Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is tomorrow, maybe the Jazz were coasting because it was the Thunder playing without SGA. But this win doesn’t sit that well with me. The Jazz, who are in their own words playing for the Western Conference finals and more, should beat the Thunder more handily than this. It’s been a strange season so far for the Jazz, and tonight might have been the strangest win of all.
But tonight I want to sit at the collective Jazz Thanksgiving table and tell you who I was thankful for tonight, and this season: Donovan Mitchell.
Now, someone will obviously retort, “Donovan Mitchell was inefficient! He only shot 6/16 from the field and 1/7 from three! I want MOAR efficiency!!” To them, I would say, “First, put down the turkey leg and stop yelling.” Then I would tell them to go look at the tape. Mitchell made the right play all night tonight while being guarded by one of the best defenders in the league, Lu Dort.
You know who wasn’t guarded by Lu Dort? Mike Conley. Tonight Mike Conley had a split of 50/40/100. Spectacular efficiency. He deserves all the praise for making those shots and playing at a high level. But go watch Conley’s shots, Not a single one was contested by Lu Dort. You know who’s shots were? Donovan Mitchell. All but one of Mitchell’s 1/7 3-point shots were contested by Dort and 3 of his shots were bailout threes with the shot clock expiring. Yes, Mitchell missed a couple of threes with space that he typically knocks down, but Mitchell deserves some praise here. Consistently tonight Mitchell moved the ball when Dort was on him. Go ahead, rewatch this one and watch how many times Mitchell passed out of a Dort isolation. It absolutely opened things up for Conley and Bogdanovic. Speaking of Bogdanovic, he was 6/12 from the field and 2/7 from three. Mitchell taking the brunt of the defensive pressure is absolutely a factor in Conley and Bogdanovic’s success.
I also want to mention that this has been a weird season and this game was one of the weirdest. It looks like the Jazz are trying to give Mitchell more reps as a playmaker. His assists numbers are right around his average. We’ll see as the season goes how that adjusts but it would be nice to see more and more of Mitchell getting opportunities as a playmaker because that is the thing that always makes the Jazz better. When Mitchell is penetrating the defense and finding the open man, the Jazz are lethal offensively.
Probably the thing to be most worried about tonight is the Jazz defense. This entire season the Jazz have not looked good on that end and it’s hard to pinpoint why. Is it because the Jazz are so old? Maybe. Is it because the Jazz are coasting as they wait for the playoffs? Maybe. But both of these things are troubling in their own way. If the Jazz defense is dropping off because their age is catching up to them, then that does not bode well for the playoffs when you’re going to play the elite of the league. If the Jazz defense is dropping because they’re coasting, my question would be why? This Jazz team hasn’t proven anything in the playoffs. Sure, they’ve won a couple of series but they’ve never gone deep and to play like you’re just waiting for the playoffs doesn’t instill me with confidence. Yes, the Jazz need to make sure Conley stays healthy for the playoffs. Yes, they don’t want to wear themselves down before the playoffs start. But if the Jazz are acting like they have a switch they can just turn on in the playoffs and if there’s anything we’ve learned it’s that the Jazz haven’t had a switch on defense the last two years to stop anyone in the second round. Utah has some things to chew on as a team and the defense, and poor defensive rebounding, need to be the biggest topic of conversation at the Thanksgiving table. If that doesn’t improve, don’t expect too much of a difference come playoff time.