches without a true point guard.

Mitchell doesn’t approach playmaking the same way as Garland, though. He’s a score-first player who thrives off the ball and kick, using his strength, speed and athleticism to draw defenders into the paint and find open shooters on the perimeter.

Nearly half of Mitchell’s assists this season (12-29) have come from the 3-point line. Cedi Osman and Caris LeVert have been two of his favorite targets, both shooting career-high percentages from behind the arc.

Donovan Mitchell’s step this season:

  • Caris LeVert – 52 passes
  • Evan Mobley – 50 passes
  • Cedi Osman – 48 passes
  • Kevin Love – 19 passes

Garland takes a different route. He is a more balanced passer, who excels in all aspects of playmaking. He specializes in creating opportunities for the front court. Garland uses his shooting threat to draw defenders out of the paint before dropping dimes to Cleveland’s bigs.

Last season, Garland passed to Evan Mobley more than anyone else.

Darius Garland’s Last Season:

  • Evan Mobley – 717 passes
  • Lauri Markkanen – 543 passes
  • Isaac Okoro – 477 passes
  • Jarrett Allen – 454 passes

Mobley and Allen touched the ball an average of 109.3 times per game with Garland. Now, his touches are down to 98.6. That’s one possible explanation for why the big two seem to be less involved in Cleveland’s offense.

No need to worry though. Mobley still found a way to break free for a game-high 22 points against Orlando, scoring 14 points in the second half alone. Meanwhile, Allen is averaging 13.5 points on 58 percent shooting.

Despite a poor shooting night, Mitchell was able to help the Cavaliers beat the Magic behind 8 assists and 2 steals. He has been the driving force behind Cleveland’s early success and will continue to influence the way the team plays basketball.

While Mitchell’s style differs from Garland’s, the Cavaliers will have the best of both worlds when Garland returns. An offense led by two dynamic shot creators capable of adapting to every player on the roster is the ideal situation for Cleveland.

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