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What we learned about the Cleveland Cavaliers this preseason

There might not be a long adjustment period with the Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell pairing.

Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers wrapped up their preseason with a 1-3 record. This preseason, more than most, is a tough one to gather anything substantive from. We didn’t see the expected starting five play any minutes together and the top of the rotation played sparingly.

That said, here are some things we can take away from these four games.

Isaac Okoro looks less out of place in the half-court.

Okoro spent the majority of last season looking at best out of place on offense and at worst an outright liability. He struggled to find room to operate in the three big lineups which relegated him to the corner.

Okoro’s best offensive skill is attacking the basket and finishing in the paint. He was more confident in showcasing that ability in the half-court in situations that weren’t just one dribble drives this preseason.

Here, we see Okoro save a late shot clock possession by taking it to the basket from the top of the key with a nice Euro step finish.

Similar to the previous play, Okoro takes his defender off the dribble. The defense rotates over to help at the rim which allows him to make a nice dump off to Mamadi Diakite for a dunk.

We also saw Okoro try to take Trae Young off the dribble in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game which led to a clumsy charge. Not everything has been great, but steps have been made in the right direction.

Okoro has also looked better offensively due to canning 3-7 three-point attempts and converting all 7 of his free throws. However, the tiny sample size doesn’t help much when projecting out how he could fit in with the starting lineup.

Okoro has done a great job of getting to his spots and efficiently scoring during the preseason. We’ll see if he’s able to carry any momentum over into the games that actually count.

Caris LeVert looks like his old self.

LeVert has mentioned numerous times that he is finally healthy for the first training camp in a while and the results show. LeVert averaged 11.7 points and 3 assists on 50% shooting which included knocking down 5-12 three-point attempts in 21.8 minutes of action over three games.

His comfortability with the all-star backcourt is the reason he will likely be the opening night starter at the three. He showed in the two games he played with the duo of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell that he’s comfortable moving off the ball and knocking down spot-up threes. Having three ball-handlers on the floor who can attack the basket off-the-dribble and have the vision to find the open man should open up a half-court offense that struggled to generate consistent looks.

The Cavs have a core four in place that should allow them to be at least competitive in the Eastern Conference over the next few seasons. Rounding out that core four with a fifth who can complement the starters’ skills is something the Cavs will need to find if they want to catapult into the upper echelon of the conference. LeVert will have an opportunity this season to show that he can be that missing piece.

It may take time for Donovan Mitchell to adjust to Cleveland’s offense.

Mitchell is in a much different offensive system now than he was with the Utah Jazz. The Jazz’s offense was predicated on taking and making threes at a high volume. As such, they led the league in three-point attempt percentage each of the last two seasons with 43.3% of their shots coming from distance last season. They were able to do this by surrounding Mitchell and Rudy Gobert with high-level three-point shooters at every position.

Conversely, the Cavs are a much different offense. Cleveland’s offense is about getting to the basket with their two bigs. The Cavs took 35.6% of their shots last season at the rim which was the fifth most in the league while taking just 35.4% of their shots from distance which was good for 19th.

While Mitchell will benefit from having another elite on-ball initiator in Darius Garland, he will not benefit from the Cavs' lack of outside shooting. We saw this on display in Monday and Wednesday’s preseason games. Mitchell seemed unsure of how to attack the defense off-the-dribble when not sharing the floor with Garland which often resulted in pull-up threes. The pull-up three has always been a part of his game (he attempted the sixth most pull-up threes last season with 6.2 a game, per NBA.com) but that’s far from his only or best offensive attribute.

Mitchell’s best preseason performance came in the first meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers when he shared the floor with Kevin Love. I don’t think that’s a coincidence as Love was able to provide some of the spacing Mitchell has grown accustomed to in Utah.

It’ll be interesting to see what lineup combinations J.B. Bickerstaff uses with Mitchell at the start of the season. We saw him get decent minutes with a depleted second unit in the last few preseason games and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his role starting out the season. Getting run with shooters like Love, Dean Wade and Cedi Osman seems like the best way to utilize someone who isn’t the pick-and-roll specialist Garland or even LeVert. That’s something you have to be able to run consistently well if you’re going to be playing with two non-shooting bigs.

There will be a learning curve with Mitchell at the start of the season. He will drastically improve the offense’s efficiency this season, but it will likely come in a decrease in efficiency on his stat line for at least the start of the season.

However: The All-Star backcourt already has chemistry

The adjustment period will not be nearly as long for Mitchell’s pairing with Garland. The two have already shown that they can fit in well alongside each other while producing some highlight plays already.

Having multiple players who can manipulate defenses off-the-dribble, have good vision and are good shooters is a bonus this version of the Cavs has not had. Already having a feel for how to work off of what the other does best is encouraging when projecting what kind of offense this pairing can lead down the road.

Garland’s comfort playing off-ball and desire to be a facilitator should allow Mitchell to be the best version of himself. Mitchell’s growing pains will be somewhat relieved by this easy pairing. There will be ups and downs, but there shouldn’t be a prolonged adjustment period like we’ve seen with other all-star pairings due to how their playing styles already complement each other.

These three things make the Cleveland Cavaliers feel legit

Analysis

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