Utah Jazz: Checking in on Donovan Mitchell’s year 3 leap

Donovan Mitchell was expected to take a step — or leap — forward in his third season. Through the Utah Jazz’s first 54 games, he’s been good but streaky.

The Utah Jazz have built a reputation over the past few years as being a good-but-not-great team. The emergence of Donovan Mitchell as a rookie in 2017 provided hope for the franchise, though. That hope is still present today, as Quin Snyder’s squad is currently the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

At the All-Star Break, the Utah Jazz are a solid 36-18. Considering there have been plenty of moving pieces and injuries to deal with, the team is in pretty good shape. Veteran point guard Mike Conley has struggled all season but recently put together a four-game stretch in which he averaged 20.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game on a solid 46.8 percent shooting. Things may be starting to look up for Mitchell’s backcourt mate.

Speaking of Mitchell, the former Louisville standout has put it all together in 2019-20, but only for stretches. He’s always been a streaky scorer — the hope was that he’d become more reliable this season and make the leap necessary to propel Utah to legitimate contender status. While he’s certainly been better on the year (shooting career-best percentages from the field and the free-throw line), the lack of consistency is still there.

Mitchell’s first 20 games of the season yielded solid results. 24.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on 44.0 percent shooting from the field and 37.9 percent on 3-pointers. Pretty good, especially for a 23-year-old.

The scoring stayed about the same over the next 17 contests, but his field goal percentage skyrocketed to a very good 49.2 percent. He scored just four points in the next game, but that will be left out so we get a clearer picture of his capability in year three.

There’s been just one game Mitchell has missed this season: January 12 against the Washington Wizards. Since returning to the lineup two days later, he started another tear. In the ensuing eight games, Mitchell used two 30-plus point games and a 46-point outburst to engineer an impressive stretch. Averaging 29.1 points per game during that span, he was terrific. This contributed to him receiving his first invite to the NBA All-Star game.

In his final January game, Mitchell posted his second four-point game in 20 days. He hasn’t been prolific since then, but averaging 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the next six games leading up to the break is solid. Both his field goal percentage (45.5) and 3-point percentage (37.8) over the last week-and-a-half indicate he’s doing just fine.

Many will look at the per-game stats and claim Mitchell hasn’t progressed much this season. While there hasn’t been a huge amount of growth in traditional box score statistics, things look a little bit better when removing his pair of four-point stinkers:

  • Season averages (with): 24.3 points, 45.7 field goal percentage, 36.3 percent on 3s
  • Season averages (without): 25.1 points, 46.3 field goal percentage, 37.0 percent on 3s

It’s a subtle difference but to the casual fan, 25 points a night is a common benchmark for the best scorers in the league. Simply tuning in and watching a Jazz game or two will show how Mitchell has grown in many areas, though.

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Mitchell’s shot selection is more diverse than it was a year ago. He’s already surpassed his 2018-19 total of attempts from midrange, and he’s converting at a higher rate. Shots closer to the rim are also easier, as Mitchell is shooting 43.9 percent between three and 10 feet. Last year, that percentage was 33.0. Among players who’ve been in at least 20 games with “clutch” situations, he ranks third in scoring.

Basketball fans are often obsessed with numbers. While they can paint an accurate picture of how a player is performing, context always helps. If not for a pair of bad games in January, Donovan Mitchell’s numbers would take another small jump. His play on the court has improved, as he’s more comfortable with unlocking his potential as a three-level scorer and a clutch performer.

As the Utah Jazz gear up for a playoff run, expect “Spida” to cast his web and seize the opportunity.

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