SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz's 114-108 win over the New Orleans Pelicans from KSL.com's Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell's game tonight
Donovan Mitchell scored 41 points, which is obviously an insane total and one we'll get into the historical significance of later. But let's just start by breaking down just tonight's game — to see how he did it — before we get into what this means for his NBA career.
18 of those points came from beyond the 3-point arc, where Mitchell was 6-12. Just like in Thursday's game against the Clippers, Mitchell's threes were mostly pull-up, tough looks. He shot and made one from 28 feet, several steps behind the arc. He made one from the corner, with two guys around him. He shot over switches at the perfect time, right before the big steps up.
Some Donovan Mitchell plays from tonight. He did this three times, where he attacked the switch by just pulling up before the big could get close to him: pic.twitter.com/oTy7yjTHeh— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 2, 2017
14 of the points were from inside the arc. All of them were layups. Remember how worried we were about Mitchell being able to finish off of one foot? Well, here's him doing it over Boogie Cousins.
Here's a nice finish off of one foot from the right side: pic.twitter.com/XXRlgb82mo— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 2, 2017
Here's him then going back to his left, but finishing with the right. Again, jumping off of one foot.
Remember how worried we were about whether or not Mitchell could finish on one foot? Well, he's figured it out pretty quickly. Here's one he did twice, finishing with his right hand from the left side pic.twitter.com/H4SHlZbgUI— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 2, 2017
9 of the points were from the free-throw line, out of 11 attempts. One trip was on this play to end the first quarter, where he punished both Jrue Holiday and DeMarcus Cousins for reaching, then leaped over Tony Allen to nearly finish at the rim.
Or there's this play, where he drives to the rim despite being well trailed by Jrue Holiday and having a really big body in front of him in DeMarcus Cousins.
And to attack Boogie here despite Jrue trailing: pic.twitter.com/DrLfiRwzIP— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 2, 2017
And then there were three-and-one plays, and while the contact was light on all three, the emotion he shows after getting to the rim here is unlike any Jazzman we've seen in recent memory.
Light contact on the foul, but I love Donovan's emotion: pic.twitter.com/wGFOY9n1ez— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 2, 2017
That adds up to 41 points ... on 25 shots. Oh, and adding to the degree of difficulty, he did it at the game's most important points, scoring 10 points in three minutes at the end of the game when the Jazz had a six-point deficit. He also assisted a Joe Ingles three during that stretch.
And it was on a back-to-back, too! Usually, rookies have the hardest time dealing with those, not knowing how to deal with the fatigue of the NBA. Instead, he brought his highest level when he was at his most tired.
"I was speechless. You'll probably catch me smiling from 35 points and up, but I don't know what to say," Mitchell said after the game. "This is crazy."
2. Donovan Mitchell might be a superstar
Okay, it's reaction time. With his 41 points tonight, Mitchell earned the NBA's attention and it catapults him into legitimate contention for NBA's Rookie of the Year in one of its best classes ever.
Mitchell had the best scoring game of any Jazzman since 2010 (Paul Millsap's Miracle in Miami game in 2010) and of any NBA rookie since 2011 (Blake Griffin's 47-point performance).
It's also the highest scoring performance by any Jazz rookie since forever. The previous high was fellow Louisville Cardinal Darrell Griffith's 38 points in 1981.
"It means the world. Darrell and I, I’ve known him since my freshman year, and to be able to be in the same place he came to and play for the same school, it’s just incredible," Mitchell said. "I’m speechless. I can’t help but smile.”
Here's another crazy fact:
Oh, so that's pretty good!
The crazy comparison I heard from multiple people after the game was that Donovan Mitchell is Dwyane Wade with a jump shot. That's lofty, but I understand why there's the comparison: Mitchell's athleticism is special, along with his attention and effort on the defensive end, along with his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands.
Again, that feels really crazy, but look at these per 36 minute stats. Mitchell is 21, while Wade was 22 in his rookie year.
Oh, and those stats don't include tonight's game. While Mitchell's field goal percentage is lower, once you adjust for the fact that Mitchell is taking more threes, it's only a three percent eFG difference.
His teammates agreed about Mitchell's place in the league's future.
"He’s so talented," Jonas Jerebko said. "He’s got the ability to just take over a game and he did today. I told him at halftime, ‘It’s your time now.’ I tell him almost every fourth quarter, ‘It’s your time now.’ He’s got the ability to just take over and he did it today. It was great to see."
Jerebko continued on, "I’ve been in this league for nine years, so I’ve seen a few rookies come and go and he’s got 'it'. He’s very talented, he works hard, plays defense, plays both ends of the floor. I’m just trying to, the experience I have, just share. He’s going to be in this league for a long time, so I’m just trying to share my experiences."
Here's the thing: if Donovan Mitchell has the potential to be a top-five player in the league instead of just a top-30 or so player, the overall ceiling for this Jazz team skyrockets. I'm still not sure that's the case, but nights like Friday by a rookie, well, they don't happen very often.
Mitchell, though, went the other way when providing context. Instead of thinking about the players who he's playing like, he thought about where he's come from.
"I keep telling people, man, I didn’t expect to be here, you know? This wasn’t really in my head. I tell people I didn’t pack when I left school, thought I was coming back for a third year, didn’t think I was gonna get drafted in the first round, didn’t think I was gonna play the way I’m playing, now that all of it’s happening it’s kind of overwhelming," he said. "Luckily I got two days to kind of enjoy it and get it out of my head because come Monday, it starts all over again. This is, this is, uh, what am I talking about? I don’t really have words for it, to be honest. It’s just crazy how all this is happening."
It really is, Donovan. It really is.
3. Other game notes
When one player scores 41 points and does something that's never been done in Jazz history, he's going to get the vast majority of the Triple Team. But let's not forget some of the other things that happened Friday night:
- On a back to back, after wrestling with DeAndre Jordan last night, Derrick Favors had a monster game again with 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. He won his positional battle with DeMarcus Cousins. Again, this happened on a back-to-back. He's really good and really motivated right now.
- Anthony Davis' injury in the fourth quarter was pretty scary, seemingly a non-contact injury where he just tweaked his groin muscle and couldn't move. He wouldn't put any weight on it and immediately exited, going to the Jazz's medical room on the closer side of the court. Alvin Gentry, Pelicans coach, said he will have an MRI tomorrow in Portland and is very unlikely to play.
- Without Davis, DeMarcus Cousins was solely responsible for New Orleans' offense and defense. That made him very, very tired, and Mitchell exploited it over and over again on his baskets. Mitchell recognized that, too, after the game.
- Alec Burks had another terrific performance, scoring 24 points after scoring 28 last night. The consistency would be another huge step forward for Burks.
- Jonas Jerebko was a +20. Starting him was a brilliant move.