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How Donovan Mitchell is carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers with Darius Garland out

Mitchell has been sensational to start the year.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Donovan Mitchell’s arrival 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 carrying Cleveland to a 3-1 start. He scored a franchise-record 100 total points in his first three games and is leading the team in both points and assists — leaving no room for excuses with Darius Garland on the sideline.

A change of plans

Previously, J.B. Bickerstaff planned on having either Garland or Mitchell on the floor at all times to initiate things. This was torn up rather quickly as Garland played just 13 minutes on opening night before suffering an eye injury. The All-Star guard led the Cavs in points and assists last season.

Now? It’s the Donovan Mitchell show. He’s begun the season attempting a career-high 22.0 field goals per game and logging his heftiest minutes at 37.7 per game.

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

Yet, Mitchell doesn’t approach playmaking the same way as Garland. He’s a score-first player who thrives on the drive-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 passing this season:

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

Garland takes a different route. He’s a more balanced passer, excelling at all aspects of playmaking. He specializes in creating opportunities for the frontcourt. Garland wields his threat as a shooter to pull defenders out of the paint before dropping dimes to Cleveland’s big men.

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

Darius Garland’s passing 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, their touches have dipped to 98.6. This is one possible explanation for why the two bigs appear to be less involved in Cleveland’s offense.

There’s no need to worry, though. Mobley still found a way to break free for a team-high 22 points against Orlando, scoring 14 points in the second half alone. Meanwhile, Allen is averaging 13.5 points on 58% shooting.

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

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