Donovan Mitchell is opening new doors for the Utah Jazz

— December 6th 2017

It turns out there is hope in a post-Gordon Hayward world.

By Dylan Hughes

It took six years for the Utah Jazz to build into a competitive playoff force in the Western Conference. With a fiery coach and strong roster held together by two stars, Utah had a bright future ahead. All it took was Gordon Hayward’s decision to leave for greener pastures in Boston to send it all crashing to the ground.

That’s what it felt like at the time, at least.

What Utah did 12 days prior to Hayward’s decision is now holding their competitive window open: they drafted Donovan Mitchell.

Aside from Rudy Gobert, Utah had no other star power on the roster. To remain relevant in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, Gobert needed a new running mate.

The front office was not in the best position to do that. A 51-win season and residing in the small market of Utah made it tough to fill Hayward’s shoes right away. But Dennis Lindsey and Co. got creative on draft night. The Denver Nuggets decided to trade their no. 13 pick for Trey Lyles and Utah’s 23rd pick–which became Tyler Lydon. So, basically, the Nuggets really like fringe power forwards.

It was a major win for the Jazz and that was clear right away. But as time as gone on, the trade has looked even better for Utah.

He blew up in the Summer League, which drew a ton of attention to a guy that wasn’t very popular pre-draft until the late stages.

It didn’t take him long to make an impact in real games, either. After a 5-for-25 start, Mitchell scored 19 points in just his fourth game. Two games later, 22 points. Two more games, 28 points. By game 12, Mitchell became the permanent starter over Rodney Hood.

Once Mitchell was inserted into the starting unit, the Jazz lost five of seven games. They have turned it around since, however, and rode a six-game winning streak before falling to the Thunder. In those six wins, Mitchell averaged 21.7 points (49 percent from the field, 48 percent from three)–including a 41-point outburst that really put him on the map. It was the first time a rookie scored 40+ since Blake Griffin in 2011. It also eclipsed Hayward’s career-high mark of 40 points.

Mitchell followed that up with another solid outing–21 points on 8-of-13 shooting (3-of-6 from three).

The wins in this time aren’t all too impressive. They beat Chicago by 30, Milwaukee (good win), Denver by 29 (no Paul Millsap), Clippers by 19 (no Blake Griffin), New Orleans, and Washington by 47 (no John Wall, but 47?!).

They didn’t knock off any top dog, but even beating down on bad teams like that is good to see–especially considering Rudy Gobert was out with injury up until the Washington game.

He struggled shooting in the Chicago win, but since then, Utah has been powered by Mitchell. He has been extremely efficient scoring the ball, and his coming out party has gotten the Utah offense up to ninth in offensive rating after finishing 12th last season–with Hayward.

Mitchell doesn’t get all the credit. Derrick Favors was good during Gobert’s absence, and Alec Burks and Rodney Hood have propped up the Jazz’s bench. But Mitchell is already so comfortable as a rookie, and he’s been finding a multitude of ways to score the basketball.

He isn’t shooting too well at the rim–57 percent, 51st percentile among combo guards according to Cleaning The Glass. He tries, though.

Mitchell has tons of different moves to avoid shot blockers.

Mitchell has been much better on catch-and-shoot threes than pull-ups–44.3 percent compared to 31.6 percent on nearly the same number of attempts–but he’s shown the ability to pull-up from deep nonetheless.

He will probably always be an offensive player with a score-first mentality, but he makes some really good passes here and there.

Mitchell projected to be a versatile defender coming into the league, and here are a couple examples of him being active on that end in their recent loss to OKC.

Mitchell brings the Utah Jazz a much different dynamic than what Gordon Hayward brought. Whether that is for better or worse remains to be seen, but either way, the Jazz don’t have t0 crumple up what they’ve built and start from scratch. They have kept a lot of what made them so good last season. While Mitchell probably won’t have an All-Star impact for the whole season, that kind of production may not be far away–meaning the Jazz may not be far away from contending in the West.

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