During the insanity of the NBA bubble playoffs, we saw Donovan Mitchell go absolutely bonkers in the Jazz vs Nuggets series. Namely, we saw what he could do in Game 1 when Mike Conley had to leave for the birth of his child and Mitchell put up an insane 57 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists on a blistering 57.6% from the field. Watching that and Mitchell taking over the primary playmaking role for the rest of the series, many Jazz fans were left wondering something: should Donovan Mitchell become the full time point guard? It is really easy to look at that series and instantly say YES, however, it is much more complicated than that. Here is the case for why, and why not, Mitchell should become the full time PG in Salt Lake City:
Why Mitchell Should be the Point Guard
Before looking at the on-court numbers, Mitchell at the point makes sense from a physical standpoint. Without shoes, Mitchell only stands at 6’1”, which is undersized for a modern day shooting guard. While his 6’10” wingspan, bulky 216 pound frame, and gravity defying athleticism help him hide his height, he can’t truly make up for those missing 3-4 inches. However, when you move him to the point, Mitchell becomes more than adequately sized for the position. Instead of guarding players that are larger than him, Mitchell would begin to guard players that are actually smaller. That massive wingspan of his would reek havoc on similarly sized point guards and allow him to not have to expel so much energy on that side of the ball.
But while his life on the defensive end would be easier, what most Jazz fans are wondering about is what Mitchell at the point does for the Jazz offensively. The funny thing is, all season we've been watching Mitchell at the point guard. As a matter of fact, the Jazz’s most played lineup of Mitchell, O’Neil, Ingles, Bogdanovic, and Gobert actually had Mitchell at the point and it was highly successful. Out of all lineups in the NBA that played over 300 minutes together, that lineup with Mitchell at the point ranked second in the league with a blistering net-ratting of +13.7, only trailing behind the Milwaukee Bucks death lineup. That insane net-rating is not on a small sample size because at 570 minutes, it is the 3rd most played together lineup in the entire NBA. That's nuts! On top of that, when Mike Conley is substituted in for Joe Ingles, that lineup has a net-rating of +9.7, a whole 4 points worse than when Mitchell is running the show. While I am no mathematician, it is pretty clear that the starting lineup with Mitchell at point does significantly better than him at the two-guard.
Furthermore, for the foreseeable future, the success of the Jazz is highly dependent on Mitchell with the ball in his hands. At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Mitchell is the guy. If the Jazz want to stay relevant and win any games in the future, they need to make sure he feels like the part in Utah. The more Mitchell has the ball in his hands, the higher his numbers rise, the more the national media looks at him, and hopefully, the more the Jazz win games. Ryan Smith said he wants to make the Jazz “feel like a large market team,” and making sure that Mitchell keeps rising in popularity with fans and teams around the league will only not only ensure that he gets bigger shoe deals and supermax contracts, but will also keep the organization successful. Utah has never had a player with this type of popularity even look at the organization before and they can’t risk screwing it up. It’s a pretty simple equation: keep Mitchell happy and things go well for the Jazz.
Why Mitchell Should NOT be the Point Guard
Here's the thing: Mitchell already has the ball whenever he wants it. He could be subbed in at center and he would still have the ball in his hands all the time in Utah. This past season, Mitchell ranked 13th in the league in usage at 30.8%, above players like Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis. Since he's entered the league, Mitchell hasn't had a season with usage under 28% and I suspect that regardless of what position he's at, he will continue his career in Utah with a usage above 30%. Furthermore, the Jazz under Quin Snyder play pass-heavy “advantage basketball” where positions are less important than differentiating players who are playmakers and players who aren't. I don’t see making Mitchell the point guard changing how the offense runs. There would be the same offensive flow as there is now, the same sets would be ran, and the same players would get the ball. Unless there is a massive overhaul of the roster, what we saw in the 2019-20 season with Mitchell is what you should generally expect if Mitchell was to officially become the point guard.
On top of that, trading Mike Conley for a 3 and D type player so that Mitchell could be the point guard would have some really negative effects on the rest of the roster. With Conley out of the equation, the Jazz are left with two real playmakers: Donovan Mitchell and an aging Joe Ingles. While players like Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson have the ability to put the ball in the hole, they can’t really create for others. In the modern day NBA, only having two playmakers on an entire roster just won't cut it (that is unless you have Lebron James on your roster, which unfortunately, the Jazz do not). If age and minutes weren't and issue for Ingles, he could very well be a starting point guard for a team himself. However, father time gets everyone and we can’t expect Ingles to take an even larger playmaking role in his last few years of his career.
With a player like Mike Conley in the mix, the Jazz don't only have a starting point guard, but also have a backup one. Throughout the year, Quin Snyder subbed out Conley early in the 1st quarter so that he and Mitchell had their minutes staggered. This meant that when Conley was healthy, he was able to control the second unit and keep the ball out of the hands of players like Emmanuel Mudiay. The bench last year was already razor thin, leading to it hemorrhaging points and losing games for the Jazz. Making your playmaking depth even thinner would only compound on that issue. Come playoff time, teams are going to force Mitchell and Ingles to have to do all the playmaking. While they are both fantastic players, that offense would become too predictable and good teams would find ways to match up against it. Outside of Lebron James, none of the teams in the Eastern and Western Conference Finals had a player who averaged over a 30% usage rating in the regular season. Winning teams have multiple playmaking threats (or again, Lebron), and the Jazz don’t want to sacrifice one of their own.
What Should the Jazz Do?
For the moment, nothing. With the draft, free agency, and Rudy Gobert’s contract extension coming faster than expected, the Jazz have bigger fish to fry than stamping Donovan Mitchell as a point guard or a shooting guard. In reality, it doesn’t matter what you call Mitchell because changing his title won't have that much of an effect on the way the Jazz play. Now, if the Jazz decide that they want to ship out Conley and make Mitchell the full time point guard, they have to make sure they are getting a player that is either very versatile or is a playmaker in return. In the draft and with their BIA and MLE, the Jazz can probably find that 3 and D type wing they are looking for. But with a trade including Conley, the Jazz can’t sacrifice losing ball handling. Multifaceted players who can create for others run the NBA, and if you are the Jazz, you should make sure you don't leave your team stripped dry of them.
All statistics used are found on NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.