It has been an interesting year for Donovan Mitchell. After coming off an incredible rookie campaign, many in the NBA were curious to see his development in his second year. Thus far, Donavan Mitchell has continued to demonstrate why he is on his way to becoming one of the biggest young stars in the NBA. This season, Mitchell is averaging more points, rebounds and assists than in his rookie season. This is impressive considering the fact that teams now have tape of his play style and are actively implementing defenses to prevent his effectiveness on the court.
Despite his individual growth, many in the NBA were skeptical due to Utah’s poor start to the ’18-’19 season. To put things in perspective, the Jazz were 9-11 through their first 20 games, with many of their players appearing to have taken a step back in production. Even Rudy Gobert, their star center and reigning defensive player of the year, was snubbed an all-star selection this season. Some NBA critics argued that the team had taken a step back and were no longer going to be competitive in a stacked Western Conference. These concerns have been muted in recent weeks as the Jazz, lead by Mitchell, are currently holding on to the 6th seed in the West.
The potential of Mitchell and the Jazz was demonstrated last week as they faced the LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and the Milwaukee Bucks. All of these teams have winning records and are currently slated to make the playoffs. During this stretch, Mitchell averaged a solid 34 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. This along with the fact that the Jazz was able to defeat all three opponents speaks to both the growth of this team, and the growth of Mitchell as a leader.
In the first game against the clippers, Mitchell was able to run the offense by creating plays for both himself and his fellow teammates. This was shown especially in the 4th quarter, when Mitchell found teammate Joe Ingles for a basket to put the team up by one point with seconds to go. Additionally, Mitchell scored 8 points in the 4th quarter, and made the necessary free throws to ice the game.
During the next game against the Denver Nuggets, the two keys to success were Mitchell’s playmaking ability and his underrated defensive prowess. While Denver has the 3rd best offense in the NBA, they were only able to score 104 points against a defensively-minded Utah Jazz team. Mitchell has shown to be able to play on the defensive end with a lot of heart and hustle, and while he may not get a lot of steals or blocks, he is clearly not a liability on defense- most analytics models rank the Jazz as a top-5 defensive team.
And while the Jazz were up by at 18 points at one point in the fourth quarter, this did not stop the Nuggets from fighting back. The Nuggets were cut the lead to 5 and appeared to be on the verge of making a comeback when Donavon Mitchell scored on three straight essential possessions. This gave the Jazz the cushion necessary towards another impressive win.
The final game played last week was against the Milwaukee Bucks, who have the best record in the NBA. Unlike the other two games, it was Utah that was down by a hefty margin entering the fourth quarter. However, Mitchell again rose to the occasion, as he lead the Jazz to a complete comeback scoring 19 points in the fourth quarter. He ended the game with 46 points against one of the best defenses in the league.
What has impressed me the most about Donovan Mitchell this week is his growth as a leader. A rookie Donovan Mitchell would have deferred to his teammates and would have limited his touches for the sake of the “team”. However, what Donovan has learned is that on on many occasions, especially during tight moments, he is the best option on offense. Not only should the ball be in his hand to craft the best play, but most likely it’s going to be him taking the shot at the end too. With his crazy athleticism, ability to shoot, and above average defensive skills, Mitchell could lead the Jazz to a deep playoff run. As this week shows, the Jazz can put up a fight against the most elite teams in the NBA when Mitchell is healthy.