The Cleveland Cavaliers won all three games this week to jump to 5-1. Here’s what we learned from an impressive week of basketball.
The Cavs have been an elite team through six games.
You really need 20 games before you can make sweeping judgments about a team. That said, the stats out there point to the Cavs being elite.
Championship contenders generally have top-ten offenses and defenses. The Cavs currently have that with the sixth ranked offense with a 117.7 offensive rating and the second best defense with a 106.1 defensive rating. Overall, the Cavs have the best net rating in the league as they are outscoring opponents by 11.5 points per 100 possessions.
Their offense has been buoyed by shooting an unsustainable 42.7% from behind the line, but their ability to finish at the rim (shooting 69.8% which is good for 3rd in the league) and get to the line (7th best free-throw rate) should allow them to continue to be a good offense even when the three-point shot comes back to earth.
This is a good team. We’ll see if they’ll be able to keep this up as the season goes along, but you couldn’t have asked for a better start with Darius Garland out of the lineup.
The Cavs have been an unbelievably good three-point shooting team.
Donovan Mitchell has completely transformed the Cavs' three-point shooting. His ability to bend defenses with his ability to attack off-the-dribble has created open looks for outside shooters that simply weren’t present last season. This has created drive-and-kick three-point opportunities that haven’t existed since LeBron James was wearing the wine and gold. As a result, the Cavs are shooting 42.3% on corner threes.
Plays like the one below typify one of the ways the Cavs are able to generate good looks. Defenses have to collapse the paint to stop Mitchell. Blake Griffin leaves Kevin Love to provide help defense. Mitchell rifles a pass to the corner which Love knocks down.
The Cavs have also benefited from extraordinary pull-up three-point shooting from Mitchell and Caris LeVert. Mitchell is shooting 52.9% on 5.7 off-the-dribble threes per game while LeVert is shooting 50% on 3 per game. These both are the most obvious candidates of regression for the Cavs.
It also helps that the Cavs’ five highest-volume outside shooters are all shooting above 36% so far which has led to some pretty impressive effective field-goal percentages.
The outside shooting is probably not as good as it currently is. However, having a player like Mitchell who can generate great looks from the outside certainly gives reason to believe they can continue to be a good three-point shooting team all season.
Dean Wade has fit in nicely with the starting lineup.
Wade shifting into the starting lineup in place of Isaac Okoro has helped the offense tremendously with Garland out. Wade’s ability to provide solid defense with his length on one end and make the most of the opportunities he’s been given offensively has allowed the Cavaliers to play their best basketball with him on the floor this week. Since being named a starter on Wednesday, the Cavs have outscored opponents by 24.7 points with a 123.3 offensive rating and a 98.6 defensive rating in the 102 minutes Wade has been on the floor.
Wade will likely shift back to the bench once Garland is cleared to play again, but it is nice knowing that they have someone who they can comfortably plug in and play if one of Garland, Mitchell or LeVert misses time this season.
Evan Mobley is showing signs of life.
Mobley is beginning to look like the player we expected to see this season. The highlight of the week came in his 17-point second-half performance against the Orlando Magic. This step back over Bol Bol is the most impressive jumper we’ve seen from Mobley thus far.
Overall, the jump shot hasn’t been fantastic yet as he’s shooting 16 for 35 (45.7%) on mid-range shots and is only two of eight on three-pointers this season. We’ll see how this, and the rest of his game progresses as Mobley continues to work himself back into game shape.
Jarrett Allen is taking threes.
Allen has taken two early shot-clock three-pointers this week. He wasn’t able to connect on either of those attempts.
This is likely something the coaching staff is encouraging him to do as I doubt Allen is just jacking up threes Andre Drummond style. Allen has shown an ability to connect on long twos as he’s 50% (25-50) on those shots since coming to the Cavs back in 2021. Taking a few steps out to the three-point line may just be the next evolution of his game.
This will be something to monitor as the season progresses.
Caris LeVert had his signature performance with the Cavs.
LeVert had easily his best game in a Cavalier uniform as he put up 41 points in Friday night’s win against the Boston Celtics. LeVert’s clutch three-pointer after an offensive rebound in the closing minutes of the game allowed the Cavs to force overtime.
LeVert sealed the game on the road with the four-point play over Malcolm Brogdon.
Overall, LeVert has had a weird start to the season as exemplified by having 41 point and one point performances in the same weekend. He is shooting 48.5% from deep on 5.5 threes per game but is shooting just 21.4% on attempts inside the three-point line. Through his first five games, LeVert has converted just four of his 15 attempts at the rim.
That said, LeVert has still been a positive contributor as he is able to draw shooting fouls on 13.1% of his field-goal attempts which has led to 4.5 free-throw attempts per game. LeVert is also averaging 6.7 assists per game with only 2.5 turnovers. His ability to effectively throw lobs and get the bigs involved has made him the perfect compliment to Mitchell in the backcourt.
The Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert pairing works.
The Cavs have played their best basketball of the season with Mitchell and LeVert on the floor together. In 160 minutes of play, the Cavs have outscored opponents by 19.5 points per 100 possessions when the duo shares the court resulting in a 119.8 offensive rating and a 100.3 defensive rating.
Pairing two dynamic ball handlers with a frontcourt of Mobley and Allen is a formula that has worked well these past two seasons. Last year we saw how Ricky Rubio and Garland together allowed the Cavs to produce a 16.1 net rating in 512 minutes. We’re seeing that again now with a more potent scoring version of that duo.
It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic shifts when Garland and eventually Rubio return to the lineup. For now, the Cavs know that they have a backcourt they can rely on to produce results.
Donovan Mitchell couldn’t have gotten his Cavalier tenure off to a better start.
It usually takes time for a superstar to gel with his new teammates. This is something that we’ve seen happen over and over again through the years. Mitchell seems to be the exception to that rule as he’s scored 35 or more points in three of his first six games and 30 or more in five of his first six. On the season, he’s averaging 32.2 points and 7.3 assists on .496/.455/.857 shooting splits.
Mitchell has transformed the Cavs' entire offense. His ability to break down defenses with his ability to get to the basket off-the-dribble, as he’s finishing 72.7% of his attempts at the rim, has opened up the Cavs’ outside shooting in ways that weren’t imaginable last season. We’re only through two weeks, but the Cavs have gone from having the 19th-ranked offense last season to having the 6th-best offense even with their all-star point guard Darius Garland out of the lineup. It has all been because of Mitchell.
Mitchell has been a human highlight reel in his first six games causing teams to pull out all the stops just to slow him down including forcing the New York Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau to use a box-and-one zone to try and stop Mitchell down the stretch and it still didn’t work. Has any Cavalier in history forced a box-and-one zone besides number 23?
Theoretically, adding Garland back to the lineup should only make it easier for Mitchell to score. That said, he’s making it look pretty easy right now.
The Cavs finally have the dynamic scorer they’ve needed.