NBA, Utah Jazz

The Whiteboard: Donovan Mitchell will be one of the greats

Donovan Mitchell appears poised for greatness after his breakout rookie season with the Utah Jazz.

Just under 14 months ago, the Utah Jazz traded Trey Lyles for the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, with which they selected Donovan Mitchell. The Denver Nuggets, their partner in the trade, must be absolutely sick when they look back at it.

Lyles is an effective backup big man on the Nuggets who finished the 2017-18 regular season just a hair under an even 10 points per game. Mitchell, on the other hand, took mere months to become a legitimate star in the NBA, and led the Jazz all the way to the second round in the wake of losing Gordon Hayward.

It’s almost funny now to look back at the first few weeks of Mitchell’s career in Utah, when head coach Quin Snyder brought the rook off of the bench. By the middle of November Mitchell became a full-time starter, after posting 20 or more points three times.

Mitchell adjusted to the NBA game rapidly, and he finished the season with a line of 20.5 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game. That was fine and good, but the regular season can only mean so much. Mitchell had to prove his sauce was legit with the bright postseason lights on him.

He certainly did that in the Jazz’ first round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder were down Andre Roberson, but they still had strong perimeter defenders like Corey Brewer and Paul George to throw at Mitchell, plus Steven Adams behind them as a second level of defense. None of it mattered.

Mitchell dominated everybody OKC threw at him, and averaged 28.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in the first round while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from deep. He would routinely cook George or Brewer and then finish at the rim around Adams. It was a remarkable display.

The rookie phenom was consistent all series long, with no true dud games in that round. The lowest Mitchell scored was 22 in a big Jazz win, and he dropped 38 in the closeout Game 6.

An injury to Ricky Rubio and a minor one to Mitchell himself threw him off for some of Utah’s second round series against the Houston Rockets, but he still averaged more than 19 points per game in the five game loss.

In the absence of Rubio, Mitchell became the Jazz’ de facto point guard and averaged 6.0 assists per game in addition to his own scoring. Mitchell can do just about anything on offense, and should only get better with time.

The Jazz got themselves a player who has all the talent, poise, and character to be one of the NBA’s all-time greats if he continues to grow. It should be really exciting to watch Utah as long as Donovan Mitchell is in the lineup.

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