After the disappointing Utah Jazz loss on Friday, Donovan Mitchell made it clear he needs to hit tougher shots. However, focusing on making the right play will be crucial for his continued growth as well.
The Utah Jazz lost a tough one to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. A seesaw affair ultimately resulted in Golden State’s favor when former Jazzman Jonas Jerebko tipped in the game winner in the waning seconds of the contest.
Although there were several factors leading to the Jazz falling short, one of them undoubtedly had to do with Donovan Mitchell‘s struggles in the fourth quarter. Now, let’s get one thing clear. Donovan Mitchell is a phenomenal player and will continue to be Utah’s leading offensive weapon throughout the year. Despite a slow start to the season in terms of efficiency, Mitchell is simply so special and so talented that you can bet he’ll be a force for the Jazz all year long.
Nevertheless, even the greatest of players have their poor stretches, and that’s exactly what happened to Donovan on Friday. After getting up to 19 points midway through the third quarter, Mitchell appeared to be heating up. But instead, his offense went completely cold from there. He was held scoreless from that point on and missed his final nine shots of the game.
After the game, Mitchell was clearly disappointed in his performance. And as you can see in the brief snippet below from his post-game interview via the Deseret News’ Eric Woodyard, he made it clear that as teams up their D against him, he needs to find a way to “hit tougher shots.”
For the most part, I agree with Mitchell’s assessment. His ability to step up and hit difficult shots will be unbelievably valuable for the Utah Jazz. As he ascends into even greater stardom, his ability to hit contested and clutch shots will make him nigh unstoppable. For much of last season, the sometimes disjointed Jazz offense relied heavily on Mitchell creating and, in more cases than not, converting on electrifying takes.
But along with getting better at hitting tough shots, Donovan also needs to improve at making the right basketball play. And sometimes, that play doesn’t involve him having to take a tough shot at all. Rather, it may very well involve him trusting his teammates and getting the ball in the hands of the appropriate player that can make the big play.
Such was definitely the case on Friday night. Utah posted a historic first half by logging 81 points thanks largely to their impeccable ball movement and the great rhythm and pace in which they played. However, late in the game on a few occasions, Donovan Mitchell instead opted to shoulder the offensive load on his own and go iso against the Warriors. As indicated by his scoreless final period, that tactic was less than successful.
Perhaps no occasion was more blatantly detrimental than the Jazz’s final full possession. Donovan Mitchell dribbled the shot clock down to about three seconds left before pulling up for a contested three against the lengthy Kevin Durant. It wasn’t a good look to begin with and it didn’t go down.
While Mitchell was largely relied on for creating offense last season, thus far Utah has proven that its deep rotation filled with offensive weapons is quite capable when the ball is moving and they’re getting good shots. Rather than seeing Mitchell pull up for an ill-advised shot, he would have been better off looking for one of his teammates who’d had the hot hand on the night.
The great ones know when to take over, but also realize when it’s best to defer back to their teammates and trust in them. In several fourth quarter possessions on Friday night, such would have been the optimal decision for the Jazz’s second-year standout.
The good news is that I imagine that Mitchell is more aware of this than any of us. Though he brought up making tougher shots in his post-game interview, I’m certain he also knows that he needs to get better at distributing the ball when necessary and becoming a playmaker, not just a scorer. As he watches film and continues to improve in terms of decision-making and trusting his teammates, you can bet that he’ll avoid making similar mistakes down the road.
Mitchell posted such an impressive rookie season that it’s hard for fans to not have elevated expectations of the phenomenal player. After establishing himself as a rising star last year, it’s only natural that expectations will rise and the high hopes for Mitchell coming through will be constant.
But it’s still important to remember that he is only a second-year player with plenty of room to grow and expand his game. Some of that growth will include making tougher shots. Some of it will include getting better at reading the defense and adjusting to putting the ball in his teammates’ hands. Both will be valuable areas of improvement.
Donovan will only continue to get better with each passing day and I’m certain Friday’s loss was a great learning experience. Though the season hasn’t gotten off to the start for him efficiency-wise that he might have hoped, don’t expect him to stay down for long. I’m still predicting a massive season for the rising second-year star as he improves in all aspects.