Utah Jazz

Donovan Mitchell: The most important piece of Utah Jazz's championship-contending puzzle

What's next for Donovan Mitchell?

In each of his first four seasons in the NBA, Mitchell has improved his numbers, doing his part to lead the Utah Jazz to the NBA Playoffs each season and past the first round in 2018 and 2021. As Mitchell turns 25, it's hard not to wonder what he and the Jazz have in store following an especially impressive 2020-21 campaign.

Mitchell's fourth season was his best to date, as he averaged career-highs of 26.4 points and 5.2 assists while making 3.4 triples per game at a 38.6 percent clip. Thanks largely in part to Mitchell's play, Utah finished with the league's best record at 52-20, eliminating the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the opening round before falling in six games to the LA Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Over 10 postseason games, Mitchell averaged 32.3 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 43.5 percent from 3, marking the second-consecutive season in which Mitchell stepped up to increase his production and efficiency on the biggest stage, but his team couldn't get over the hump.

What will it take for them to get there?

In NBA.com's most recent player rankings, Mitchell landed at 18th, placing him ahead of the likes of Bradley Beal and Julius Randle, among others. Unlike those two, who earned selections last season, Mitchell has yet to earn recognition as an All-NBA player despite earning All-Star selections in each of the past two seasons.

As loaded as the guard position is in the NBA, progression into an All-NBA player - or a top-six guard in the league - is the next leap that Mitchell can make in order to help the Jazz get over the proverbial hump. But what might that look like?

As with most prolific guards, there have been some knocks on Mitchell's efficiency - or lack thereof - as he has yet to shoot 45.0 percent or better throughout the course of an NBA season. And while the raw percentages might suggest Mitchell isn't the most efficient scorer, he has improved his true shooting percentage in each of the last two seasons.

Donovan Mitchell, career shooting splits
PTS FGM FG% 3PM 3P% FTM FT% TS%
2017-18 20.5 7.5 43.7 2.4 34.0 3.0 80.5 54.1
2018-19 23.8 8.6 43.2 2.4 36.2 4.1 80.6 53.7
2019-20 24.0 8.7 44.9 2.5 36.6 3.0 86.3 55.8
2020-21 26.4 9.0 43.8 3.4 38.6 5.0 84.5 56.9

As he continues to thrive and improve as a scorer and distributor, can Mitchell be the type of player he's been in the postseason over the course of an 82-game regular season? That would undoubtedly result in an All-NBA selection, but expectations of Mitchell to score over 30 points a game in the regular season would be a bit much, at least this soon in his career.

Building upon improvement from last year should be the goal, as the Jazz have retooled this offseason by re-signing Mike Conley, drafting Jared Butler, signing Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside and trading for Mitchell's good friend, Eric Paschall.

With more playmaking and frontcourt depth, Utah is now better equipped for the grind to 16 wins in the postseason, not just regular-season dominance. In many ways, Mitchell stands as the most important piece of the puzzle as the team's most versatile and prolific scorer.

As we've seen in the past, a team's postseason success is largely reliant upon the ability of their best scorer to make things happen when all else breaks down. We saw it in 2020 when Mitchell had two games of 50-plus points and another of 40-plus in the opening round, and in 2021, when Mitchell averaged 34.8 points over six games against the Clippers, including a 45-point performance in Game 1.

Mitchell is ahead of schedule in many ways, having delivered a number of signature postseason performances prior to the age of 25, but can he be the best player on a championship team? As good as he is, we still may be some time away from Mitchell reaching his peak, which will be measured by more than just numbers.

An average of at least 25 points per game will be the baseline for Mitchell in the coming seasons, but how much more efficient can he become? With his reliance on the 3-point shot, Mitchell might not ever be a 45.0 percent shooter, but continued improvement as a shooter makes his game multidimensional.

Sharing the floor with Conley and Joe Ingles, over 5.0 assists seems a bit far-fetched, so his average of 5.2 assists in the 2020-21 season are a testament to his basketball IQ and ability to read opposing defences.

This upcoming season, the Phoenix Suns are the reigning West champs, while the Los Angeles Lakers are much improved after a transformational offseason, as are the Golden State Warriors, who have done some savvy drafting and should be healthy after a few down years marred by injury.

This is to say that the Jazz are still in a prime position to dominate the Western Conference once again, and with a 25-year-old Mitchell leading the charge, they can dominate for years to come.

After making large strides year over year, Mitchell has firmly established himself as a perennial All-Star and an All-NBA candidate.

As he gears up for the next chapter in his career, Mitchell can make improvements in the margins by differentiating when to pick his spots and make reads on the offensive end to continue polishing his playmaking. Mitchell can one day be the best player on a title team, but it all hinges on his continued growth.

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