Something about that Minnesota game felt different.
The obvious takeaway was that the Jazz made shots and things always look better when players are scoring with efficiency.
But it was the way they made shots that really shined. Instead of tough, low percentage makes it was open shots from the most efficient spots on the floor. And a big reason for that was Donovan Mitchell.
In the last two wins against Minnesota we saw an evolution from Mitchell that’s pretty obvious.
On December 11th Mitchell shot 13/20 from the field and 2/5 from three for 30 points. He had 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 block and only 2 turnovers. (Wow)
On November 20th Mitchell went 9/24 from the field and 5/10 from three for 26 points. He had 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block with only 2 turnovers.
It’s a pretty interesting comparison to those two games. On the November 11th game, Mitchell took more shots from three, more shots overall even, and scored less points. The biggest difference was his passing. Now, this could be that Mitchell just had a great shooting night, but it looks like Mitchell replaced bad floaters with good passes to set up teammates
Let’s look at the shot charts from those games.
Honestly, these are very similar shot charts but look at the floaters in the middle of the lane in the first game compared to the second. Without Mike Conley in the game you might have expected Mitchell to take even more shots to make up the difference. Instead, Mitchell was emphasizing passing the ball out more often and ended up with 6 assists.
Here’s a few of them...
In this clip we see a shot that would have been a floater a month ago. Instead Mitchell makes an athletic wrap-around pass to Ed Davis who is able to roll to the rim because of the attention Mitchell has drawn.
This play is especially exciting because for the rest of the season, Mitchell will likely be shouldering much of the playmaking duties with the second unit. If Mitchell can do this consistently, look out.
This play makes me so happy because I am one of the founding members of the Georges Niang fan club. Mitchell drives to the lane and makes a perfect pass to Niang who takes a shot in rhythm and buries it.
Again, the reason to be even more excited about this is what this means for the second unit and their struggles. To begin this season Donovan Mitchell might have thought that the key to saving the second unit was his scoring, more likely it’s more of his passing they need.
Here’s a list of 3-point shooting percentages from Jazz starting wings.
Bojan Bogdanovic 44%
Mike Conley 36%
Royce O’neale 45%
Here’s a list of 3-point shooting percentages from Jazz second unit wings.
Joe Ingles 33% (career 44%)
Jeff Green 35%
Georges Niang 42%
If Donovan Mitchell can find these open shooters more often instead of the inefficient floater shot, it will be massive for the Jazz. It will also open up lanes for him to the rim because defenses will have to respect the pass.
This also doesn’t meant that Mitchell shouldn’t take the occasional shot in the lane here and there. Sometimes that’s the only shot left. And I’m not even talking about Donovan’s mid range pullup he takes off the screen. That’s the shot that will win playoff games because of how Donovan makes it with regularity. But if Mitchell can facilitate more and more like this during games, the Jazz will hit every expectation everyone has had for them.
Not having Conley the last week or so might have had a Cinderella Man type of effect on Mitchell. Just like James Braddock (Russell Crowe) learned to punch with his left after breaking his right hand, Mitchell might have honed his passing while Conley recovered from his hamstring. What happens when Mike Conley comes back and they find this same passing chemistry together. That’s the thing that gets me really excited. With that, maybe the Jazz can do the same improbable thing and become champions for the first time ever. Just maybe.