The Cleveland Cavaliers’ home opener and Donovan Mitchell’s official Cleveland debut delivered.
Behind Mitchell’s season-high 37 points, the Cavs improved to 2-1 on the year with a 117-107 win over the Washington Wizards. Here are a few key takeaways.
The Donovan Mitchell provides
All Donovan Mitchell has done in his first three games as a Cavalier is feast.
The Cavs have needed him to. Darius Garland is out with an eye injury and, although he’s doing better, it’s unclear when he’ll return. Garland’s absence has left a void that Mitchell has largely filled by himself. This is just something the Cavs did not have to lean on last year.
Mitchell isn’t doing this by changing anything — he’s playing like Donovan Mitchell at his absolute. So far, so good for him in his first three games as Cav.
Fourth-quarter turnovers were brutal
Cleveland had this one largely in hand. They were up seven with just over a minute to go and blew it up in part because of two Mitchell turnovers that could have been avoided. They were turnovers that felt avoidable if he wasn’t on second half of a back-to-back and above 40 minutes. Or if Garland was on the court with him to relieve to pressure. Those, though, are the breaks.
The Cavs’ rotation through three games
Second night of a back-to-back and all, but the Cavs did play 10 players against the Wizards. The one caveat there is that Raul Neto played just two minutes in the second half, just making a brief cameo down the stretch.
Through three games, that has meant Mitchell, Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Kevin Love, Dean Wade, Neto, Robin Lopez, Cedi Osman, Caris Levert and Isaac Okoro as the players in line for minutes at the moment.
That feels right. There’s no one in the bottom five that feels missing. Maybe there’s a case for Lamar Stevens considering his defense, but they already have one lacking offensive player getting minutes (Okoro) and Wade provides better offense even if the defense is worse.
This will evolve. Garland will return from his injury. Ricky Rubio will debut at some point. Injuries will happen and, like against the Raptors, Bickerstaff may elect to not play Robin Lopez if the matchup doesn’t fit. But this is who the Cavs are rolling with as the season starts. These are the guys they are going to lean on.
Evan Mobley, finding his footing on offense
Let’s be clear: It’s still very early in the season. And Mobley did not benefit from having a training camp or a full preseason slate due to injury. It seems likely he’s still getting into a rhythm.
But a small thing to watch with him: how he plays on offense against threes and fours in the 6’8” range. Mobley, at 7’0”, is taller than these players. If he so chooses, he can face up against them and shoot over them, particularly when he gets the ball at the elbow. But he also, ideally, should be able to punish teams for putting someone smaller on him.
Mobley, however, hasn’t yet figured out that part out. Bully ball isn’t in his vocabulary. The Wizards, with 6’9”, 210 pound Deni Avdija and 6’9”, 221 pound Kyle Kuzma, have two forwards guarding Mobley who were able to push up against him. Either via natural flow or a called post-up, Mobley couldn’t back them down to get right under the rim for an easy look or go up for a clean hook shot. Instead, he has to try and snake around and get to the rim.
He can still score that way — it’s just harder to do. Let’s see how this develops with Mobley going forward and find out if it’s a real thing or just a small sample size blip.
And to be fair: Mobley did score on Kuzma in the post one-on-one in the fourth quarter. He also got Kuzma, with 1:25 to go, to get called for a blocking foul on post-up. (That foul also netted the Cavs two points, as they were in the bonus and he made both free throws.) So it’s not that he can’t do it, it’s that there’s room for growth.