Although this core group of the Utah Jazz has made it to five consecutive postseasons and counting, their inability to make it past the second round has put their front office in quite a dilemma regarding their next steps.
Further compounding matters is their tumble down the standings that has seen them drop from third in the Western Conference just a few months ago to what is now a tie for fourth place with the surging Dallas Mavericks. Their 43-26 record is no small feat, but in the ever-competitive West, their current pace might not even guarantee them home court advantage in the first round.
It is growing more and more likely that the days of this Jazz iteration are numbered, especially if they continue their trend of early playoff exits come May. Even three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is expected to be dangled in trade talks, despite being under contract for the next four years, given that he is already a few months away from turning 30 years old.
However, amidst all of the uncertainty, Donovan Mitchell continues to shine bright for this team and is expected to remain their constant source of strength moving forward. Still only 25 years old, Mitchell still has a few years to go before he hits his athletic prime and has enough time to endure a few growing pains if and when they decide to revamp their roster.
Mitchell has become one of the league’s finest perimeter scorers over his five years in the league which should help lure talent to Utah come the offseason. While they are not the most attractive market in terms of lifestyle, the opportunity to win alongside Mitchell may help sway the decision of some veterans.
In their most recent win against the Chicago Bulls, the 6’1 guard put on a show and showcased his dynamic ability to put a team on his shoulders. Mitchell hit a career-best nine three-pointers, seven of which came in the third period, en route to scoring 37 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field while also collecting three rebounds and five assists.
It was the 19th 30-point game of the season for Mitchell which ties him for the 11th most in the league in this campaign. His scoring numbers have actually taken a slight dip this season, with his points per game average dipping from 26.4 last year to 25.5, though he has made noticeable improvements elsewhere.
The 13th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft has continued to improve as a playmaker and defender, averaging a career-high 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. The added ball handling responsibilities have also led to an increase in his turnover rate, but the pros outweigh the cons in this situation.
The chances of the Jazz stringing together a deep playoff run are slim yet hope springs eternal for this team. The presence of Mitchell gives them a chance to win every time they take the floor and it will be up to the rest of their team if they can pick up some of the slack.
Gobert is expected to be schemed off the floor by smaller teams who will play five shooters to draw him out. It will be up to head coach Quin Snyder to figure out a solution to this and find a way to keep his second best player relevant in whatever series this may happen.
Much cannot be expected from the remainder of this mostly veteran group beyond their usual level of contributions given the advanced stage of their careers, though their midseason acquisition Nickeil Alexander-Walker may provide some upside.
The 23-year-old guard has been underwhelming so far in his three-year career, but profiles as the kind of player that can breakout and swing at least one playoff game in their favor. He has great length for his position and an above average ability to score the ball. If Utah can find a way to draw out the best version of him then they may have a long-term running mate for Mitchell on their hands.
The Jazz will need the stars to align if they want to keep this group together beyond this year. Negative feedback on the relationship of Mitchell and Gobert continues to spread which hints that this duo is close to its tipping point. They have historically been an excellent regular season team, but even that has not been the case for them this year.
One or two down years may soon follow this one though the presence of Mitchell all but guarantees that they will have a chance to remain relevant. As long as he can continue to score the ball at this elite level, an eventual teardown might not be the worst thing to happen for this team and may end up being a massive blessing in disguise.