Donovan Mitchell’s Dent in the Record Book
By Rustyn Burnside, ESPN 977
Pete Maravich, Truck Robinson, Adrian Dantley, Rickey Green, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Mark Eaton, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. These are the names that have represented the New Orleans/Utah Jazz during the NBA All-Star event. Some, such as Stockton and Malone were regulars, others like Andrei Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward, Mehmet Okur and Mike Conley were a one and done thing. 50 overall selections in just under 50 total seasons between New Orleans and Salt Lake City is a solid track record. Even more impressive is that 15 players altogether are responsible for that. Utah has had its share of all-stars, players who have made the NBA take note, but over the 300 players who have donned the name “Jazz” across the chest, only a small percentage have qualified as an all-star, or had a big enough impact for Jazz fans to recall years later.
Donovan Mitchell is one of those names who will always be remembered by Jazz nation. A home-grown success story out of Louisville, The New York native was selected with the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets. Denver immediately turned around and sent him to the Utah Jazz for pick #24 and Forward Trey Lyles. Per a tweet from Andy Larsen, Mitchell gushed about the organization a month prior stating that when it came to Utah: “I love it. Its quiet and nice, everything is clean for starters.” He would go on to mention that “I like Utah a lot. Its beautiful. I just like it out here.” This was said during the Gordon Hayward uncertainty, and fans were relived to find someone who wanted to be around.
Not only did Gordon Hayward leave, Donovan Mitchell arrived and helped soothe the aching hearts of Jazz fans. Utah needed a player that wanted them back, and they certainly got it. Donovan was everywhere. High School games, barbeques, local collegiate showdowns and more. As Donovan rocked jazz throwbacks and embraced the city, people forgot all about Gordon Hayward. What they won’t forget is Donovan’s first points as a Jazz man as he was unexpectedly thrust into the starting lineup, or a putback dunk against LA. Or remember that one time he missed a floater and then flushed it down all in one motion? Speaking of that, he did win a dunk contest after all. The most memorable moment for many will most likely be the time, he led a ragtag group past Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a round one playoff upset his rookie year. Utah basketball never missed a beat, despite losing an All-Star that same year, they seemed to get more than they lost considering Donovan would make 3 All-Star games himself.
After a couple of disappointing years in Jazz land that love between Mitchell and the fans, unfortunately seemed strained. Donovan was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on September 1st in exchange for Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and rookie Ochai Agbaji with three unprotected first round picks and two pick swaps as the Jazz enter into full rebuild mode. With Mitchell gone, so are the expectations of having a true face of the franchise. Another All-Star will certainly come, but how soon and who will it be? With that uncertainty, one thing is for sure, Mitchell will be remembered in multiple ways, but his impact will sit in Utah’s record books for quite some time.
Take for example, the fastest a rookie had ever got to 150 threes made or even better, the most made three pointers by a rookie in 2017-18 where he made two more (187) than former record holder Damian Lillard. That still stands today. Just a while later, he would break Karl Malone’s rookie postseason record for single game scoring by a Jazz player by pouring in 33 points. Malone would go onto remark “He’s probably going to break a whole lot more of them.”. Karl was right. In fact, he scored 55 points altogether his first two playoff appearances. This was the most by a guard in NBA history as it broke a record held by the Jumpman himself in Michael Jordan’s 53. It didn’t stop after his rookie year however. In the bubble, Spida would score the third most points in a single playoff game ever by dropping 57. This was only behind Jordan and Elgin Baylor. The next year Mitchell scored 30 plus points and 5 triples in 5 consecutive playoff games for the longest streak in playoff history, breaking a Steph Curry record from 2015-2106. This was an all-star guard who upped his game in the playoffs every year. But the fun, the records, the joy all seemed to stop as the expectations rose to an all-time high in Salt Lake City. Now we as fans find ourselves in a unique spot, and Donovan Mitchell finds himself in Cleveland.
When Utah and Mitchell put pen to paper with an extension in 2020 for five years, Jazz fans felt the future was secure. Mitchell told media he was blessed to sign and that his “focus is on winning a championship with the Utah Jazz.” Now he will chase that goal with the Cavaliers. He finished his career as a Jazz man averaging 23.9 PPG, while being an impressive 36 % from deep on nearly six attempts per game. His overall dent in the franchise books is unique, because unlike others, his role was to score and to score as much as possible. Rebounding, defense, other aspects of the game all took a back seat to scoring and knocking down shots. His face will not appear in every statistical category for the Jazz like a Swiss army knife player such as Andrei Kirilenko’s will, but where he sits at the end of it all is a testament to his ability to simply put-up points.
Mitchell is currently 8th all time in Utah for Field Goals made and 7th in overall attempts. He finished just under former Jazz teammate turned Milwaukee Buck, Joe Ingles, for most made 3 pointers in Jazz history. Mitchell had 958, Ingles had 1,071. This is a record he would have most likely broken had he rocked the J-note for another year. He did however end up attempting more 3-point field goals than any Jazz man in history for a small consolation prize. He also missed the 7th highest number of shots in a Jazz uniform which is common for a high usage player considering that Stockton and Malone are the two leaders, with Karl missing nearly twice as many shots as any other Jazz player. To back that up Donovan would finish second all-time in usage percentage right behind John Drew. His minutes per game at 33.7, rank 9th all time.
In the grand scheme of the Utah Jazz history books, Mitchell would account for the 8th most points scored by an individual with 8,234 in 337 games and 5 seasons. The average of this, 23.9 points per game would qualify for 4th in Jazz nation behind Dantley, Malone and Maravich. Mitchell played a relatively short amount of time compared to other Jazz legends whose name appear all throughout the franchise leaders, making some of these stats a bit more impressive. Slice it any way you want, pick on the weaknesses that certainly existed, but when Donovan Mitchell was on his game, no other player was as fun to watch from an offensive standpoint. Some fans may clamor that Donovan was a top 5 Jazz man, others will certainly put him lower, but either way Mitchell had moments and plays that will stick with Utah fans throughout time.
(Stats and Numbers via https://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/UTA/leaders_career.html and https://www.statmuse.com/)