DETROIT. Donovan Mitchell has always been a dynamic scorer – because of his size, because of his position, because of his pedigree.
And while his experience was a necessary addition to the young and amazing Cleveland Cavaliers, he did some self-assessment between the end of last season in Utah and his arrival in the Eastern Conference.
The question “How can I get better?” was asked and answered as Mitchell got off to a strong start in his first 19 games.
“I wanted to be the best defenseman,” Mitchell recently told Sportzshala Sports. “Besides that, I know what I can do offensively. Be the best defender.”
He still plays offensively, playing remarkably well despite adapting to the new environment. Mitchell is averaging almost 29 points on 48% shooting and, along with Stephen Curry, he is the only top scorer (25 points per game or better) with a 48-40-85 split, according to the data. stathead.
Now to the defense. After years of playing alongside Rudy Gobert, the paint whirlwind, Mitchell has two high-level quarterbacks in the interior with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
He is eloquent on defense and, most importantly, he makes an effort to keep the situation on his toes. The Cavaliers, 13-8, are fourth in the defensive rankings and third in points per game against them.
Mitchell’s height is listed as 6ft 1in so he can do little against high level wings. But he’s incredibly athletic and stocky, which means activity goes a long way, and he can work wonders when a defensive culture is already established in a team.
“On defense, he talks and communicates and anticipates the game in front of him,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff told Sportzshala Sports. “So there’s more to it than, you know, the simple attack you see.”
Bickerstaff called the entire league just to get his own information on Mitchell when the Cavaliers acquired him weeks before training camp, as is customary in this very small ecosystem. But Bickerstaff admitted that there’s nothing better than bringing a guy into his own building.
“To understand what kind of person he is, what kind of teammate he is,” Bickerstaff said. “The type of leader that he is, he communicates with his teammates. All this is very impressive.”
Mitchell pleads with Cedi Osman to “keep shooting” open threes, even those at the start of the shot clock, because that could be the best and only shot available before it gets into 911 territory. Ditto for big man sophomore Mobley. The more comfortable Mobley is with expanding his range, the better for Mitchell and Darius Garland to navigate the crowded lanes.
The way Mitchell talked about Mobley, given Mobley’s huge potential, one would think that Mitchell would take Mobley under his wing as a pet project.
“With Ev it’s a way of thinking. Understand what you need to do every night,” Mitchell told Sportzshala Sports. “I want him to be aggressive, determined. If you’re going to screw it up, screw it right, screw it up hard. Sometimes the message is stronger, sometimes softer.”
But he is really attached to Garland, a fellow backcourt with whom he shares the ball. Garland had trouble in the late game last season, which isn’t surprising given his relative inexperience despite his All-Star status. Mitchell softens this.
But since Mitchell enters the game with high volume and will control so many possessions late in the game, it’s imperative that he doesn’t separate and isolate himself from teammates.
Mitchell was openly critical of his own shooting choice against the Pistons, where the Cavaliers struggled early before returning to take control in the fourth quarter. Mitchell was 9 out of 23 and Garland was 4 out of 19.
They both had to work hard in the game, and against a stronger opponent, it could cost them dearly. However, this is not the case, and it is better to learn in the process of winning than to leave with a deuce.
Taking responsibility seems obvious given it’s all so public, but for a player like Mitchell, it’s much more important to do so early in the locker room relationship.
“I didn’t start the game the way I wanted. I didn’t set the tone, took some bad ones [shots]Mitchell said in the interview room. “I missed a lot of guys who were open. I have to be better at finding guys. But we did not lower our heads, this is evidence of a mentally growing team.”
It’s no secret that top players often act as confidants of management. This can create an uncomfortable living space in the dressing room, especially considering the salary gap between a top player and possibly a rookie.
But Bickerstaff and Mitchell have had plenty of conversations so far, and Mitchell is acting like he’s just one of the guys – even if by ancestry he isn’t.
“What impressed me the most is that Donovan does not want to be different from his teammates. Donovan wants to be a part of it,” Bickerstaff told Sportzshala Sports. “And because he has adopted this mentality, the guys consider him their own age, right, and it’s easy for him to say things because he doesn’t look at the group from the side.
“You know, he’s just as solid a member of the group as anyone we’ve had here, so it makes his job easier. And people listen to him because of what he has achieved.”
Mitchell said it wasn’t necessarily a conscious effort, but no one would blame him if it was. If Cleveland ever manages to break into the Eastern Conference middle class, it will be by turning Mitchell into an inspiring leader who inspires younger teammates against more experienced opponents in Milwaukee and Boston.
“I have always been like this. No one is above the team,” Mitchell said. “Realizing that I have a role, I have a job. If you can make everyone feel better as a group, then you can go further.
“Yes, I can score X points, but at the end of the day, I can’t do my job if I don’t have a lot of support from my teammates, and my teammates can’t do their job if they have there won’t be much support from me. ”