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2021 Utah Jazz Player Profile: Donovan Mitchell

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Can Donovan Mitchell compete for the NBA’s scoring title?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It seems it was just yesterday that Donovan Mitchell was a rookie leading the Jazz to a series win over Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the rest of the OKC Thunder, nonetheless, here we are on the precipice of Mitchell’s 5th NBA season. Now seems like a good time to evaluate where Mitchell and the Jazz currently stand.

This last season Mitchell signed a five-year extension that will have him under contract through 2026. This extension was for the rookie maximum which means it comes out to be a 5 year, $163,000,300 contract that is fully guaranteed.

With a contract out of the way landing Mitchell in Utah for the foreseeable future, the focus turns to winning a championship.

Donovan Mitchell 2021 Recap:

Mitchell does a lot more than just score points for the Jazz. He is a leader for this team. The Jazz looks to him in the closing moments to make the right play and he often delivers with dazzling late-game comebacks, scoring outbursts, and playmaking. This past season, Mitchell posted career highs in points per game (26.4), rebounds per game (4.4), and assists per game (5.2).

In typical Donovan Mitchell fashion, those averages actually increased during the playoffs (despite essentially playing on one leg). He averaged 32.3 points and 5.5 assists per game during the playoffs while keeping his rebounds stable at 4.2 per game.

On paper, The Jazz look to have improved with their offseason acquisitions after signing Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, and Hassan Whiteside. They also resigned Mike Conley and drafted Jared Butler. This all should help Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz improve, but the Jazz will also be relying on Donovan Mitchell to continue his year-to-year improvement.

So, what can Mitchell’s fans and the Utah Jazz expect from Donovan Mitchell in the season-to-come?

Chicago Bulls v Utah Jazz
Mitchell dunking on the Bulls
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

What to Expect From Mitchell in the Coming Season:

When talking about Donovan Mitchell’s upcoming season, it is important to note that Donovan Mitchell has increased his scoring every year in the league. He has gone from 20.5 to 23.8 to 24.0 to 26.4. These year-by-year increases plus the playoff points per game paint a picture of how we could see Donovan Mitchell competing for the scoring title this coming season.

The Jazz need more than just Donovan Mitchell scoring, but if he remains efficient and ups his game once again as we have seen from him in the past, him scoring more points also opens up the court and his assists and rebounds increase as well. It is completely within the realm of possibility that you could see Donovan Mitchell average around 30 points per game this season while increasing his total assists per game.

You may be asking yourself, “How does 30 points per game stack up when compared to past scoring titles?” Well, I calculated the average points per game for the scoring title winner over the last 15 years and that total came out to... drum roll please... 30.72 points per game.

That means if Donovan Mitchell scores 30 points per game in the coming year he will, by definition, be competing for the scoring title and could end up winning it.

It may seem odd to point to scoring as something for Donovan to improve this coming season because one could argue that scoring is what he is best at, and one would probably be correct. However, there is a road for him to improve and increase his efficiency and that would only help the Jazz in the long run. He has already been working on the answer, getting to the free-throw line.

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Utah Jazz
Mitchell at the Free-Throw Line
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

How Mitchell Will Improve His Scoring:

Free throws are not the most exciting thing, but any top scorer needs to know how to get to the line and get those free points. Mitchell knows this which is why he went from 4.7 free throw attempts per game in 2019-20 all the way to 6.0 in 2020-21. In the playoffs last year he took it to another level at 7.6 free throw attempts per game.

If Mitchell can average 7.6 free throw attempts or more next season, that will essentially guarantee a point per game increase.

The two highest scorers to win the scoring title in the last 50 years were Michael Jordan (1986-87) and James Harden (2018-19). They averaged 37.1 and 36.1 points per game respectively and as I am sure you could guess their free throw attempts were through the roof with a staggering 11.9 and 11 free throw attempts per game respectively.

Love it or hate it, free throws are, and always have been, a key part of the game for the top point-getters in the NBA. I expect to see an increase in Donovan Mitchell’s free throw attempts per game, resulting in him getting close to 30 points per game. In the process, I expect to see his playmaking improve as the floor opens up and believe that Mitchell’s assists per game will increase.

Mitchell Will Turn Heads This Year:

Expect Donovan to come out hungry after a disappointing end to last season. With some key additions and having Mitchell fully healthy again, expect him to be competing for the scoring title.

Generally, when a player is in the running for the scoring title, they are in the MVP conversation... Just saying.

More important to Jazz fans and to Donovan Mitchell himself will be to help the Jazz achieve their goals of winning a long-awaited title for the organization. Mitchell will likely be the biggest key to achieving that goal and the expected increase to efficient scoring through free throws and playmaking will only help that cause.