- Donovan Mitchell has transformed into a franchise star for the Utah Jazz, leading them in the playoffs with dominant performances.
- The Jazz drafted Mitchell to be a role player this season, but following the departure of Gordon Hayward, they adjusted his role, and he embraced it, becoming their leading scorer.
- Losing a star player like Hayward can cripple a small-market team, but Mitchell has filled that role and kept the Jazz afloat.
Donovan Mitchell already looks to be the NBA draft pick that other teams will kick themselves for letting slip through their fingers.
Taken with the 13th pick in the draft by the Utah Jazz, Mitchell has transformed into a star over the course of his rookie season, which he would argue has earned him Rookie of the Year honours.
On Wednesday, Mitchell’s polish showed as he helped the Jazz steal home-court advantage from the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 102-95 Game 2 win. Mitchell scored 28 points, including 13 points in the decisive fourth quarter, to propel the Jazz to tying the series up at 1-1 as it shifts back to Utah.
Mitchell’s production and ability to handle such a big stage so early in his career is jarring, mainly because even the Jazz didn’t think he would be here quite yet. According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Jazz drafted Mitchell because they believed he could produce right away with his athleticism and skill. Over time, they thought he could develop into a leading scorer.
But when Gordon Hayward left in free agency, a massive void was left on the team – the Jazz had plenty of complementary role players, but no one who could be a go-to scorer. Within months, Mitchell filled that void, impressing coaches with his ability to be learn something, pick it up, and add it to his game right away, according to MacMahon.
Mitchell has taken on a more significant load in the playoffs and performed admirably. He’s averaging 27 points per game through two contests while shooting 44% from the field (though his three-point percentage has plummeted) and gotten to the line more frequently.
Mitchell’s offensive game incorporates a bit of everything, all of it done smoothly. He’s quick but never overly rushed, with strong, measured drives – such as the game-sealing basket on Paul George (45 seconds in the video below).
Donovan Mitchell shot 10-for-18 inside the arc last night vs OKC, showcasing a variety of skill finishes. He does a great job of using his 6'10 wingspan to get extension around the rim. Good body control + footwork. Even saw a dunk off one foot from him (mostly a 2-foot jumper). pic.twitter.com/iB9hPsQ5k3
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 19, 2018
Mitchell has already joined some legendary company in his rookie season. He’s the first rookie since Carmelo Anthony in 2004-05 to lead his team in scoring and make the playoffs. The list of rookies to lead their team in scoring on 48-win teams includes Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, and David Robinson. His 55 points through two playoff games topped Michael Jordan for most by a rookie player in his first two postseason games.
Of course, Mitchell couldn’t be himself without the coaching of Quin Snyder (a Coach of the Year candidate), or the rim protection of Rudy Gobert (a Defensive Player of the Year) candidate, or even the supplementary playmaking, shooting, and defence of players like Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favours, and others. But they couldn’t fill their roles as easily without Mitchell’s ability to get a shot in almost any circumstance.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Mitchell’s stardom is where the Jazz stood when Hayward, an All-Star forward, left and where they are now less than a year later – about the same place. When a small-market team loses a star player, it can be devastating. In the Jazz’s case, they lost one and plugged in another.
More NBA playoffs coverage:
- The Pelicans were backed into a corner to give their point guard a $US126 million contract, and now he’s dominating in the playoffs
- Gregg Popovich gave an ominous answer as to when Kawhi Leonard might return
- LeBron James goes ‘full throttle’ in the playoffs, and no one in the NBA knows how to handle it
- The 76ers could reap an unlikely benefit from Markelle Fultz’s mysterious absence
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