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Patrick Kinahan: Mitchell on target to become most clutch player in Jazz history

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes at Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) for a basket as the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies play Game 2 of their NBA playoffs first round series at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes at Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) for a basket as the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies play Game 2 of their NBA playoffs first round series at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — Imagine the time when it comes, probably in a dozen years or so, when Donovan Mitchell retires as an NBA player, preferably toiling for the Utah Jazz his entire career.

What will he leave behind? In another way, how will he be remembered?

Peering into the proverbial crystal ball, it says here Mitchell will go down as one of the most clutch players in Jazz history. Perhaps, he may even top the list for the franchise.

Blasphemy, you may say, immediately citing the two legends, John Stockton and Karl Malone. Taking nothing away from the two foundation pieces, a designation they will always deserve, Mitchell has the game — and most importantly, the moxie, to go rank as the best.

For all his greatness, Malone was known for coming up short occasionally in the playoffs. But he also had plenty of stellar moments, leading the Jazz to phenomenal success over the years.

Stockton hit the biggest shot in franchise history, draining a game-winning 3-point shot that put the Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals. In time, Mitchell might follow suit.

"You know when Donovan's got the ball late he's going to make a play. … It's not going to be successful every possession, but he's not going to be deterred," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said during the best-of-seven playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies, which the Jazz lead 3-1.

Only 24 years old and in his fourth season, Mitchell is on pace to shatter every expectation after he went 13th in the 2017 draft. Through his first 25 playoff games, he averaged 27.3 points, trailing Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the only active players to average more than Mitchell in their first 25 playoff games.

In his 25th game, with the Jazz needing to beat Memphis to regain homecourt advantage, Mitchell scored 10 of the team's final 14 points over the final four minutes to help erase a 2-point deficit in the win. He followed it up with 30 points as the Jazz won the fourth game to take a stranglehold of the series.

Not that any of this is groundbreaking news. Mitchell broke strong out of the playoff gates as a 20-year-old rookie, averaging 24.4 points in 11 games. Two years later, in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, he exploded with multiple 50-point games on the way to pouring in an average of 36.3 points.

Despite Mitchell's gaudy 2020 playoff statistics, Jazz blew a 3-1 series and lost to the Denver Nuggets. It marked the second consecutive loss in the first round, prompting him to adamantly declare that he and the Jazz were done with early exits.

As the two-time All-Star knows full well, legends are not made in anything but at least the conference finals, a place the Jazz have not come close to achieving recently. At the same time, as their best record in the regular season showed, this Jazz team is the best during Mitchell's four years in the league.

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Now it's up to him to produce on the biggest stages. Only a fool would doubt him.

As far as being clutch, there's all sorts of statistics to prove a player's worthiness in the final minutes of close games. But not all of these numbers are created equal.

Rather than bore you with a slew of mind-numbing stats, ask yourself one simple question: With the game on the line, who is the Jazz go-to player? Undoubtedly, the basketball belongs in Mitchell's hands.

Already, at his tender age, Mitchell is the team's most clutch player. The great thing about this season is the Jazz have plenty of weapons, meaning he is not required to take every big shot and can use his incredible athletic ability to act as a distributor and take pressure off his teammates.

For sure, Mitchell has a long way to go before cementing his legacy in franchise history. But it's obvious to see he's on the path to greatness, possibly beyond anything his predecessors ever accomplished.

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