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Donovan Mitchell propels the new-look Cavs with 'unselfish basketball'

Cleveland Cavaliers' Donovan Mitchell smiles while palming a basketball.
Aaron Gash
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell smiles after committing an offensive foul during the first half of the game against the Milwaukee Bucks Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, in Milwaukee.

After injuries to two key players, the Cleveland Cavaliers have reeled off 15 wins in 19 games, led by Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen, and a few surprises. Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto said the injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley forced the team to make a change that has paid off.

“In the NBA, there's a lot of what I call ‘stagnant basketball.’ The guys get the ball, kind of, 'Clear out. Let me go one-on-one against my opponent.’ The Cavs have gone back to sort of more basketball that I grew up with, and some of the older fans, where the ball moves (and) players move. They shoot a lot of three pointers, but it's kind of a rational offense,” Pluto said.

Pluto said since the Cavs made this change about a month ago, they’re averaging 15 more passes a game than any other team in the NBA.

“To me, that's a sign of a team willing to share the ball and a team willing to be unselfish. And that's not common in the NBA,” Pluto said.

Pluto said he gives credit to the head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell.

“What J.B. Bickerstaff did when Darius Garland went out with a broken jaw, he said to Donovan Mitchell, ‘I'm putting the ball in your hands. You're the point guard. Make this thing work,’" Pluto said. "Suddenly, Donovan Mitchell's assist totals went up, his rebounds went up. He became like the sun, and the other guys were the planets revolving around him,” Pluto said.

Pluto said that type of offense has given other players opportunities for to shine, including Max Strus, Sam Merrill and Georges Niang.

“They are thriving in this system, where they're getting a lot of open shots, with Mitchell being the orchestrator,” Pluto said.

The other player who has thrived this season is Jarett Allen.

“There's a thing in the NBA called double doubles, in other words, getting at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in the same game. He has set the Cavs team record with 15 consecutive games doing that. Not easy to do. By the way, when you get 10 or more rebounds, that not only means you can jump. That's a lot of effort,” Pluto said.

Mobley returned this week from knee surgery, and Garland could be back in the lineup this week as well.

“So now it will be interesting to watch with Mobley back, does Jarrett Allen still get as many opportunities to score? But the main thing will be in the back court when Darius Garland is used to having the ball. Now Mitchell's used to having a ball a lot, kind of how they work all that out?” Pluto said.

Pluto said it’s been a fun, drama-free team to watch.

“A lot of NBA teams have diva drama, I call it. This guy wants to be traded or this guy's unhappy. All this junk's going on. I'm not saying all these guys are great guys every single day of the week, but the Cavaliers have stayed out of that NBA soap opera stuff, really, since J.B. Bickerstaff took over as coach a few years ago," Pluto said. "And this offensive system they're playing, it's not easy. So, he's forcing them to do things that are difficult."

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