It was announced Thursday that Donovan Mitchell was indeed traded, not to the New York Knicks as previously rumored, but to the Cleveland Cavaliers. What does that have to do with the Milwaukee Bucks? It is easy to dismiss this news as not affecting the Bucks but it does. While there isn’t a lot made of the division alignment in the NBA as much as in the NFL or MLB, it is still a factor in scheduling, which is where the relevance comes in.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers are both in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference, along with the Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. So Donovan Mitchell being traded to the Cavaliers means that the Milwaukee Bucks will have to face Mitchell twice as often, going from twice a year as a member of the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference, to now four times this season as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bucks and new look Cavaliers will be well acquainted early in the season, two matchups in Milwaukee will take place on November 16th and 25th, with the other two matchups coming on December 21st and January 21st, those two games in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers traded three players, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and 2022 first round pick Milwaukee born Ochai Agbaji, (a pick the Milwaukee Bucks were rumored to be interested in trading for) in addition to several first round picks and pick swaps. Collin Sexton is a solid player and I’ll admit I’m happy to see Markkanen go because his size was effective guarding Khris Middleton for stretches when the Bucks and Cavaliers played.
What does Donovan Mitchell coming over to the Cavaliers mean for their head to head matchups with the Milwaukee Bucks? It means Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Wesley Matthews, George Hill and Jevon Carter have more work to do defensively. Cleveland already had an All-Star in their backcourt last season with Darius Garland, who got paid this summer, and now Donovan Mitchell who has been a perennial All-Star and has had some pretty strong playoff moments though it hasn’t amounted to a championship, leading the Utah Jazz to rebuild.
In 10 games as a member of the Jazz against the Milwaukee Bucks, Donovan Mitchell has averaged 26.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds. While his field goal percentage is a relatively low 40.1 percent in those 10 games, Mitchell’s 3-point percentage is nearly the same at 40 percent.
The last time the Bucks and Jazz played against each other, Donovan Mitchell and Jrue Holiday went at it, each scoring 29 points on 10 made field goals, however it took Mitchell 32 field goal attempts, including 17 3-pointers of which he made five to get those 29, it took Jrue Holiday just 21. Mitchell finished the March 14th matchup with 29 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Jrue Holiday finished with 29 points, seven assists, four rebounds and five steals. Giannis Antetokounmpo also scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and the Bucks won the contest 117-111 and got their first win in Utah since 2001.
The Cleveland Cavaliers traded away a bit of their depth to make this trade and their first round draft pick but maintain a strong starting lineup that also features Evan Mobley who narrowly finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in 2022 and Jarrett Allen, after watching Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in Utah there is no doubt that Donovan Mitchell will make the Cavaliers big men better.
The Milwaukee Bucks are still the team to beat in the Central Division until further notice, thanks to the best player in the NBA Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the addition of Donovan Mitchell is a move that brings the Cavaliers closer to the top teams in the Eastern Conference and presents a new challenge to the Bucks in their quest to get back to the NBA Finals and compete for another championship.
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