After he reportedly practiced on Friday, Donovan Mitchell made his return on Saturday night for the Cleveland Cavaliers after missing four games because of a hamstring strain. Cleveland would go on to lose a close one to the Los Angeles Lakers, and in a game where LeBron James got his share of love, and rightfully so, it still would’ve been nice for the Cavaliers to land that W.
LA ultimately got the victory then, and Mitchell was way off from a shooting perspective, at four-of-18 overall, and he was not able to hit an attempt late in that one. Granted, he was dealing with cramping late in that game, and in his first game back, it was understandable for him to not be his full self, so-to-speak.
Following that game, Mitchell wasn’t able to get it going much on Sunday night versus the Toronto Raptors. He had 10 points on four-of-17 shooting, which was far from the typical production he’d have.
That said, with him coming off the hamstring injury, it’s not unforeseen for Mitchell to take a handful of games to re-establish his rhythm, and other Cavs, such as Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen did make a bunch of plays.
Mitchell has been off in the past two Cavs outings, but he should be able to regain his footing as a scorer as he gets back into the swing of things, hopefully as upcoming games play out.
Those past two games over the weekend were not ones anybody expects to see from a scorer of Mitchell's caliber. As was previously emphasized, he hit eight total shots in those two games, on what was 35 attempts from the field, including two-of-11 from three-point range; those were splits of 22.9 percent and 18.2 percent from three.
Mitchell was off, putting it lightly. He was not getting pull-ups to go, and the deep balls were not falling. For reference, he had been knocking in 39.3 percent of his deep shot attempts in his first 10 appearances this season, and had been putting up 29.2 points per game, both of which would be career-highs if they were to hold for a season.
Point being, although some in the Cavs Twitter/X-verse were critical of Mitchell, and he put the blame on himself for that L versus the Lakers (via reporter Evan Dammmarell of Right Down Euclid), Mitchell was rusty, and coming off the hamstring ailment. He did not seem to be getting to his spots nearly how he's capable, when he's at or near full capacity.
Needless to say, in these couple of games since he's been back, it was not far-fetched to expect Mitchell, who is normally as polished as it gets as it pertains to change of pace/speeds and explosiveness, to not appear to be his full self as a shot creator/shot-maker. The same could be applicable for him to some degree as a transition player and movement shooting option.
Those caveats aside, Mitchell did still have six assists and five rebounds against LA, and he did still get to the free throw line 13 times, after which he made 12 of those, which constituted the majority of his then-22 points. And in the win over Toronto, he did have five rebounds and four assists, and in both games, registered a steal.
Of course, Mitchell has to be better for this Cavs squad to be at their best. He was far from at his best in these two games in his return, and partially because of injuries for both, and some new faces involved with the Cavaliers, both Garland and Mitchell have not both had great games much in the same instance.
Having said that, overreacting to two games is not the way to go, folks, and in most of Cleveland's games in early-season play, Mitchell had been a bright spot in a pretty uneven stretch of games. Mitchell will be plenty fine soon enough as he regains his footing, and he means a ton to this Wine and Gold group.
Even with a few clunkers here and there, Mitchell's overall impact has largely been there for Cleveland. The Cavaliers' efficiency differential has been plus-14.6 in Mitchell's minutes on the floor, which has placed in the 93rd percentile this season, per Cleaning The Glass. The Cavaliers have been 8.5 points per 100 possessions better with Mitchell on the floor offensively as well, which has graded out in the 86th percentile in that Cleaning The Glass metric.
So, while some seem to be grilling Mitchell for a batch of bad shooting games, let's not dismiss how he was coming off the hamstring injury, probably was not nearly at full capacity health-wise and was dealing with rust.
Soon, one should expect Mitchell to be back in-rhythm as a multifaceted scorer and dynamic driver/shot-maker, and have his hand in big Cavs runs. With Garland figuring some things out, and others finding their way, the Cavaliers (currently 9-8) should be able to get rolling in December, as they seemingly get healthier.