The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Donovan Mitchell to be Donovan Mitchell. Teams don’t give up the picks and players they did to ask a borderline top-10 offensive player and top-20ish player in the NBA to not be himself.
But the way Cleveland functioned last year — and is built now — does not resemble the Utah Jazz teams Mitchell was on the last five years. Both sides are likely to adjust to each other as the season goes on.
Weight: 215 pounds
2021-22 stats: 67 games, 25.9 points per game, 5.3 assists per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, 53.3% 2P%, 35.5% 3PT%
Mitchell comes from a Jazz team that skewed smaller in its frontcourt. Their DNA was lots of shooting around Mitchell and a smaller, stretchier four next to Rudy Gobert in the center. That was designed to let Mitchell have space to attack downhill, throw lobs to Gobert in the paint and kick out to shooters. Quin Snyder’s offense had more to it than that, but those were the key principles.
As a team, Utah bombed away from three. The Jazz led the league in three-point rate with 43.3% of their shots coming from deep. That was 6.5% above league average, per Cleaning The Glass, and well above the Cavs’ 35.4% three-point rate. Mitchell was a big part of why Utah took so many threes. Not only did he create looks for others, but 45% of his own shots came from three. That was a career-high.
Let’s say that holds and Mitchell remains three-point heavy. The three-pointers he’s likely to take will change based on his new situation. The Jazz have tried to pair point guards with Mitchell before — first Ricky Rubio, then Mike Conley — but they are not Darius Garland. Rubio and Conley were veteran options there to support Mitchell and ease his burden. Garland is ascending, a 22-year-old All-Star who can be a copilot with Mitchell. That would make it likely that Mitchell begins taking more off-ball threes (he took 3.5 per game last year) and fewer pull-up threes (6.2 per game last year).
So what does that look like? Is he simply an off-ball spacer opposing defenses have to worry about off a Garland-Jarrett Allen or Garland-Evan Mobley pick-and-roll? Do the Cavs run him off some screens? And does it make him more efficient, if less dynamic? And how long does it take for him to look and play comfortably in an adjusted role?
And, at a team level, does that juice the Cavs’ three-point rate significantly? And how does that affect their offense? Can it take it from just below league average to something more?
Mitchell is going to get to be Utah Mitchell. The logical way to maximize him and Garland is to stagger them for stretches and have them both on the floor for the start of games, the end of the first half and in the fourth quarter. When Garland sits, Mitchell can be Utah Mitchell. A five-man lineup of Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love and Jarrett Allen is one possible look Cleveland could try. That asks a lot of Allen defensively but offers Mitchell a familiar framework of shooters + a rim-protecting, roll-heavy big man.
There are other nuances to consider, notably on what kind of defender Mitchell will be after he was torn up in the playoffs last year by the Dallas Mavericks. They will unfold in time. He and the Cavs get comfortable with each other and find what works and what doesn’t. The idea here is to balance what makes Mitchell great and what the Cavs will ask to sacrifice to make the team more dangerous. Finding that balance is key to both sides getting what they want.