Donovan Mitchell went and scored 57 points in a Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets. It was the third-most points scored in a single playoff game. For his next act, he dropped 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting along with 8 assists in a Game 2 blowout win.
While duplicating those performances will be tough in Game 3 and beyond, Mitchell's high level of play as the acting team's point guard while Mike Conley is out of the lineup shouldn't be.
The All-Star played arguably his best basketball this season when Conley was out of the lineup. The jury is still out on whether the Jazz can make it work long term with both Mitchell and Conley in their backcourt, but one thing is for sure - Mitchell can certainly shoulder the load at the lead guard position.
The Jazz started the season with a ton of promise after Conley came over from Memphis to help Mitchell in the playmaking role. Many saw Conley as an upgrade over the outgoing Ricky Rubio who had reverted back to his inefficient three-point shooting ways in his second season in Utah. The early returns on the Conley-Mitchell marriage left a lot to be desired. The 12-9 record to start the season didn't exactly match the promise Utah had shown on paper.
When Conley went down with a hamstring injury in early December, Mitchell moved to the point guard spot and things turned around, drastically.
Mitchell averaged 24.9 points, 5.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range through the Jazz's next 20 games. More importantly, Utah went 16-4 over that stretch.
When Conley finally made his return to the Jazz lineup, he did seem more comfortable and more importantly he found his touch from three. Mitchell, on the other hand, regressed back to the inefficient volume scorer that he's shown to be at times in his young career.
So what can the Jazz do to fix this? Conley is on his way back to the lineup and Utah's best chance at winning their series with the Nuggets still exists with him being a part of the rotation. But Mitchell plays his best when he's the one at point guard and not playing off the ball. He seems to feel the game better and make better decisions - simply put he's been more efficient.
According to NBA Stats, when Conley's on the floor Mitchell is shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three. With Conley off the floor this season, Mitchell's percentages go up to 46.5 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from three.
The Jazz went out and added pieces around Mitchell so he wouldn't have to carry the offence as he did in Game 1. It's what was supposed to take them over the top this season. There are some positives with what Utah did last off-season, Bojan Bogdanovic was a nice addition who they wish was in the bubble for their playoff run and both Rudy Gobert and Mitchell became All-Stars for the first time this year.
But in adding more playmakers around Mitchell to help take the ball out of his hands and relieve some pressure, did the Jazz in effect neutralize their best weapon? By taking the ball out of Mitchell's hands are they helping him as much as they planned?
We won't know the answer until we see this Jazz unit go through a playoff run fully healthy, but it is a question worth asking if Mitchell continues to put on performances as he did in Games 1 and 2.
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