by Jakob Perez | The 2020 NBA bubble experience gave hoops fans and players a basketball experience that no one could have ever imagined. With players confined to the Walt Disney World campus without friends or family, we were able to see how players perform in an AAU like setting. They played more games in less time with hardly anything to do other than play basketball.
Under these circumstances, we were able to witness players take their game to new heights. Solidified superstars like Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis reminded us that they are worth every penny of their max contracts. Emerging stars such as Jamal Murray, Tyler Hero, Ja Morant and Nikola Jokic showed us just how bright the future of the league is. Amongst them was Utah Jazz third-year guard, first time All-Star Donovan Mitchell. Despite the early exit from the playoffs, Mitchell showed that he has a lot more potential than even most die-hard Jazz fans thought.
Donovan Mitchell in the Playoffs
The former 13th overall pick went into the Denver series blazing, scoring the first of two 50 plus games he would have in the seven-game series. He wound up averaging just over 36 points a game on an astounding 53% shooting from the field in the series. While his unstoppable scoring was what caught everyone’s attention, the seven assists that he had in each of his two highest scoring playoff games shows us a glimpse of how capable he is of being an all-around basketball player. After seeing the height of his potential, we are able to detect three keys aspects of his game he needs to continue to develop if the Jazz are going to make it back to the finals for the first time since 1998.
1. The Assist
The first key development is what I alluded to earlier, his passing. With Mike Conley missing time for the birth of his child, Donovan took on the play making responsibility. While it’s a small sample size in his three games without Conley in the bubble Mitchell averaged 6 assists a game, up from the 4.3 he averaged during the regular season. This is something worth monitoring throughout his career. After performances like the ones he had against the Nuggets along with officially becoming an All-Star, there is no doubt that he will need to be more creative in order for the Jazz to put points on the board. The better he becomes as a passer and playmaker the more hesitant defenses will become in sending double teams and pressuring him on the ball. If he is able to do this, he could reach a new height of superstardom. The same happened to James Harden, another two-guard known for his scoring. Harden is someone who has mastered the ability to make the right play when faced with defensive pressure. In his last five seasons, Harden has managed to average over 29 points-per-game and over seven assists-per-game to go with it. If Mitchell could get close to those kind of assist numbers to go along with his scoring, the Jazz could be poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. He has already been improving those numbers over the years so he just needs to keep that up.
2. Consistency is Efficiency
The next step Donovan needs to take is to be more efficient. Granted he is not an inefficient scorer; he just lacks consistency. On the days that he’s hot he reminds many of the future Hall of Famer, Dwayne Wade, cutting rapidly through defenses and exploding for high flying dunks at the rim.
However, on his cold shooting nights he has caused many Twitter trolls to call him “Monta Ellis with a dunk package” as he hoists up one ill-advised jumper after another. During the playoffs we saw both versions, one of his more memorable performance in game 4 saw him shoot 15 for 27 along with a remarkable 57% from 3 as the Jazz got their third win of the series. In game 7 the other side of Donovan came out as he shot a pedestrian 9 of 22 from the field with just 22 points in a gut-wrenching loss.
Standing at only 6’1, for him to have to longevity in the league it will be important for his field goal and 3-point percentage to continue to improve steadily as they have been so far in his career. Improved playmaking should also help him get more open shots.
3. Lead the way
Lastly, Mitchell will have to be the undisputed leader of the team to keep the Jazz in contention. This may be an area where he doesn’t have much room for improvement. He has already proven himself to be a more than capable leader both on and off the court. At age 24, he has shown that he is mature beyond his years. Despite rumors of a feud between him and Rudy Gobert, by the time the season restarted that beef seemed to have been squashed and they never seemed to skip a beat while on the court together. In the community, Mitchell has shown he really wants to get to know the fans in the state. Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon to see him at local high school and collegiate football and basketball games. He would often go to twitter to find out what high school he should go to next. His presence in the community along with his charismatic personality has seemed to make Jazz fans forget all about Gordon Hayward. Most fans have embraced Mitchell has their new favorite player.
It’s no question that the Jazz have a bright future ahead of them, and if they can continue the progression of Donovan Mitchell, the future will see them as contenders for years to come.
Featured image courtesy FiveThirtyEight