Should Utah Jazz fans be worried about Donovan Mitchell’s recent play?

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz warms up before the game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on December 27, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz warms up before the game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on December 27, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Donovan Mitchell has had a couple of rough outings in his last two games. Should Utah Jazz fans be concerned about his recent play?

Make no mistake about it, the brightest part about the Utah Jazz’s 2017-18 season has been the surprisingly effective play of rookie phenomenon Donovan Mitchell. The guy looked like an absolute stud leading up to the season during Summer League play and he’s only continued to blossom from there.

He was quickly inserted into the starting lineup where he’s often thrived as Utah’s most prolific offensive threat. As the numbers currently stand, he is the team’s leading scorer (17.9 PPG), edging out Rodney Hood by .2 points per game. Any way you look at it, he’s putting together an absolutely thrilling rookie campaign and is setting himself up for an even brighter future.

Nevertheless, a rookie season wouldn’t be complete without some ups and downs, and Donovan certainly hasn’t been exempt from those. While an overall look at his performance thus far indicates just how special of a player he’s been, there’s no denying that he got off to a slow start, he’s had a few bumps along the way and, most recently, he’s faced some struggles of late.

In Utah’s recent bout against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 16th, Donovan Mitchell had one of his special games where he put up 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 from deep. However, that’s the game where he presumably tweaked his toe on a drive to the basket and the following contest didn’t go nearly as well for him.

Facing off against Houston, Mitchell put up his lowest minutes total (21) since October and finished with just six points on 3-of-7 shooting. After that, he was forced to sit out Utah’s next two contests with a great toe contusion. It was a bit of a worrisome stretch for the Jazz although they did manage to go 1-1 before Mitchell made a quick return in the next game on December 23rd against Oklahoma City.

And return he did.

Mitchell posted one of his best games of the season in that contest, ripping the nets for 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting from the field. Even though the Jazz fell short, Mitchell certainly appeared to be back and his performance even earned him some post-game love from Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and, most surprisingly, Russell Westbrook.

All appeared right in the world with Utah’s electrifying rookie back to firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, since that time, he’s taken a bit of a dip once again in his latest two outings. I don’t mean a catastrophic dip, but it’s been a decline to be sure. Check out his stat lines from Utah’s last two games:

  • At Denver: 13 PTS, 5-of-10 (.500) FG%, 1-of-4 (.250) 3PT%, -16 +/-
  • At Golden State: 17 PTS, 6-of-17 (.353) FG%, 1-of-6 (.167) 3PT%, -11 +/-

As I said, especially for a rookie, those aren’t abysmal, but obviously his points were down against Denver, his efficiency was very much down against Golden State and his three-point shot was quite off in both games. Compare those two stat lines to his average stat line for the month of December prior to the game against Denver and you’ll see exactly why these last two games have been more than a little concerning:

  • First 10 games of Dec.: 24.1 PTS, 92-of-179 (.514) FG%, 25-of-65 (.385) 3PT%, -2.7 +/-

That’s a pretty clear difference right there. There’s no way around it, Donovan’s last two outings were disappointing and a departure from what had become the norm.

So the question is, are these recent performances reason enough for Utah Jazz fans to be concerned? Well, in my opinion, I’d say that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being “no big deal” and 10 being “absolute panic mode”, Jazz fans should view these latest contests as about a 3.

For the most part, there’s little reason to panic. After all, these are just two games against solid teams in a back-to-back set near the end of the most grueling month any team faces this season. That’s a tiny sample size during a long 82-game season. Not only that, but minor setbacks such as these are expected for any player, especially a rookie.

When Donovan Mitchell went off for a career-high 41 points against the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s not like we expected him to score in the 40s every night after that. So with two less than stirring performances, why should we expect that to be the norm either? Mitchell is averaging nearly 18 points per game for the season and over 24 for the better part of December, so to expect him to fall somewhere in that range by season’s end is still absolutely realistic.

With all that being said, there’s only two minor reasons why Donovan’s latest outings give me a little bit of concern. The first is the worry that perhaps the toe is still bothering him somewhat. Don’t forget that he presumably hurt it against Cleveland, in which he had a phenomenal game, then he tried to go against Houston before having to sit out a couple of games. He similarly had an amazing game against Oklahoma City before dropping the two bad ones immediately after.

Perhaps those lingering effects are slowing him down and making him somewhat less aggressive. We all remember George Hill’s perennial toe injury last season and we hope that this won’t be a similar woe.

The other reason for concern is that Donovan Mitchell has now played 34 games as a pro. That’s the exact same number that he played during his final year as a student-athlete at Louisville and, of course, those games came much more spaced out. The adjustment from playing just upwards of 30 games at the collegiate level to 82 games plus playoffs in the pros is a big one. And while Mitchell’s mini-slump stands at just two games right now, if he has a couple more in the upcoming games, it could be attributed to him hitting a bit of a rookie wall.

I’m not saying that will necessarily be the case by any means, but the timing of it would match up quite nicely.

Then again, if there is going to be a rookie wall for Donovan Mitchell, be it now or later in the season, overcoming it will simply be another important step in his growth as an NBA player. He’s already shown an absolutely incredible amount of grit in his first year in the league, and despite a couple of less than favorable outings, I expect him to bounce back much sooner rather than later.

Next: Jazz-Cavaliers key matchup: Donovan Mitchell vs. Dwyane Wade

It’ll be interesting to see what the upcoming weeks hold, especially as Utah’s schedule hypothetically eases up a little bit. Regardless of the W’s and L’s that are sure to come, I’ll be most interested in tracking Donovan Mitchell’s progress. As I stated, the two off-games aren’t reason for all-out panic by any means, but they’re certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Mitchell and the Jazz will be back in action tonight at 6:00 PM MT as they host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.