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Closing Five: Donovan Mitchell trade changes Eastern Conference landscape

Will Gottlieb Avatar
September 2, 2022

It’s September now and that means basketball is almost back. Training camp and Media Day should be at the end of the month with Preseason kicking off shortly thereafter.

That means the news, excitement and forecasting is picking up and there’s more and more to dive into.

Without further ado, here is this week’s Closing Five:

1. Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland

The East just keeps getting better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers just went all in, trading for three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell.

Here’s the haul the Jazz got back in return:

  • Collin Sexton (Signed a four-year, $78 million deal)
  • Old mate Lauri Markkanen
  • Ochai Agbaji, 14th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft
  • Unprotected first round picks in 2025, 2027 and 2029
  • Pick swaps in 2026 and 2028

I absolutely love this for both teams.

For the Jazz, it’s simple. After trading Gobert for all the picks, get even more. They went all in on their rebuild. They’ll have 15 first-round draft picks (only one protected) over the next six drafts, as well as two swaps and two rookies from this 2022 draft. Outstanding job to go all in on draft capital and give themselves the best chance at finding franchise changing players in the draft. They still have Bojan Bogdanovic, Malik Beasley, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson to ship out for picks, too.

I always get weirdly jealous of tear downs like this because picks are hope and hope is fun. But at some point, they’ll need to hit on the draft so I get why the Cavs did this too.

They’ve done their job hitting in a big way on Evan Mobley and Darius Garland and quietly acquiring Jarrett Allen for a first-round pick in the James Harden-to-Nets blockbuster.

For the Cavs, pairing Mitchell with Garland, Mobley and Allen is a tremendous amount of talent. It’s a lot of draft capital to give up, but with a group of four All-Star caliber talents all under the age of 25, Cleveland is betting they can be so good for so long that those picks will all end up in the 20s.

2. The new East landscape

Remember the days of squeaking into the eighth seed as a thirty-nine win team? Yeah, not any more. The East is as strong as it’s ever been.

Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are locks for home court advantage. Brooklyn, Miami could easily enter that group, but it’s a safer bet to have them in the four and five spots, in some order.

That leaves Atlanta, Toronto, Cleveland and Chicago with one secure playoff round as the sixth seed and two more spots as play-in game winners. One of these teams will miss the playoffs altogether.

I’m hopeful the Bulls can be as good as they were during the first half of the season, but with Mitchell going to Cleveland (alongside an improving group of young All-Star caliber talent), Dejounte Murray in Atlanta and a feisty Toronto team who was better than the Bulls last year, the path to the first round just got that much harder.

The Bulls are making a bet on continuity, synergy, development and health. Hopefully it all comes together and they can rise to the top of this group. It’s going to be a bloodbath.

3. Diving into the Bulls playbook

This is “Nash” out of the Bulls 21 series. This is an early entry into the corner to allow the scoring guard to get the ball coming off a stagger screen towards the middle with his defender on his hip.

4. Bulls market projections

Every year, FiveThirtyEight releases its market value projections to project how m the value of every player in the league over a five year contract.

I broke down how all the of the Bulls players looked and it’s not what you might think. According to their model, Lonzo Ball is the Bulls highest value player, followed by Caruso. Zach LaVine is overpaid by about $150 million and Andre Drummond is worth more than DeMar DeRozan.

I went deeper on my thoughts in my column, but worth boosting after all the wild breaking news that happened later in the week.

5. Random stat of the week: Bulls need to shoot more

I don’t think it’s news to share that the Bulls were last in the NBA in three-point attempts per game and three point attempt rate. Yes, Ball missed time, but guess what, they were last while he was in the lineup as well.

So to see that they were 29th in the number of pull-up threes attempted per game should not be a surprise.

What stunned me when I looked deeper into it, was that they were 27th in 0-dribble three-point attempts, or catch and-shoot-threes.

It is very much in the Bulls DNA to operate from the mid-range. DeRozan, LaVine and even Nikola Vucevic are at their best from the elbows and mid-post areas so I’m not saying we should be removing those shots from their diet. Billy Donovan expressed this all year and it’s true: you don’t want to change your identity because math.

So when I say the Bulls need to shoot more threes, I’m not telling DeRozan to take more step back. But if the Bulls are going to continue to live in the middle, they need to have higher volume shooters around their go-to scorers.

Playing off of DeRozan, LaVine should be taking ten threes per game. Vucevic’s three point attempts went down by two last year — he should be back up above six. Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Williams, Caruso, Ball and Dalen Terry all need to be letting it fly with confidence when they have the chance.

If you’re going to lead the league in mid-range shots, you can’t also be last in threes. Since they aren’t going to up their pull-up threes, they need more catch-and-shoots. Period. If not for the sake of adding some scope for higher scoring nights, then do it to provide more spacing for DeRozan.

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