Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best start this season. Is it merely a funk or is something more afoot?
Though it can sometimes be little more than an over-used cliche, there’s no denying that there’s also some amount of truth to the idea of players going through a sophomore slump. There have been a number of players throughout NBA history that have gotten off to a dazzling start as a rookie, only to come back and disappoint somewhat in their subsequent year.
The Utah Jazz’s former rookie phenom turned sophomore Donovan Mitchell came into the 2018-19 season with electrifying expectations. After bursting onto the scene and taking essentially the entire league by storm in his first year as a pro, fans, the media, the Jazz organization and Donovan himself all expected a big leap in year two.
He displayed multiple instances of brilliance as a rookie and by combining that with his work ethic, it was a near certainty that he’d only continue to make massive strides in 2018-19. However, though the season is still very young and nothing can be read too much into at this point, there’s no denying that Mitchell’s sophomore season hasn’t gotten off to the start he would’ve wanted.
Through three games, not only are the Jazz a middling 1-2, but both of their losses (and even the ugly win against Sacramento) have seen Mitchell struggle. Thus far on the season, he’s averaging 19 points per game, which is respectable, but below his average from last season. But what’s worse than the scoring output is the efficiency at which he’s converting.
In the three games so far, Mitchell is shooting just 34.4 percent from the field (43.7 percent last season), 27.6 percent from deep (34 percent last season) and 70 percent from the free throw line (80.5 percent last season). He’s putting up more attempts per game from the field and from the perimeter than he did last year but is converting at a worse rate. He’s also getting to the free throw line less but likewise converting at a worse rate.
In short, not a promising start for the young second-year player.
Beyond the mere numbers, what’s been perhaps the most worrisome is the fact that Mitchell’s struggles have come late in games. Despite some inefficiency concerns last year, Mitchell built a reputation as an electrifying performer in the clutch. However, in Utah’s pair of losses this season, he has failed to score a fourth quarter field goal.
That was especially painful in the game against the Golden State Warriors wherein the Jazz had a large lead, but fell into the trap of going iso rather than continuing to move the ball, and it resulted in a flat offense. Unfortunately, Donovan was one of the culprits of such taking place.
So after three subpar performances from Mitchell to start off the 2018-19 season, one can’t help but ask the questions posed in the title of this piece. Is Donovan Mitchell headed for a sophomore slump? Or is this merely an unfortunate slow start that will be quickly broken out of?
Nothing but time can answer that question, but allow me to give my two cents. Quite frankly, with only three games under the Utah Jazz’s collective belts, I think that fans need to calm down a bit. There’s a long season left to play, and while both recent losses have been discouraging in different fashions, neither one serves as an absolute death knell.
Donovan Mitchell’s rookie season was no fluke as he delivered time and time again. Sure, he’s not catching anyone off guard this year, but by about midway through last season, he wasn’t surprising anyone then either. He proved more than capable of adapting and bouncing back on several occasions a year ago, and I expect that his resolve is even greater this time around.
Not only that, but if you look at Mitchell’s performance last year, you’ll notice he got off to a pretty rocky start as well. It wasn’t until his sixth game that he shot above 40 percent from the field, and while he did some good things, it took him a bit of time to get up to speed and get rolling.
Sure, it would have been nice to see that not be replicated now that he has a year of NBA experience under his belt, but my point is that he had a fantastic season in 2017-18 despite a forgettable start. He’s most certainly capable of doing that again in year two. All indications were that Mitchell put in a ton of work this summer and made strides. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until those start to manifest more fully on the court.
So, in other words, is it possible that Mitchell is facing a sophomore slump? Sure it is! Like any player, he’s susceptible to the highs and lows of an NBA career. However, I would caution Jazz fans not to get too bent out of shape after three games. Donovan is still a supreme talent, and if we learned anything from him last year, it’s that he’s as resilient as they come.
Are there obvious things he needs to fix moving forward? Certainly! But I guarantee he’s more aware of those than any of us, followed closely by none other than his coaching staff and teammates who also want nothing more than to see him succeed.
None of us foresaw the Jazz getting off to such an ugly start in what originally figured to be a miraculous season, and we especially didn’t think that Mitchell’s struggles would be one of the main issues. Nevertheless, the year is still very young, and patience will be key moving forward for the fans and team alike.
Jazz Nation is behind you 100 percent, Donovan! And we’re still as thrilled as ever to see what you put together in year two!