clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is Utah’s Donovan Mitchell turning the corner?

After a tough (and prolonged) start the season, Donovan Mitchell is starting to come alive.

Utah Jazz v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On December 21, Utah Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell went 1-of-10 from the field against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Through his first 29 games of the season, he was averaging 20.2 points on 18.4 shots per game. His field-goal percentage (FG%) was 40.6. HIs three-point percentage (3P%) was 29. His True Shooting Percentage (TS%) was .499.

After an electrifying rookie campaign, a prolonged sophomore slump officially entered concerning territory at some point in December, probably before that 1-of-10 performance.

But something else happened in that game. The Jazz won. By 30. In Portland.

Mitchell’s Usage Percentage (USG%) that night was 23.8. His USG% in the previous six games was 34. Utah went 2-4 in those games. His USG% in the entire season prior to that Portland game was 31.1. Utah was 14-14 in games Mitchell played over that stretch.

Since the 1-of-10 game?

Mitchell is averaging 20 points on 17.9 shots per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three. His TS% over these seven games is .520.

No, these still aren’t great shooting numbers. But improvement is improvement. And at this point, even a slight uptick is encouraging (for the season, Mitchell’s still 325th in TS% among the 355 three-point era seasons in which a player took as many shots per game as him).

And what’s maybe most important is that Mitchell seems to be figuring out that he doesn’t have to do everything himself.

Over these seven games, Mitchell’s USG% is 26.8. When he’s there or below this season, Utah is 8-1. Anything above 26.8, the Jazz are 11-16 (they’re 1-3 when he doesn’t play at all).

All this isn’t to say that Mitchell should stop shooting, of course. There are still times when Mitchell absolutely needs to take over.

That was the case during Saturday’s 110-105 win over the Detroit Pistons. In the second half alone, Mitchell had 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting. His USG% that half was 41.5. This was one of those times when Mitchell was the hero the Jazz needed.

But understanding when a takeover like that is necessary will be key for Mitchell continuing to improve this season.

He plays with one of the best finishers in the NBA in Rudy Gobert. He has reliable kick-out options in Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver (and even Jae Crowder, lately). And over that same seven-game stretch laid out earlier, Dante Exum actually leads the Jazz in points per 36 minutes.

There are other players on this team who can shoulder some of Mitchell’s load. And in games when he has an Assist Percentage (AST%) of at least 25, Utah is 5-2. Saturday’s win isn’t in those seven games, but his AST% during the second-half takeover was 33.3.

Mitchell commands tons of attention on his catches and drives. And that leads to assist opportunities he often doesn’t take. He should have more than seven games with a 25-plus AST%. And Saturday was evidence that he can both score and find the open man.

In fact, those two things might go hand in hand. When Mitchell is forcing up contested runners in the face of double and triple teams, teams know they can continue to load up on his takes. If they know they have to respect the lob to Gobert or a kick-out to one of the shooters, Mitchell should be able to enjoy a little more space when he’s trying to score.

Figuring out exactly when is the right time to do either is a process. And Mitchell’s just halfway through his second NBA season. He’ll more than likely figure it out. We’ve seen too many special performances from him to believe otherwise.

And right now, he’s trending up.

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of, Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass or ESPN.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for SLC Dunk and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewDBailey) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Dan Favale.