How Donovan Mitchell has been a difference-maker for the surging Cavs
The Cleveland Cavaliers are surging at the midpoint of the season, led by their new star, Donovan Mitchell. He scored 23 points in this week’s blowout win against his former team, the Utah Jazz.
Ideastream sports commentator Terry Pluto reflected on the offseason trade that’s paying off.
“I knew Mitchell was good, but I had no clue that he was this good. Nor did I realize the impact he would make on this team,” Pluto said.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game, the Cavs have the third-best record in the NBA at 21-11.
“[Mitchell] has been a difference-maker, and I think he is the second-best player, I think, I've seen with the Cavaliers, probably since LeBron, at least in terms of the ability to carry a team on his back. It's been remarkable,” Pluto said.
Mitchell is so far having the best season of his career, averaging about 29 points per game. He’s also generating buzz as a possible NBA MVP contender.
“At times where the team is struggling to score, all of a sudden, he'll score 12, 14, even 18 points in the fourth quarter," said Pluto. "And this is going to really matter in the playoffs, because when the playoffs come, your stars have to come out.”
Pluto thinks back to when LeBron James carried the Cavs to four consecutive NBA Finals.
“And some people say, 'Well, Donovan Mitchell didn't get the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals.' Donovan Mitchell is only 26. He's just coming into his prime now, and he has enough experience to go with it so that he knows how to play in these big, tough games," Pluto said. "LeBron was a much better player in his late twenties and early thirties than he was when he was younger."
And Pluto said the good news for the Cavs is that Mitchell is under contract in Cleveland for three more years.
“So, it doesn't have to happen this year. He makes them a contender in the near future for several years,” he said.
One of the Cavs' other All-Stars, point guard Darius Garland, suffered an eye injury during the first game of the season that kept him sidelined for five games. The Cavs went 5-0 without him, and struggled when he returned. Pluto believes the team is starting to find some chemistry.
“Because you have what they call ball-dominant guards, guys that are used to having the ball. But when you look at what's happening when you win, players find it easier to become more unselfish," he said.
"And then you have the fact the Cavaliers are the best defensive team in the NBA. That's what I was concerned about when Mitchell came. Would they become so reliant on him and Darius Garland scoring that they'll lose their identity of being a really top-notch defensive team?” he said.
The team has been fun to watch, especially on their home court, where they're 15-2.
“I think it's a likable team because they don't seem to have a lot of egos. It's a team that seems to enjoy playing with each other. I think they're going to continue to get better as they get used to each other,” said Pluto.
And he said coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been key, too.
“You have to have a coach that the players respect," Pluto said. "J.B Bickerstaff is the right man at the right time because he came in preaching this idea of, 'We'll be a big, tough physical team,' and that's where he challenges them on that end. And I like that.”