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Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell: From Star to Super Star

The Sophomore guard is closing the gap on the elite ranks of the NBA

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Donovan Mitchell is on one kind of tear. Since the year 1980, here are the rookies or sophomores to score at least 24 points in 12 or more games straight:

  1. Donovan Mitchell - Utah Jazz

That’s it. He’s literally the only one. In fact, the next closest is at only 9 games in a row. What he is doing right now is nearly unprecedented. And the streak is still alive. How far can he extend it?

He’s on a completely different level since the start of the new year. He isn’t messing around since this simple, yet prophetic tweet on New Year’s Eve:

Since the turn of the year, here are Donovan’s numbers:

  • 28.1 points
  • 4.4 rebounds
  • 5.4 assists
  • 1.3 steals
  • 45.1 FG%
  • 41.4 3P%
  • 6.9 FTA

If it weren’t for James Harden scoring a bazillion points every night, Donovan Mitchell would be getting a ton of press for how ridiculous he is playing. His reads have improved, as seen by the fast ball pass the other night. His shot is back, hitting over 40% of his threes. But I’m going to focus on what might be the most important progression.

Free throws.

One of Donovan’s (very) few weaknesses thus far in his career was his inability to get to the free throw line. For the first part of the season, it looked like that may have digressed. I think Tony Jones from The Athletic provided important insight here:

Mitchell had issues shooting the ball in the first two months of the season, but sources tell The Athletic that the Jazz expected that. The toe that Mitchell hurt against the Houston Rockets in the second round last season lingered through the summer, preventing their star from working out during the offseason. So even through Mitchell’s struggles, the Jazz front office expected him to catch a rhythm at some point. Sure enough, January’s been Mitchell’s best month.

I don’t think it was just his shooting either. He didn’t appear as comfortable attacking the rim like his fearless rookie self. Last year, Donovan had 57 dunk attempts. Through the first 3 months of the season (33 games), he had just 10. That’s on pace for just 25 attempts. In the 14 January games, he already has 6. It looks like his explosiveness is back.

He’s attacking and being rewarded for it. His free throw rate as a rookie was at historic lows for a player with his usage. “New year, new me.” He turned that weakness into a strength. In the year 2019, he’s averaging 6.9 free throw attempts per game. That would put him at 10th in the league on the season. As a nearly 80% free throw shooter, those are easy points. Those are efficient points. As a defender, those are terrifying points.

If Donovan Mitchell can sustain his increased free throw rate, he’s going to a huge problem. A problem we’ll get to enjoy for many, many years.