DETROIT — Issue One of the Amazing Adventures of Spida-Man around the NBA was intriguing, largely because Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell’s big games were unexpected.
For example, Mitchell’s 41-point outburst against New Orleans on Dec. 1, 2017, where even he couldn’t believe it, or the epic 38-point performance in a closeout Game 6 of the postseason against Oklahoma City.
That was pretty much Mitchell’s rookie season in a nutshell, where he became the first rookie to lead a 45-plus-win team in scoring since David Robinson in 1989-90.
Fast-forward to Year 2 and teams are much more prepared for the Jazz guard.
Ahead of Utah’s come from behind 110-105 win at Detroit on Saturday, Pistons coach Dwane Casey was certainly aware of his skill set and came in with a game plan to slow him down.
“I see a great player, athletic, all young players are going to go through that,” Casey said. “Very talented young man, all I’m saying is I remember last year in Toronto he kicked our butt.
“I mean we were trying to blitz him, double team him and all that and we couldn’t get it done,” he continued. “He is a very talented young man even against the blitzes, and again he may have some growing pains, but it’s there and you never forget how to swim. He is going to be a great player in our league for a long time.”
Mitchell entered halftime against the Pistons with two points at Little Caesars Arena, before finishing with a team-high 26 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals plus a clutch pull-up jumper late in regulation.
The former Louisville star has faced criticism this year for his decision-making and shot selection at times, as he’s averaging 20.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 41.2 percent shooting. However, he is quick to point out that his numbers aren’t much different than his 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 43.7 percent shooting as a rookie.
What mostly changed though is outside expectations, as his signature Adidas sneaker is set to release this year while endorsements with New Era and Stance socks have also been in the spotlight, but he’s committed to turning the corner on his career. The victory in Detroit was just the latest example of that potential everyone knows he has.
“It’s just a learning experience,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, I’m not too concerned.
“Obviously, the more I learn, the more I’ll get better at it, but to be honest with you as far as numbers, I’m averaging basically the same I did last year, but if I can do that and not play the way I want to play, I think I can be much better for sure, so I’m not really too concerned over the numbers per se, more so the fact that I’m playing defense better, I’m making the right reads and right plays because everything else will fall into place.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder sees teams trapping Mitchell. They are also sending him to his weak hand a lot, but more importantly there’s a heightened level of attention when he’s on the court as his tendencies are being scouted thoroughly.
Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego didn’t design any tricky defenses centered on Mitchell when they hosted the Jazz on Nov. 30, but stuck to their fundamental principles.
“Be physical with him, disrupt him, make his life tough, if he gets down in the paint, challenge him, not let him be comfortable,” Borrego said, before Mitchell dropped 30 in the victory.
However, when the Jazz suffered a 121-94 loss at Indiana on Nov. 19, Pacers coach Nate McMillan approached things differently, with Mitchell being held to seven points on 3-for-8 shooting.
“You’ve got to try to keep him in front and make him score over the top and rebound the ball,” McMillan said. “He’s not a one-man show over there, that’s a solid group, they execute in the half court, they’re solid defensively, they’re big, they’re long, so it’s not just one player you’re preparing for when you go up against Utah.”
Mitchell’s fearlessness and aggressiveness seems to be his reputation around the league. His playmaking ability and knack for attacking the rim is how most coaches see him at his best as 42.2 percent of his field goals are taken from less than 10 feet, 40 percent are pull-ups and 16.9 are catch and shoot, with 0.9 percent from other spots. He shoots 47.2 percent on the court when he’s less than 10 feet, but 30 percent from 3-point range, so it’s a no-brainer what teams are pushing him toward doing.
Even with that, the Jazz’s coaching staff and front office is patient in his development, constantly communicating with him, and they don’t get too high or low off individual games.
The 24-point second-half performance in Motown was certainly impressive, but Mitchell has also had a 5-for-26 shooting night against Golden State, a 13-for-35 game versus Philly and a 38-point outing at Houston, so Issue Two of the Amazing Adventures of Spida-Man is certainly unpredictable, but nonetheless exhilarating.3 comments on this story
“Donovan is going to have his ups and downs,” Snyder said. “He’s a second-year player. The important thing for him is no matter what people are doing to guard him, whether they are double teaming or trapping him or chasing him or going under, it’s all part of the process for him that he is going to see different coverages and he is going to see different matchups.
“I just don’t want to see him stop attacking because his instinctiveness is going to be what allows him to get better.”