The Utah Jazz are going to come away from the 2020-2021 season with a lot of hardware. Rudy Gobert is a near lock for Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year will come down to either Jordan Clarkson or Joe Ingles and Quin Snyder may also come away with Coach of the Year.
All this has somewhat masked what an incredible season Donovan Mitchell is having.
If you’ve watched the Utah Jazz the last 5 games since Donovan Mitchell went down with an ankle injury against the Indiana Pacers, you’ll notice a totally different team. As I write this the Jazz have now lost 2 games in a row to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves and have dropped 3 of their last 5. That in and of itself shows you just how essential Mitchell has been to the success of this team. But when you dig into the numbers you’ll realize that Mitchell is more than deserving of All-NBA honors, and should get some MVP consideration too.
His raw scoring numbers are elite
For the longest time the national narrative for Donovan Mitchell was that he was a “chucker,” that he put up numbers by just getting up shots. But when you look at the simple percentages it shows a player that is anything but inefficient.
Mitchell is 9th in the league in scoring at 26.4 PPG. That number is more impressive when you consider that includes a 3-point percentage of 38.6%. That’s a better 3-point percentage than top ten scorers Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal. The only players with a better percentage in the top ten are Steph Curry and Zach Lavine. He’s also doing this on high volume. Mitchell is 6th in the league in 3PA per game at 8.7.
On top of that, Mitchell is putting up those numbers in a shorter amount of time. Mitchell is averaging 33.4 minutes per game. Of the top ten scorers in the NBA, he is playing less minutes than everyone except for Zion Williamson. Those are some simple statistics but show a snapshot of a player that, when he’s on the floor, he’s providing efficient scoring.
That narrative of Mitchell being a chucker needs to be put to bed.
He’s the most important part of an elite offense
These numbers become more impressive when you consider how Mitchell is doing it. It’s one thing to be Kyrie Irving and be playing off of other elite stars like Kevin Durant and James Harden, but Mitchell is the first option on every offensive possession that he’s on the floor. Each night he draws the opponent’s best defender.
According to Cleaning the Glass’s measurement of usage rate, (how much of the team’s offense did the player use by shooting, including free throws, turning the ball over, or assisting), Mitchell is at 35.0%. That is 5th in the league behind Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Joel Embiid. That’s higher than James Harden, LeBron James and Damian Lillard. Of those players mentioned, Doncic, Westbrook, James and Harden were All-NBA last season.
There are some that might mention Mitchell’s assist rate isn’t at the level of some of these players, (according to Cleaning the Glass he’s in the 26th percentile in assist rate), but that’s not necessarily his fault. Utah plays a shared offense that relies on ball movement to create an advantage and Mitchell’s primary role within that offense is to score. Mitchell also plays with multiple ball handlers like Mike Conley who leads the Jazz in assists with 6 per game.
It’s interesting to look at what happens when Mike Conley sits. In games that Mike Conley doesn’t play, Mitchell’s assists per game rise from 5.2 to 6.45 per game in 11 games. Utah was also fantastic in those games going 9-2 with Mitchell putting up games with 11, 9 and 8 assists. Mitchell also sat in some of those games in the 4th quarter because of blowout victories. Basically, when you put the ball in Mitchell’s hands great things happen.
It’s safe to assume that if Mitchell had an entire offense designed around him like in Dallas with Luka Doncic or Trae Young in Atlanta, his numbers would get even more staggering.
The Utah Jazz are winning ... a lot
Have I mentioned yet that the Utah Jazz have the best record in the NBA?
Of course, when you mention the Jazz’s winning record, you have to mention Rudy Gobert. Gobert is having an all-time great defensive season that has been a major part of the Jazz’s winning record. It’s fair to say that the synergy between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is what creates the winning formula for the Jazz. It’s not a nock on Mitchell that without Gobert the Jazz would not be where they’re at.
But the same has to be said for Gobert. Don’t get me wrong, Rudy Gobert is an underrated offensive player. As a pick and roll rim runner, no one in the league is better. Gobert is a workhorse creating easy offense with a multitude of screens that crush opponents leaving space for everyone lucky enough to have him as the screener. But Gobert’s offensive production is dependent on the ball handler. And if we’ve learned anything in these last 5 games, you can’t just put any ball handler on the floor with Gobert and win. Donovan Mitchell takes the Jazz offense to another level.
Gobert has already been a part of 3 All-NBA teams and will likely be selected to a 4th. There isn’t a narrative that Gobert needs Mitchell to be considered for All-NBA. The same has to said for Mitchell.
The time has come for Donovan Mitchell to be considered as one of the elite players in the NBA, a legitimate top-15 player. That’s not just an opinion, the stats reveal Mitchell as the most important player on the team with the best record in the league. This isn’t a hard choice.
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