The Cleveland Cavaliers have had to have a next man up mentality for much of the season thus far. Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland missed a chunk of games near the opening of the season, and Ty Jerome has appeared in just two games after signing with Cleveland over the summer.
One of Cleveland’s top role players in Isaac Okoro has been out for a while with knee soreness as well, which has been tough from a defensive standpoint. Okoro has missed the last nine games for the Cavaliers, and for his defense and the offensive flashes he showed early, that’s been unfortunate.
In addition to that involving Okoro’s absences, though it’s not been nearly the same amount of contests, the Cavs have also been without Donovan Mitchell for the past four games because of a hamstring strain. Cleveland has started to find its stride of late, having won four of five games, but being without Mitchell doesn’t make operations easier offensively.
On the plus side regarding the injuries, both Mitchell and Okoro appear to be nearing a return soon, however.
According to a report from Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, both Okoro and Mitchell participated in the Cavaliers practice on Friday, and did do post-practice shooting drills. Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff noted on Friday how both respond to that practice will largely determine if they'll be able to go on Saturday night versus the Los Angeles Lakers.
Whether or not Mitchell and/or Okoro are active on Saturday, their returns seemingly on the horizon will be big for the Cavs.
Both Mitchell and Okoro are important contributors for the Cavaliers, for differing reasons.
Mitchell is Cleveland's top option, and his presence as a shot-maker, shooter and transition player helps open up other guys, and he has been a defensive playmaker as well. Mitchell has averaged 29.2 points, 5.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds per contest in 10 games so far this season, and has canned 39.3 percent of his three-point attempts.
Mitchell is off to a roaring start this season with the Cavaliers, as his on and off-ball impact and overall skill set always puts pressure on opposing defenses. He's gotten off to a terrific start after a 2022-23 campaign where he made his first All-NBA squad, and was Second Team All-NBA.
As it pertains to Okoro's impact, he's proven himself to be one of Cleveland's top perimeter defenders, with his tenacity in hounding opposing playmakers, and his attention to detail on-ball and strength often makes him viable against opposing wings. The Cavs have been able to manage as the games have worn on, at least to some degree, without Okoro, as players such as Caris LeVert, Dean Wade and Craig Porter Jr. have hung in there.
That said, it's clear Okoro's defense and toughness are valuable for this Cleveland team, and despite the sample size being small, and other injuries playing into it, he was demonstrating some meaningful strides offensively early on. In six appearances, Okoro has had averages of 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest, and has tacked on 1.2 steals per outing.
It's not as if Okoro is going to be a high-usage contributor in minutes either in spot starts or off the bench, in fairness. But, if he can be respectable on catch-and-shoot looks and can be more of a legitimate presence on-ball off of closeouts, that could make more of a difference long-term.
Hopefully, both Mitchell and Okoro are back available for the Wine and Gold soon enough, given what they bring to the team, from both a tangible and intangible perspective. Both are questionable going into Saturday night's game against potentially LeBron James (who is questionable with a calf confusion) and the Lakers.