The Utah Jazz are struggling on offense more than anyone expected at this point in the season. Bringing on Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic seemed like a move that would instantly put the Jazz in the top 10 on offense. Right now, the Jazz sit in the #23 spot in offensive rating on NBA.com.
With that said, the Jazz are still 12-7. If the playoffs started today they would be in the 6th spot facing the LA CLippers in the first round. Ugh.
But what’s crazy is no one, including the players, believe they have hit their stride yet. That #23 rating could be fixed pretty quickly. First, Mike Conley needs to hit more shots, plain and simple. But that will come. Conley is taking a supporting role with less shots, something he hasn’t had to do for years, and is trying to figure it out. It’s also a brand new offense that he’s navigating. That right there will be a big upgrade for Utah if Conley can find his stride. But the other thing that will help this offense is Donovan Mitchell becoming a better playmaker for his teammates.
Mitchell’s greatest strength on offense is easily his scoring ability. Mitchell is a three level scorer who has gotten better in every statistic each of his first three seasons. The only thing he’s gone down in this year is assists.
With the Jazz about 25% into the season Mitchell needs to look at the games they’ve played and adjust. Against the Grizzlies, Mitchell scored 20 points on 22 shots. Against the Pacers Mitchell had 26 points on 23 shots. That level of efficiency is making it hard for the offense to take things to the next level.
The thing about those games is you could feel Mitchell’s urgency to help the team win and his default move is to score the ball. But some of those shots, the ones that are incredibly difficult, could be kickouts to open teammates for better shots. Here’s a couple examples.
Donovan Mitchell missed opportunity #1
In this clip we see Mitchell use Gobert’s screen well to create space. What he does with that is a good shot instead of a great one. Look at how Joe Ingles’ defender leaves him open as Mitchell comes off the screen. We know that Mitchell has the passing ability, he just has to look for it.
Ingles is having a down year shooting but is still 33% on catch and shoot threes. This would have been a wide open three pointer and probably a make.
Donovan Mitchell missed opportunity #2
This is a very similar situation to the last one but was a complete loss of 2 or 3 points.
Mitchell does a fantastic job of beating his man forcing Jae Crowder to come up. At this point Mitchell has three options. He can take the shot, he can toss it to Rudy Gobert, or the best option which is a pass to Royce O’neale (league leading three point shooter) in the corner.
O’neale is wide open because his defender is going to help on Gobert who has been left alone by Crowder. This is the type of offensive decisions that James Harden makes every game and why Harden is underrated. He makes it look easy. But this is a pretty difficult play. Mitchell has to read the defenders and make the right play. The easiest thing is to go for the shot, a better play is hand it to Gobert, the winning play is a pass to O’neale.
Now, this isn’t to say that Mitchell shouldn’t continue to score the ball. He’s turned that screen and curl on the right side of the court into a near layup, he’s also an elite three point shooter and he can get by his man at will and finish with authority. But Mitchell needs to start imitating more of what James Harden does. Harden makes the right play every time, whether it’s the layup, the lob, or the three. All he does is takes what the defense gives him. And because the defense knows he’ll make the right pass, it leaves Harden’s defender on an island and gives him all the scoring opportunities he gets.
These aren’t the only plays from last night, either. Mitchell has an amazing opportunity to hit top-15 player status, but it’s going to come from him passing the ball more. Imagine Mitchell turning 3-5 forced shots into scoring opportunities. What if Mitchell averaged something like 8 assists per game? He’d become an all-nba player and a fringe MVP candidate. This would also create the points needed to put the Jazz into the top ten in offense.
On top of that Mitchell’s playmaking, if he’s staggered with the second unit could fix a lot of the issues with the bench.
Obviously this is all easier said than done and will take Mitchell time to get there, just like it took time for Harden. But when he does watch out!