Donovan Mitchell has not been himself since returning to the Cavs lineup.

Everything is up in the air for Donovan Mitchell’s knee and the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers season. After shutting things down for six games to allow more time for his bothersome knee to heal, Mitchell still isn’t quite the same player he was at the beginning of the season for the Cavs. Since returning to the court, he’s lacked the explosiveness, burst, change of direction and athleticism that so many have grown accustomed to and has only reached 20 points once in the seven-game sample size.

Since returning to action after receiving platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment in his knee, Mitchell has been averaging just 16.9 points on 37.1% from the field and 42.9% from 3-point range, with 5.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He’s been struggling to get past opposing defenders and the paint, somewhere Mitchell thrives, has become something of a no-man’s land. When he gets there, he struggles to finish at the rim and has instead settled for inefficient midrange attempts or three-pointers that aren’t falling.

In the season’s second half, when his knee started to bother him, 56 of Mitchell’s 97 attempts were from 3-point range. That’s around 58% of his total shots. That number was much lower in the first half of the season, roughly 44%. Mitchell has taken just 12 total shots inside the restricted area during the second half of the season, making only four of them and getting blocked six times.

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Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) celebrates after hitting a three point basket during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
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The more Mitchell is out there, the more it’s clear he needs more time to rest his bothersome knee. Unfortunately, with so few games remaining until the playoffs begin, Mitchell also needs invaluable on-court reps to keep him in rhythm for when the games matter most. It’s a delicate balancing act that many, including head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, have strongly taken into consideration, especially with how tight things are in the Eastern Conference race.

“It’s a conversation we will have to have,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s a tough balance. I know he wants to play and be out there with his teammates and we just have to work around it to figure out both sides of it so he’s getting the best and the team is getting the best as well. Those are conversations we will have. But we have not had any kind of conversations about him sitting out at this point.”

When Mitchell was asked about his knee, his response was somewhat cryptic albeit positive. He’s aware that he’s not at full strength but, for now, it seems that his electing to shut things down again isn’t in the realm of possibility.

“I’m working back into it. That’s natural. I’m not worried about it. Just continue to build the reps and build the mental confidence in it,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, I’m fine. I have to play better. We all have to play better. I’m not going to sit here and point to that. Everybody else is going to look at it like that. But it’s April. Gotta be better.”

Injuries have plagued the Cavs all season and while they’ve all come at inopportune moments, the balancing act for Mitchell and his knee takes the cake. Cleveland can and will only go as far as Mitchell can carry them, especially when things roll into the playoffs.

But, if Mitchell isn’t 100%, and he isn’t right now, the Cavs could see their season end much sooner than expected for the second year in a row. Mitchell’s health and availability will be worth monitoring as the regular season winds down, especially with Cleveland dealing with two separate back-to-back series while in the midst of this Western Conference road trip.

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About the Author

Evan Dammarell is an award-winning sports journalist covering all things Cleveland, including the Cavs, right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.