Donovan Mitchell’s meteoric rise to rookie stardom has certainly been one for the books. After being selected as the 13th overall pick by the Denver Nuggets in last year’s draft, Mitchell was traded to the Utah Jazz, where he has proven to be one of the most exciting young arrivals the NBA has seen in recent years.
From the moment the guard arrived in Salt Lake City, he began to showcase just why he was such a favorite in Louisville during his college tenure. Perhaps known primarily for his spectacular dunking abilities, Mitchell was also a prominent contributor to the Cardinals scoring in his sophomore year and extremely reliable from the charity stripe. This helped him, in his first opportunity to star for Utah, score 37 points against the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2017 NBA Summer League – the highest of any player to feature in the competition that year.
Heading into the regular season, there was a relatively high level of expectation surrounding Mitchell. On his NBA debut, he recorded 10 points and 4 assists against his original franchise, Denver, before setting his career-high points tally in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans in December, where he scored 41 in a 114-108 win. This broke the Utah scoring record for a rookie and was the first time in the NBA that a player in their debut season had scored 40 points in a game since Blake Griffin in 2011. Mitchell also became the seventh rookie in franchise history to have a 30-plus point game, as well as the first to have a 40-plus point game.
In February, Mitchell was crowned winner of this year’s Dunk Contest, scoring an unbelievable 48 and 50 in the first round, then a 50 and 48 in the final round, to become the first rookie to win the event since the legendary Kobe Bryant. He then started March by picking up the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for a third time this season. And what’s more, he continues to draw comparisons to some of the game’s all-time greats on a regular basis, which is no surprise, given the standard of some of his performances.
The impressive record-breaking doesn’t stop there, however. The shooting guard has already recorded his 23rd 25-point game this season, which is the 4th-most by a rookie in a single campaign over the last 20 seasons. The only players to have bettered the Utah starlet are Carmelo Anthony (30), Blake Griffin (28) and LeBron James (24). With the regular season winding down, Mitchell’s per game average of 21.7 points over the season suggests he could even surpass LBJ, or potentially even Griffin, should he finish strongly. He has already beaten the efforts of a certain Steph Curry, mind, as the Golden State Warrior could only muster up 22 during the 2009-10 season.
Sure, he’s receiving a prosperous rookie opportunity in a Utah team that lost franchise player Gordon Hayward over the summer, but the kind of numbers Mitchell is putting up simply cannot be ignored.
It must be said though that Mitchell isn’t without his flaws. When it comes to shooting, he can be frustratingly inconsistent, especially from mid-range. His field goal percentage for shots taken within 10-16 feet of the basket is just 36% and his conversion rate from 3-point range is even worse, at 34%. For now, you can forgive Mitchell for this, given his spectacular finishing abilities. But it is hard for many to accept given some of the ridiculous shots that he has scored over the season – he even equaled the Utah record for a number of threes made in a game by a rookie (6) against the Milwaukee Bucks in November. He has shown the potential to become an impressive shooter, but it is an undeniable weakness in his arsenal as it stands.
Come the end of the season, perhaps Mitchell will be commemorated for his efforts with the Rookie of the Year award – it appears to be a two-horse race between him and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons at present. Perhaps he will even be rewarded with a remarkable, last-gasp surge into the Playoffs with Utah. Not only do they both potentially coincide, but they are both subject to whether Mitchell can deliver his best when it truly matters. Beyond all doubt, Mitchell is capable of putting Utah on his back and carrying them over the line on a regular basis, but if he is truly going to be comparable to some of the greats throughout his career, it is now when he must prove himself and I can’t wait to see what unfolds.
Featured photo by NBAe