Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers Are Match Made in Basketball Heaven

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 2, 2022

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 05: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket around Darius Garland #10 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the third quarter at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on December 05, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Jazz defeated the Cavaliers 109-108. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

With Kevin Durant calling off his trade request, the NBA world turned its eyes to Utah to see what would happen to All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.

While the New York Knicks seemed like an inevitable destination, the Cleveland Cavaliers swooped in to land the 25-year-old and will provide him with a far better basketball home in what appears to be a perfect match between player and team.

The trade, while shocking at first, makes all too much sense.

After LeBron James agreed to a two-year, $97.1 million extension to remove himself from the 2023 free-agent class (a time when the Cavaliers were projected to have close to $30 million in cap space), it eliminated the option for the Akron native to return home once again despite flirting with the idea at the All-Star Game.

This likely represented some closure for both sides. It also signaled for the Cavs to go out and seek another star.

Mitchell will soon turn 26, which still leaves him in line with the rest of a Cavaliers core that includes Darius Garland (22), Evan Mobley (21), Jarrett Allen (24) and Isaac Okoro (21).

All are under contract or team control for at least the next two seasons, with Garland's $192.9 million extension keeping him in Cleveland until 2028. The Cavs have three years left on Mitchell's deal to convince him to re-sign, which is plenty of time to build some chemistry and go on a few lengthy playoff runs.

It appears that Mitchell, who revealed this wasn't going to be his first time in a Cavaliers jersey, was excited about the move as well:

Donovan Mitchell @spidadmitchell

😌 <a href="https://t.co/QquHyd7DOZ">pic.twitter.com/QquHyd7DOZ</a>

Praising Mitchell without pointing out his deficiencies would be unfair, however. He's far from a perfect player who can be plugged into any lineup and experience immediate success.

The 6'1" shooting guard is on the smaller side for the position and has never been a plus defender despite projecting to be one coming out of Louisville. Mitchell ranked in just the 15th percentile as a defender last season, with the Jazz allowing 4.6 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

The Jazz built a strong roster around Mitchell with the game's most dominant rim protector in Rudy Gobert and shooters he could kick out to in Bojan Bogdanović, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles. Thanks to this roster construction, Mitchell led the Jazz to the No. 1-ranked offense in the NBA last season (116.2 rating).

Now, Cleveland has the opportunity to learn from Utah's mistakes and construct a core that's even better alongside Mitchell.

While Gobert held opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage at the rim of any player last season (49.3 percent, minimum of five attempts per game), Allen finished second right behind him at 50.9 percent.

Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers' Jarrett Allen (31) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
AP Photo/Tony Dejak

We also saw Utah's perimeter defense fall apart on numerous playoff runs, something the Cavs should be far better at with Mobley and Okoro's ability to lock down multiple positions.

Garland is a big upgrade over Conley as a backcourt mate, as Mitchell won't have to be the leading scorer every night with the All-Star point guard beside him. Meanwhile, Garland should thrive as a spot-up shooter and will see his workload reduced with Mitchell, who is easily the most talented guard he's ever played beside.

This was a Cavs offense that struggled mightily last season after Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio were lost to injury. Cleveland was the only team that ranked in the top 10 in total defense (fifth overall, 108.9 rating) that failed to reach the playoffs.

The only four teams to finish above them (Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat) either reached the NBA Finals or finished with the No. 1 seed in the conference.

Adding Mitchell as the hub of this offense gives the Cavs a chance to compete with the league's top scoring teams, as only nine players in the NBA registered a higher offensive estimated plus/minus score than Mitchell's plus-4.8, per DunksandThrees.com. That figure ranked in the 98th percentile overall and was higher than players like Luka Dončić, Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant, Devin Booker and James Harden.

With Garland finishing 16th overall (plus-3.9), the Cavs join the Brooklyn Nets (Durant and Kyrie Irving) as the only teams with two top-16 offensive players.

Mitchell's playoff experience should have a major impact on a young Cavs team looking to break into the East's elite as well.

Not only does Mitchell possess a 28.3 point-per-game scoring average (seventh-highest in NBA history) in 39 career postseason contests, but only Michael Jordan and Elgin Baylor have scored more than his 57 points in a playoff game. He's also just one of seven players in NBA history to have multiple 50-point games in the postseason.

The Cavs look like a playoff-caliber squad in the East and now have Mitchell as an offensive alpha to lean on who's reached the postseason in all five of his seasons.

"I love it. Watch out for the Cavs," one NBA scout told Bleacher Report when asked for comment about the trade. "They've got scoring, shooting, playmaking, shot-blockers, depth. If you're going to go for it, go for it. They can probably recoup picks down the line."

Trading three future unprotected first-round picks, two first-round pick swaps and talented young players like Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji is a massive risk for a small-market franchise like the Cavs. It's a move most wouldn't execute unless it pushed them over the edge into title contention, something the young Cavaliers probably aren't ready for quite yet.

With three All-Stars in the starting lineup and Mobley, who could be the best player on the team in a few years, Cleveland is setting itself up for a title window that could stay open for the next decade or more if extensions are signed and Mitchell agrees to a new deal in 2025.

It was a big price to pay for a big-time talent, one that cures what previously ailed this offensively challenged roster.

Mitchell wouldn't have been an ideal fit for many NBA teams, but with these Cavs, both sides seem made for each other.