Donovan Mitchell’s 43-point explosion versus LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers was more than just another high-scoring performance, it was a statement. The Cleveland Cavaliers now hold a 16-9 record, third in the Eastern Conference — and their 11-1 home record is the best in the NBA.
The Cavaliers have the league’s attention and these three factors suggest that won’t be changing anytime soon.
A supercharged backcourt
At the core of Cleveland’s success has been the All-Star backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Both are posting a career-high in scoring and efficiency.
Mitchell is seventh in scoring this season, shooting a scorching 46.4% on pull-up three-pointers. He’s also converting 60.4% of his attacks on the hoop, making him one of the most effective three-level scorers in the NBA.
Generating offense is no problem for Mitchell. He places in the 90th percentile for both isolation scoring and in the pick-and-roll. He has been the closer, scoring the second most points in the clutch this season on 46.2% shooting. Mitchell’s ability to create a shot has given the Cavaliers a punch they have lacked in recent years.
Meanwhile, Garland has taken another leap in scoring. He’s broken his previous career-high twice this season behind a 51-point eruption against Minnesota and then 42 points versus Charlotte less than a week later.
Since returning from injury, Garland is averaging 23.2 points and 8.2 assists. There are few players in the league with Garland’s shiftiness and court vision. His command over the offense is a major reason the Cavs have the league’s 10th-best offensive rating.
Mitchell and Garland combine for over 50 points per game — making them the highest-scoring backcourt in the NBA. Add their unique styles of playmaking and the Cavs have a duo that can carry them to a playoff run.
A supersized frontcourt
Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen are the not-so-hidden giants who keep the Cavaliers grounded on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, they are athletic bigs who can catch anything tossed in their direction. The two are always waiting for a dump-off pass or lob to finish over the defense. They have combined for 99 dunks this season, the most of any frontcourt in the league.
In games where Garland and Mitchell are lighting it up on the perimeter — Mobley and Allen are punishing opponents in the paint. This inside-out dynamic is one that both brings out the best in everybody and relieves pressure from the entire team.
Allen set the tone early against the Lakers, scoring 22 points on 10-11 shooting in the first half. Mobley, on the other hand, had recently been exceptional in Allen’s absence, averaging 16.8 points on 65.5% shooting across five games.
The two bigs are equally present on defense. Allen is an anchor, firmly placing himself in the paint as the ultimate deterrent to interior scorers. Meanwhile, Mobley is a mobile seven-footer who can turn his hips on the perimeter and recover in the paint for breathtaking rejections.
Both rank in the top 10 for shots contested per game and hold opponents a combined 13.2% below their average within six feet of the rim. The Cavaliers have the best defensive rating in the NBA and it’s in large part due to the titans down low.
They’ve been dubbed the best starting five in basketball by Kendrick Perkins and while the first unit is elite, the Cavaliers improved depth is what has them feeling legit.
Cleveland’s bench is statistically the most effective in the league with a Net Rating of 4.6. Injuries have pushed them to the brink but their “next man up” mentality has kept the show running. Even Mamadi Diakite has given the Cavs quality minutes on a two-way contract, aiding in a victory by fortifying the paint against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.
At full strength, Kevin Love and Cedi Osman have been standouts. They began the year hot and are still shooting a combined 73-202 (36.1%) from behind the 3-point line. While streaky, their catch-and-shoot ability has helped Cleveland space the floor.
Love has been nursing a nagging thumb injury but previously averaged 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in his first 10 games of the season. His veteran presence on the bench is crucial to Cleveland’s playoff hopes.
Meanwhile, Osman is an x-factor. The Cavs are 6-2 when Osman scores 14+ points and he is tied with Allen for the highest plus-minus on the team (+6.6). Osman has always been inconsistent but it’s difficult to beat Cleveland when he is rolling.
The lineup hasn’t been set in stone with Lamar Stevens, Caris LeVert and Dean Wade all clocking in as starters throughout the season. Regardless of who eventually claims the spot, this healthy competition is a good sign of Cleveland’s depth.
Evan Isaac Okoro, who has struggled this season, has flashed potential. He’s shooting below 30% from the 3-point line but his value on defense is still enough to keep him in the rotation, for now.
The Cavs have enough depth to keep the ship sailing even when the injury bug is biting them. With Ricky Rubio’s return on the horizon, this second unit will be a formidable one at full strength.