Patrick Kinahan: Time for Jazz to permanently move Mitchell to point guard

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SALT LAKE CITY — After a three-month stretch of inconsistency, marked by some horrendous shooting games, Donovan Mitchell looks to have settled into a good rhythm.

And as a result, the Jazz finally are winning. No surprise there, as Mitchell is the team’s most dominant player on offense, especially when he is playing the role of point guard.

In 2019, Mitchell has regained the form that stunned the NBA as a rookie last season. Through eight games this month he averaged 27.1 points 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, along with substantial increases with other pertinent numbers.

Below .500 most of the season, the Jazz are 7-2 in January and are riding their first five-game winning streak. The strong showing has pushed the Jazz above the playoff line in the Western Conference and has given them an excellent chance of continuing to climb up the standings.

“Playing free is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said. “There are times when I kind of slow the game down mentally and just do what I see. It sounds simple, but it’s not so much predetermining what I’m going to do.”

Coincidentally or not, the Jazz winning streak coincides with Mitchell taking over the primary point guard duties. In the span of one week, the top three point guards, Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto, all went down with injuries, forcing Mitchell to slide over.

Manning the point the last three games, Mitchell has flourished. None of the three natural point guards is expected back for at least one week; even when they do return, coach Quin Snyder might want to consider letting Mitchell direct the offense.

Using several Western Conference teams as examples, the point guard position in the NBA has drastically changed from the era of John Stockton annually leading the league with double-digit assists. The likes of Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and James Harden dominate the ball for their respective teams and often are the scoring leaders.

In a limited sample, Mitchell has made a smooth transition to running the offense.

“I just think he’s comfortable in that position,” Jazz television analyst Matt Harpring said during a radio interview on The Zone Sports Network. “He’s doing a great job of making the right reads. I thought at times, in the beginning of the year, he struggled to make the right reads and the shot selection was inconsistent. I think (with Mitchell) watching film, just getting better, it’s showing right now. His numbers in January are off the charts and he’s playing incredible basketball.”

The first three months of the season was another story. Until this recent hot streak, Mitchell’s shooting percentage hovered in the 30s overall from the field and the 20s on three-point shots.

Part of the problem for Mitchell is he's not a mystery anymore. Coming off a sensational rookie season teams were more prepared for him this season.

“He is who he is. He’s a second-year NBA player. He’s going to go through some stuff. It’s not going to be an easy ride for him, especially after what he did last year,” veteran Jazz forward Joe Ingles said on The Zone.

“Of course, his second year is going to be a lot harder. He’s going to be at the top of the scouting report on the other team. He wasn’t just going to be able to flick a switch and score 30 points a game.”

As the team’s most dynamic player, asking Mitchell to run the point, and often guard the opponent’s best perimeter player, might tax him. At the same time, he is only 22 years old.

But it also might provide the best chance for the Jazz to succeed.

“That’s really asking a lot of him,” Jazz forward Kyle Korver said on The Zone. “Luckily he’s young and has a lot of energy.”

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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