Utah Jazz: Where Donovan Mitchell has improved most

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell is earning the D at the start of his name.

The explanation may be as simple as heightened energy. Maybe Donovan Mitchell is trying to make up for his noticeable dips on offense from last season to his current 24.3 points per game and 31.9 shooting percentage from downtown for the 2021-22 Utah Jazz.

Whatever the motivation, throughout the team’s 10-5 start to its ongoing campaign, the two-time All-Star seems to have reached another level on the defensive end.

Following his four steals in Thursday’s 119-103 home win over the Toronto Raptors (7-9), Mitchell now sits No. 8 in the NBA with his career-high 2.0 takeaways per game and No. 9 with his total of 28.

He has never finished inside the top 10 in average or total steals. And the last time Mitchell snagged more than two steals per game for a season was in his final year with the Louisville Cardinals before going No. 13 overall at the 2017 NBA Draft. Plus, after averaging 1.5 steals as a rookie — perhaps then to quickly earn a starring role — he hasn’t eclipsed that mark since.

An absolute Utah Jazz thief as of late

Now, across the past five games, it appears as if the 6-foot-1, 215-pound guard has made a concerted effort to get the Jazz back on the right track via staunch defense in light of their uncharacteristic string of losses. Donovan Mitchell has tallied 16 steals during this latest five-game stretch, equating to an average of 3.2 per game.

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If the 25-year-old continues his upward swing on the defensive end, then three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert may eventually see some new competition for that award in the form of a fellow Utah Jazz centerpiece.

Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz return to action at 8 p.m. MT Saturday when they play at the Sacramento Kings (6-9).