Donovan Mitchell is better than you think he is, or not as good as you think he is, and probably nowhere in between. This is a magical time for NBA fans discovering the Utah Jazz rookie. Mitchell came out gunning this season. He's averaging more shots per 100 possessions than LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving shot their rookie seasons. Only five players in NBA history have shot more per 100 possessions in their rookie seasons.
The Jazz don't have anyone else to really create shots, so it's not hurting them at all. The best thing for them is for Mitchell to be a star, and to get there, he needs reps and shots. More than one scout has noted this season that Mitchell's trigger finger might be the loosest they've seen in a long time for a rookie.
That Mitchell is so free to launch under the typically tough Quin Snyder with other scoring weapons he can turn to is a testament to the coach's vision. He could just throw out Ricky Rubio and the other reserve guards and keep his two-guard rotation to Alec Burks and Rodney Hood. Even when Mitchell struggled to start the season, shooting 38 percent from the field and averaging 13.5 points on 13 shots, Snyder stuck with him.
And it has paid off.
Mitchell is now averaging 21.6 points on 46-41-82 shooting splits in the past 10 games. And out of nowhere, the Jazz have surged from 26th in offense on Nov. 15 to third since then.
Mitchell is not perfect; he's 21 of 49 in transition plays this season, largely when he challenges defenses with multiple defenders back. He's only in the 42nd percentile on pick-and-roll ball-handler plays via Synergy Sports, with a 15 percent turnover rate, all things you would expect from a rookie.
But man, there's also so much there that's positive. For starters, he has a 67.8 percent effective field goal percentage on spot-up shots and drives. He thrives off the ball. And when you let him create, he's not only athletic, he's creative. He's able to adapt to challenge the defense. Here he reacts to the defender dropping in the pick and roll and attacks. Not only that, when he forces him left, Mitchell then reacts and gets to the jump stop for his right:
Steven Adams steps up here, so Mitchell gives him a stop-and-go that freezes him:
Mitchell loves this move, the drive-left, right-hand inside layup with english. It's going to get to be chasedown bait (because he can't protect the ball like he can with his left, but it's still pretty and quick:)
For the most part, Mitchell is sticking with his right hand. You notice in the above clips he drives left then gets to his right. But he has workshopped a few left-handed moves, like this spinning layup against Serge Ibaka:
Meanwhile, he's absolutely fearless off he dribble. This is helicopter-blade-armed Anthony Davis contesting and the kid knocks it down cold:
Even his passes, if often off-target, are impressive:
There's a long way to go, but Mitchell plays with poise, confidence and focus. The question before the season began was who was going to score for Utah? The answer is Mitchell, no matter how many shots it might take. It's unlikely they keep this pace up; the Jazz's offense is always drifting between two extremes. Still, Mitchell gives you reason to think they can hang. Good defense and a special rookie will do that.