Why Cavaliers superstar Donovan Mitchell should be in the MVP conversation

Philadelphia 76ers v Cleveland Cavaliers
Philadelphia 76ers v Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages

On December 16, 2023, it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers season was about to take a turn for the worst.

The Cavs were coming off of back-to-back losses to the Boston Celtics, and the team was hit with the news that Darius Garland and Evan Mobley would be out for an extended period of time with injuries. With Cleveland already limping out to a mediocre 13-12 start, this was less than ideal. Fortunately, the Cavs discovered a wealth of depth on their roster, and Donovan Mitchell quickly stepped up to lead his teammates out of this slump.

With the news, Mitchell knew the challenge ahead for the Cavs. He even told Chris Fedor of cleveland.com that he welcomes it. Putting a team on his broad shoulders was something that Mitchell was familiar with, as he did that when he was with the Utah Jazz sometimes. He also knew he had to elevate his game if the Cavaliers were to escape from the mediocrity that plagued them at the start of the year. He has done that and more.

There have not been many players as impactful as Donovan Mitchell this season in the NBA. With the MVP race coming into focus, Spida should be a part of that conversation. The Cavs do not rise to second place in the Eastern Conference without him and are not 18-3 in their last 21 games without him, either. He has shown his value to Cleveland all season and especially with two of their best players out. Additionally, it has been on both ends of the floor.

How Donovan Mitchell has evolved into an MVP candidate on Cavaliers

This season, Mitchell is averaging 28 points per game and two career highs with five rebounds and six assists. He is doing this while shooting 48 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range. His efficiency is down just a tick from last season, but nonetheless he has been efficient offensively. Most importantly, Mitchell immediately elevated his game when the Cavaliers needed it most.

From the first game the Cavs played without Garland and Mobley to Mobley's return against the Los Angeles Clippers, Mitchell averaged 28 points, five rebounds, and eight assists. In that stretch, he also shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range. With even more defensive attention geared towards him, Mitchell’s offensive game got better. Given the fact that Garland was out, Mitchell had to be the point guard during this stretch and his playmaking was elite.

Not only was Mitchell efficient looking in for his shot, but his playmaking took a step up as well. With Garland on the floor, Mitchell has the luxury of focusing on being an assassin, as Garland is the floor general. It was impressive to see Mitchell take on both roles offensively throughout that stretch. 

In addition to his elite offensive game, Mitchell has again evolved his defensive strength this season. He has done tremendous work to shed the “bad defender” label he picked up while in Utah. Mitchell is averaging a career high 1.9 steals per game, which ranks second behind Oklahoma City Thunder guard and MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Steals alone do not make someone a good defender, but Mitchell’s defensive impact goes beyond that as well.

Mitchell also ranks in the top five in deflections and loose balls recovered per game. Mitchell also has the highest defensive plus/minus of his career at 1.8, which is up from last season’s 0.6. Making a major leap like this does not come by accident. Lastly, the Cavs have a defensive rating of 118.4 without Mitchell this season, compared to 110.4 with him. It goes without saying that he has officially shed the bad defender label that he garnered in Utah.

Given the vast talent in the NBA with Nikola Jokic, SGA, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo setting the standard for greatness, MItchell is not the favorite for the award. He should, however, be included in the conversation for his growth on the court as a two-way star and off the court as a leader for a team who had every excuse to fold to pressure this season.

Donovan Mitchell saved the Cavs season. When the team was 13-12, there were rumors swirling that he would be traded at the deadline and that the organization would undergo a major shakeup from top to bottom. Fast forward to the All-Star break and the Wine and Gold are sitting pretty in second place in the East. It is all because of their friendly neighborhood Spida Mitchell. 

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