SALT LAKE CITY — It might not be LeBron James passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list, but Donovan Mitchell made his own scoring history on Wednesday.
In early November, as Darrell Griffith and Donovan Mitchell sat in the Jazz locker room, Griffith explained that the young Jazz star was a marked man.
“He’s got a bullseye on his back,” Griffith said. “They know he's coming.”
And maybe Griffith did, too.
On Wednesday, during Utah’s 114-104 win over New Orleans, Mitchell broke Griffith’s franchise mark by becoming the fastest Jazz player to score 3,000 career points. Mitchell accomplished the feat in his 139th game; Griffith needed 150.
It feels appropriate that Mitchell would again be aligned with Griffith in the Jazz record books. They both went to school at Louisville, both were drafted by the Jazz, and both are known for their high-flying dunks.
The two have also shared a bond ever since Mitchell’s freshman season at Louisville. That’s when Griffith attended a practice at his alma mater and had then-Lousiville coach Rick Pitino point to Mitchell and tell the former Jazz star, “that guy is going to be special.”
A few years later, Mitchell is proving that game after game.
Mitchell is averaging 23.3 points per game this season on 42 percent shooting. And he’s been simply phenomenal since the calendar turned to 2019.
Since Jan. 1, Mitchell is averaging 27.1 points, shooting 43.5 percent from the field, and 37.6 percent from the 3-point line.
And with the Jazz suffering numerous injuries at point guard, Mitchell has been taken more and more control of the Jazz offense. He has the third-highest usage rate in the league during that time with 32.7 percent of possessions ending in him either shooting the ball, turning the ball over or getting to the free-throw line.
Mitchell also leads the league in drives in 2019, averaging 20.8 per game. Former MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook sit No. 2 and 3, respectively. That’s some good company.
More than anything, those drives show the progress Mitchell has made since the beginning of the season. He's no longer settling for shots — something Mitchell admitted he was doing at the start of the season — which has helped him get to the free throw line as well as set his teammates up for open shots (Mitchell is averaging 5.0 assists in 2019).
In October, November and December, Mitchell averaged 4.0 free throws per game. Since the new year, that has climbed to 6.3. All great NBA scorers get to the line and Mitchell is starting to become just like them.
“He doesn’t take as many outside shots as he used to and he’s able to get to the rim every time," Rudy Gobert said. “When he does that, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, and he’s able to make better decisions and find his teammates, too.”
It's allowed Mitchell's scoring average to soar and, in turn, has brought more wins for the Jazz (Utah is 17-6 over its last 23 games).
It's safe to say Mitchell cares a little bit more about the latter.