January of 2019 was easily the best month in the young career of Donovan Mitchell. His 27.7 points, 5.1 assists, 41.2 percent shooting from three were all career-highs for a month (the points even ranked eighth in the entire NBA). Not only that, but Mitchell’s 33.2 usage percentage was the most of any month too. Spida put up his best production when put under even greater usage stress.
The happy days of January are over, unfortunately, and Mitchell’s efficiency has dropped to some of the worst of the year. In the five games the Jazz have played in February, Mitchell’s averages have dropped to 22.0 points and 4.6 assists. That’s not an alarming drop, though. In fact, those numbers are right around his season average.
The worrying aspect of Mitchell’s play are the same as earlier this year: his efficiency. In February, he is shooting an abysmal 36.0 percent overall and 24.2 percent from deep. Mitchell hasn’t shot this poorly since the rocky start of his rookie season and, in some respects, he’s even worse.
Is there an explanation? Theoretically, yes, but that doesn’t mean we can nail it down or do much more than come up with theories.
Perhaps the most readily available explanation is an increased strength of schedule so far this month. Instead of playing the likes of Cleveland, Detroit, and Orlando along with the Lakers and Clippers the Jazz have faced the Rockets, Spurs and Warriors.
However, that doesn’t explain Mitchell’s dreadful performances against Atlanta (7 of 18 shooting for 15 points) and Phoenix (8 of 21 for 21 points) in the other two games this month. Nor does it explain his solid games against Denver and Portland in the middle of January.
Another theory is that it may just come down to how Quin Snyder employs his top offensive weapon. In his rookie season, Mitchell saw much more time at point guard, what with not having Dante Exum and Raul Neto only playing in 41 games.
This season, the Jazz have had much better health at point guard...except for during January. Take Jan. 7-21 for example. Exum’s first missed game was the seventh (against the Bucks) and Ricky left that same game with an injury after four minutes and made his minutes-restricted return on the 21st, only seeing 13 minutes of floor time.
During that span, Mitchell was forced to play almost exclusively at point guard and averaged 30.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting and 40.3 percent from beyond the arc. In the rest of January, his averages were 24.7 points on just 42.7 percent shooting.
This isn’t to put blame on Rubio for making Mitchell worse. Per NBA.com, Mitchell’s shooting percentages go up in certain areas when Rubio is on the court vs off. It’s more about saying Mitchell appears to be at his best when he’s the initiator of the offense rather than an off-the-ball force.