NBA players typically fall under two categories when it comes to how their big performances are perceived. Social media is ablaze when most players come up with huge individual performances, at times even staying in the news cycle for days. Then there are the select few whose typical day in the office is a 30-point night or a near triple-double.
Without a doubt, Donovan Mitchell has found himself in the latter category.
Mitchell easily exceeded expectations a year into his career, allowing the Utah Jazz to breathe a sigh of relief after Gordon Hayward left for the Boston Celtics back in the summer of 2017. The 13th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft would have been named the 2018 Rookie of the Year if not for a certain “rookie” from the Philadelphia 76ers, but that does not diminish Mitchell’s achievements in his first year in the league.
Confidence and shot making were never the issue with Mitchell and he somehow continued to get better with each passing season. It’s hard to forget the epic seven-game series between the Jazz and the Denver Nuggets where both Mitchell and Jamal Murray went at it shot-for-shot.
Compared to past seasons, things have quieted down on Utah’s side, partly because of how they flamed out of the playoffs last season and with how the likes of the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, and the Phoenix Suns have been racking up wins.
Nevertheless, the Jazz continue to win and Mitchell remains at his best. In fact, this season is arguably his most efficient one, as the two-time All-Star is playing the least number of minutes of his career (32.6) yet also has the highest field goal percentage (45.7). His percentages from inside have also improved and it’s a given that he too is taking less free throw attempts due in part to the NBA’s rule changes on fouls. His 3.8 attempts per game on the season are his lowest since his rookie year, which was also at 3.8 attempts per game. Nevertheless, he’s making a career-best 86.4 percent of those free throw attempts.
Initially, it looked like another high scoring night for Mitchell as against the Charlotte Hornets, he made three of his first four shots and had, at one point in time in the first quarter, scored more points than the Hornets.
Charlotte, which was staring at a deficit that grew to as large as 22 points, crawled back and took a 92-91 lead off a Kelly Oubre Jr. dunk with 3:30 left in the game. By then, Mitchell had cooled off, but it didn’t matter as his teammates fed off first quarter efforts. Bojan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert finished with 23 points, with the former knocking down 3-pointers down the stretch and the latter dominating the paint not just with his scoring, but with his 21 rebounds. Apart from that, the French big man converted on a career-best 15 of his 16 free throw attempts.
At the final buzzer, Mitchell finished with 21 points, matching his lowest output over the last 11 games. He did have six assists, most of which Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson were the beneficiaries of.
The scouting report on Mitchell by now must be tomes in length, but defenders still continue to struggle in containing him. That the former Louisville Cardinal uses his growing offensive repertoire to create plays for others should only be good for the Jazz, who are fond of the 3-pointer and easy baskets inside.
Mitchell just needs to find that balance as he exerts so much effort on offense that his defense at times takes a hit. That he has a teammate in the three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert helps him adjust accordingly, but it remains an area teams exploit, especially if they want to deter his offensive abilities.
Lost in the storylines of this season is the quiet consistency of Donovan Mitchell, whose strong performances have become the norm. The off-nights still come up here and there, but as his game grows so too will the chances of the Utah Jazz’s title aspirations coming to fruition.