Utah Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell didn’t look like your typical rookie when he arrived to the NBA as a 21-year old. As the 13th overall selection in the 2017 draft, nobody expected him to immediately grab the keys of the franchise and run away with it.
There is no doubt that Mitchell is the man in Utah, and their offense revolves around him. In fact, it has been so since his debut campaign anyway. However, as with any other young star in this league, the 22-year old still has ways to go.
As good as he already is on offense, the knock on Mitchell’s game is his efficiency, which has been his problem through the first two years of his career. Many of Mitchell’s critics are expecting him to take the next step and fix this part of his game as Year 3 rolls along.
Mitchell took the league by storm in 2017-18. In his debut season, Mitchell averaged 20.5 PPG while shooting at a 43.7 percent clip from the field and 34.0 percent from beyond the arc. These are impressive numbers for a rookie.
Putting the numbers aside, Mitchell showed that he was ready to take the lead role in Utah after its previous star, Gordon Hayward, made his way to Boston.
Mitchell led the Jazz to the fourth-best record in the West. In the playoffs, Utah, despite having home-court advantage, pulled off a major upset by knocking off the more experienced Oklahoma City Thunder in round one. Mitchell raised his game even further against the Thunder, and averaged 28.5 points on 46.2 field goal shooting and 36.4 percent three-point shooting.
The Jazz went on to lose in the second round to the top-seeded Houston Rockets, as Utah simply didn’t have the firepower to match-up with Houston’s offense.
Nevertheless, there was no doubt that a star had been born in Utah. Mitchell’s playoff debut, especially against OKC, highlighted his incredible poise and leadership on the floor for the Jazz.
With his impressive rookie season, many expected the Rookie of the Year runner-up to take a quantum leap in his sophomore campaign. However, Mitchell struggled out of the gates early – and so did the Jazz. Pundits were quick to get on him for his inefficiency.
His scoring output increased to 23.8 PPG in Year 2. However, his efficiency remained relatively stagnant at 43.2 percent field goal shooting and 36.2 percent three-point shooting. Through 33 games in 2018, Mitchell averaged just 20.1 points while shooting at a sour 41.1 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from long-distance.
Mitchell turned it around as soon as the calendar flipped to 2019, however. Through the final 44 games of the regular season, Mitchell’s scoring output rose to 26.5 PPG, all while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from deep.
Utah finished the 2018-19 regular season strong after struggling in the first half of the year. They made the playoffs again, this time as a fifth seed. Unfortunately, Mitchell and the Jazz ran into the Rockets once again and bowed out in five games. Much like the year before, their offensive limitations proved to be their detriment.
For most of the time, the Jazz relied on Mitchell to handle the ball for them and create plays. Likewise, Mitchell was the only player on their roster who could create a shot for himself.
With that heavy load on his shoulders, Mitchell struggled mightily with his shot in the two series against the Rockets. He shot 36 percent in 2018, and just over 32 percent this year.
It became clear to the organization that Mitchell needed help to carry the offensive load. This has been the main culprit as to why he’s been struggling with efficiency thus far in his career.
This summer, the Jazz got him the right reinforcements he needs to flourish further as a more efficient scorer next season.
The addition of steady veteran point guard Mike Conley should allow Mitchell to roam around and play off the ball more. Having a point guard who can both serve as the team’s primary playmaker – and also be a scoring threat – can help get Mitchell more catch-and-shoot opportunities.
That means less of the more difficult off-the-dribble, pull-up threes he often took. Likewise, newly-signed forward Bojan Bogdanovic should also help add another scorer who can, in his own right, create his own shot.
With their solid off-season moves, many expect the Jazz to be in the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
This, however, will depend on whether Mitchell can utilize his improved supporting cast to elevate further as a more efficient primary scorer for them next season.