SALT LAKE CITY — In the early stages of his NBA career, any talk of comparing Donovan Mitchell to Dwyane Wade ranged from silly to extreme hyperbole.
When Mitchell entered the NBA, Wade was one season away from finishing a 17-year career that included three NBA championships and averaging a league-leading 30.2 points a game in 2008-09. Once Wade retired in 2019, the countdown was on to his induction into the Hall of Fame.
No rookie should be saddled with such a lofty comparison, especially for an undersized guard. Yet, although there is still a big gap between them, Mitchell is worthy of belonging in the same sentence as the great Wade.
The fifth pick of the draft coming out of Marquette in 2003, Wade made an immediate impact for the Miami Heat as a rookie by averaging 16.2 points a game. By his third season, at age 24, he upped the scoring average to 27.2 points and became a bona fide superstar.
That same season, in 2005-06, Wade teamed with Shaquille O'Neal to win Miami's first championship. Wade was also the finals Most Valuable Player in the 4-2 series win over the Dallas Mavericks.
He later teamed with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to win another two titles. After brief stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, Wade returned to play two more seasons with Miami and retired as the franchise's most decorated home-grown player.
Indeed, those are massive shoes for Mitchell to fill, but this season has proven he's finding his Wade in the league.
Unlike Wade, as a rookie, Mitchell was installed as the focal point of the offense for a team that had lost leading scorer Gordon Hayward to free agency the prior summer. As expected, as a 21-year-old, Mitchell endured a few rough patches but finished with an average 20.5 points a game.
He showed gradual improvement over the next two seasons before exploding into Wade-like greatness this year. His remarkable play is a significant reason the Jazz have had the best record in the NBA for the last several weeks.
No guard has been better of late than Mitchell, who became the first Jazz player since Karl Malone in 1993 to score at least 35 points in three consecutive games, and he followed it up with 42 points in the loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday. As an encore to those three games last week, he scored 14 consecutive points and 17 points overall in the first quarter in the loss to the Wizards.
"It just looks like Donovan is playing a different game than everyone else," Jazz analyst Matt Harping said on the television broadcast during Mitchell's scoring spree.
Perhaps attributed to the radical shift in offensive philosophy, Mitchell is better than Wade in 3-point shooting. Wade never shot better than 33% from behind the line, while Mitchell has yet to shoot below 34%.
A 13-time All-Star, Wade was far from a one-dimensional player. He also made second-team all-defense three times, an accolade Mitchell has yet to achieve. But, remember, he came out of college at Louisville after two years and is still a work in progress.
"He continues to improve," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said before the Wizards game.
Ultimately, to make the comparison to Wade more legitimate, Mitchell has to come closer to the success Wade had in the playoffs over the years. Wade played in 177 playoff games over 13 years, averaging 22.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game.
In 23 games in his first three years, Mitchell's numbers are 27.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game. But the point total is inflated due to the nature of playing before no crowds last season in the bubble in Orlando, Florida.