If there was any doubt that Donovan Mitchell deserved to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation with Ben Simmons this season, he's putting his full potential on display in the Jazz's opening-round series against the Thunder.
With a total of 110 points, only four rookies in NBA history - a group that includes Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan - have scored more points than Mitchell through four games of their postseason careers. Mitchell also joined Hall of Famer Karl Malone as the only Jazz rookies to score 30 points in the postseason with his 33-point outburst in Game 4, a performance that helped the Jazz secure their third consecutive victory over the Thunder.
The Jazz were a completely different team with Mitchell in the lineup in those games, going from being outscored by 11.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench to outscoring the Thunder by 17.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. That's the sort of impact you'd expect to see from an MVP candidate, not a rookie going up against Russell Westbrook and Paul George in his first taste of postseason basketball.
Mitchell has looked anything but a rookie on the court, too. In the Jazz's Game 2 win at Oklahoma City, he shrugged off a slow start and took over down the stretch with 13 points in the fourth quarter. Two of those points came with less than two minutes remaining, when he took George off the dribble in isolation, spun around him and drained this floater to put the finishing touches on their comeback:
While Mitchell wasn't the most efficient scorer in crunch time during the regular season - he shot 40.0 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from the perimeter in the last five minutes of five-point games - he led all rookies in scoring and usage in those situations. Giving him the ball late in games despite those numbers has prepared him well for the playoffs because he's aware of what he needs to do to put his team in position to win.
"There was just a point where I stopped being aggressive," Mitchell said when asked about what changed in the fourth quarter of Game 2. "The big thing with Rudy [Gobert], he let me know that I went 0-for-7 from three, I'm letting guys off the hook, I gotta keep applying pressure and getting to the rim. Even if I miss, you saw on the boards, [Gobert and Derrick Favors] were right there crashing and getting rebounds. Just being aggressive, getting to the rim, getting to the free throw line."
Mitchell had another strong fourth quarter in Game 3, only this time his 10 points gave the Jazz the boost they needed to hold onto the advantage they had built up in the third quarter. He then took over in Game 4, scoring 20 points in the second half to give the Jazz a commanding 3-1 lead over the Thunder. As a result, Mitchell now has a slight lead over LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Khris Middleton in fourth quarter scoring for the playoffs.
What's impressive about Mitchell is how he's generating those points. He proved in the regular season that he's a capable three-level scorer who is comfortable playing on and off the ball, and he's doing far more of the former in these playoffs. He's confidently stepping into 3-pointers when defenders duck under screens in pick-and-rolls, and he's been relentless in attacking one of the NBA's best rim protectors whenever a lane to the basket opens up.
Mitchell's length is certainly a factor when it comes to his ability to score against Steven Adams or anyone else who stands between him and the basket, but he's already mastered how to get his shot off against bigger defenders. Not only does he have the raw athleticism to score over and around players, he has the skills and body control to finish in a variety of ways in the paint, whether it's wrong-footed layups...
or explosive spin moves in transition:
Mitchell's craftiness has resulted in him making 65.9 percent of his shot attempts in the restricted area in this series, up from 61.7 percent in the regular season. He's also made 35.0 percent of his pull-up attempts from 3-point range against the Thunder, up from 29.3 percent in the regular season. The one area he has struggled from is midrange, but those shots have made up a small portion of his overall shot attempts.
Mitchell's success as the Jazz's go-to scorer shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who followed him or the Jazz this season. The difference now is he's doing it in the playoffs against a team featuring two perennial All-Stars, one of whom is the league's reigning MVP.
Having outplayed both of them to this point of the series with his team being on the brink of advancing to the second round for only the second time in eight years, it's as clear as ever that Mitchell is on the path to superstardom.