Tonight, the New York Knicks (3-2) face off against their most recent failed star target in Donovan Mitchell, who was acquired by a besting Cleveland Cavaliers offer this summer. In interviews, Mitchell has all but declared he wanted a trade to New York to happen, but negotiations between the Knicks and the Utah Jazz broke down over adding additional draft capital. So now Mitchell is on the Cavs, who have started hot, coming into this game 4-1.
Mitchell has fit in well with this burgeoning young core, thanks to solid roster management by head coach JB Bickerstaff. It probably won’t be this season, but once the roster fully integrates and some of the young players reach their ceiling, the Cavs will once again be a contender. Unfortunately, the Knicks are in the thick of a brutal run against actual good NBA teams. The streak started against the Milwaukee Bucks last Friday night, which ended in a solid showing despite subpar contributions from Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.
The Cavs are deeper and more explosive than the Bucks. The Knicks will need a solid showing from the three-point line, charity stripe, and defensive intensity to pull this one out. Brunson will be motivated to avoid back-to-back losses, which adds to the chances of this being a grind-it-out close one down the stretch.
Scouting the Bucks
Before Mitchell was acquired, the Cavs were already a young, up-and-coming team. After involving themselves in the James Harden trade, they received perhaps the best young player in that deal in Jarrett Allen, who is now an All-Star and defensive anchor. Then they snagged Caris LeVert, a young, oft-injured forward capable of erupting offensively.
They added these new additions to a young, sexy backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, defensive ace Isaac Okoro, and young stud Evan Mobley. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it out of the Play-In Tournament, but they did show a ton of potential. Especially with the defensive potential of Mobely and Allen up front.
This off-season, they swapped draft capital and Sexton for Mitchell, who gives the Cavs one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Either can go off for 40 on any given night. To add to the offensive firepower, Mitchell and LeVert went off for 41 apiece against the Boston Celtics in overtime. This team is loaded on both sides of the ball. For being in only his second year, Mobley already possesses elite timing and reads on defense and should force Randle to be on his most efficient game. Paired with Allen, the duo gives you rebounding, shot-blocking, and man-on-man clamps to force Tom Thibodeau to give Toppin extended minutes this game. Toppin has been averaging a mere 15.6 mins per game, to the disgust of the Knicks fanbase.
Then there’s Mitchell, who the Knicks badly wanted. Mitchell, a NY native, provides a box office matchup against Brunson, the guard, the Knicks ultimately decided to invest all in on. While Mitchell represents another star gone by, Brunson is the better fit for this team. The Knicks needed a more subtle, understated player. And while the Knicks should be happy for not selling the farm for Mitchell, the Cavs should be equally glad they have him.
In a year or two, when Mobley matures on offense, the Cavs will be a true contender, vying for Eastern Conference supremacy for years to come.
While the Cavs are the better team on paper and on the court, the Knicks have extra motivation to prove those who think they should have gone all in on Mitchell. If there’s a game for RJ Barrett to get his shot going (finally), it’s this one. Barrett was the main trade piece included in multiple packages for Mitchell, which had to have impacted the young buck’s psyche. This game is his opportunity to show how he will handle those rumors. The Knicks will rally together with a bounce-back Brunson game and bench contributions from Toppin and Quickly to take the Cavs in a thriller. Knicks by single digits.