2 big questions Cleveland Cavaliers have to answer with stars returning from injury

Charlotte Hornets v Cleveland Cavaliers
Charlotte Hornets v Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages
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Will Darius Garland hurt Cleveland's defense too much?

Questions have been raised surrounding Darius Garland's fit in the new-look offense, but his obvious shooting talent and willingness to run off the ball will allow him to adapt quickly into the schemes. Suggesting that Garland and Mitchell are both too ball dominant to work in an offense together ignores how efficient both player was last season. Mitchell achieved multiple career highs, and Garland's numbers barely dipped.

Defensively, though, Garland will be replacing Isaac Okoro in the starting five. Okoro does not need to be the focal point of an offense to influence winning. Okoro is a perimeter-defensive specialist if nothing else, a skillset entirely absent from Garland's repertoire. As the Cavs reclaimed a league-leading defense, Okoro's point-of-attack toughness played a critical role.

The answer to the question remains the same; the rest of the Cavaliers have to mask Garland's deficiencies. Garland's defensive weakness is not going to be solved by more effort. The star point guard never takes a play off in a game, but his undersized stature and lack of strength allows too many opponents to get around him with little resistance.

In the summer, the Cavs added veteran wing Max Strus from the Miami Heat on a four-year $64 million deal to improve Cleveland's shooting and maintain their defense. Strus assumed Okoro's starting role, and while he is not the defender that Okoro is, he has been far better than anticipated. Additionally, Mitchell continues to remind the NBA world that he has a 6-foot 10-inches wingspan despite his 6-foot 3-inches frame. Mitchell's active hands and speed have ripped away rebounds from rivals and intercepted long passes on the arc to create instant baskets in transition.

Last season, Cleveland's answer to an undersized backcourt was their elite defensive stoppers in the paint. This will still be their primary way to overcome Garland's defensive woes, but Mitchell and Strus have improved the Cavs' overall defense enough to subdue some of the difficulties, too. If Mitchell consistently provides his current level of defense, the Cavaliers will be just fine. As long as Garland can funnel his assignment into the middle of the lane where Allen and Mobley are waiting, the Cavs can continue to thrive.

The NBA has never seen an undersized backcourt achieve the greatest feats, but there has to be a first time before there can be a precedent for it. No team had ever won after falling 3-1 in the NBA Finals, either.

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