2 factors that have turned the season around for Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors
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Donovan Mitchell has built a significant MVP candidacy

It's not a surprise Spida didn't get rightful recognition in the last league poll for his efforts (eighth), but he is the V12 engine powering the Cavaliers. Averaging 28.3 points per game, 5.4 rebounds (career high) and 6.3 assists (career high) while playing both guard spots, Mitchell has powered his group to the second seed in the Eastern Conference through 63.4 percent of the season.

For some historical context, LeBron James is the only one in Cavaliers history who has replicated his impact as a scorer, playmaker and rebounder.

Since Jan.1, the squad has a 17-3 record, the top mark in the NBA behind Mitchell's efforts. Of all guards in 2023-24, he is eighth in total points logged, 14 in rebounds and 23rd in assists.

The team is on pace to win 55 games, five more than ESPN’s preseason forecast. Bolstering Mitchell’s case is that two starters, Evan Mobley and Darius Garland, missed significant time. When the news broke that both would be out, Mitchell and Co. never permitted a doom-and-gloom attitude to fester in the locker room. Instead, they proved the Wine and Gold is one of the gutsiest groups in the NBA.

The Cavaliers have won 17-of-25 road outings and eight have come since January 20. Outside of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Mitchell is recording 26.5 points nightly on 46.3 percent shooting, with six assists and 5.9 rebounds.

In January, Mitchell earned the East’s Player of the Month. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum are the only other guys who have earned the honor in the conference. Out West, Devin Booker, Gilgeous-Alexander and Nikola Jokić have claimed their respective accolade. Needless to say, Mitchell has entered elite company since December.

His competition for the award is fierce. There’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has better numbers (31.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 6.6 apg) this season. His team has won one more game, and he’s appeared in nine more contests than Mitchell.

Nikola Jokić is almost averaging a triple-double again, unconventionally as a center (26.3 ppg, 12.2 rpg and 9 apg). While the reigning champion Nuggets’ winning percentage is .6 points lower than the Cavaliers, Jokić has played in nine more games.

Luka Dončić’s numbers are also superior (34.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 9.6 apg), but while his squad is just eight matches over .500, it is an eighth seed and not out of the reach of the Play-In Tournament.

As of now, Spida should be in third place for the crown in a perfect world. The Cavaliers have found the next leader for the latest era of Cleveland basketball.

No doubt there are detractors who, at any sign of prosperity, are swift to remind anyone listening about the Cavaliers’ struggles in the 2023 Playoffs.

Mobley and Allen got floored by Mitchell Robinson and the Knicks’ frontline.

Jalen Brunson has outplayed Spida in back-to-back postseasons.

Winning with a backcourt that small isn’t happening, and Cleveland ****.

While the Cavaliers are a unit with much to prove, anyone discrediting the work of 2023-24 should be looked at suspiciously. Getting massacred by the Knicks could end up being nothing more than a right of passage - It was Darius Garland, Mobley, Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade’s first trip to the playoffs. The first three were rotation pieces last season (Wade is this year), and not ready for prime time.

The sting of humiliation is the best teacher around. Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff heard all the noise about getting outclassed by an instructor with an elementary offense (Tom Thibodeau) and now he’s been one of the top coaches this season. Numbers and eye tests will demonstrate that this is not the same group as last year. But in the meantime, the Cavs should be enjoyed for what they are - a young team on the rise with bigger eyes than its stomach.

Mitchell is arguably the second-best player to put on the uniform. Jarrett Allen is balling like an All-Star. And now it’s a surprise when they lose. If this team implodes, it doesn’t erase the memories of the ride. Personally, I'll hold on tightly forever.

The most undeserving All-Stars in Cleveland Cavaliers history. The most undeserving All-Stars in Cleveland Cavaliers history. dark. Next