Mitchell’s Record 41 Powers 114 – 108 Comeback Win Versus Pelicans

December 1st, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

Donovan Mitchell set a franchise rookie scoring record for a single game, blowing up for 41 points in Utah’s victory over New Orleans. (The Canadian Press)

Story of the Game

When a star is born that becomes the story, and the star and story of the night is Donovan Mitchell.

Perhaps his 12 point first quarter was an indicator of what would follow. But when the Jazz trailed 43 to 55 at half, looking fatigued after yesterday’s Clippers win and a 3:00 am arrival home, there wasn’t much of a vibe that the night would go down in Jazz lore. Then in what has become a new hallmark of this undermanned Utah squad, a second half explosion buried the Pelicans.

Utah shot 63 percent in a 71-point second half assault that was led by a 21-year-old rookie. Mitchell bombarded New Orleans, making nine of 13 shots in the half, including three threes. In the fourth quarter alone, which Utah entered down by four, Mitchell grabbed the game by the throat and strangled it, and a veteran Pelican lineup, into submission. He took nine shots in the quarter, making six, two of them from long range. In he final four minutes he took over the game, scoring 12 points, including three quicksilver darts to the hoop where he displayed a gear no other player on the court possessed.

When the buzzer sounded, Utah had leapfrogged New Orleans into 7th position in the West and Mitchell had indelibly etched his name into the Jazz record books.

41 points.

A franchise rookie scoring record.

The most points scored by a rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011.

The most points scored by a Jazz player since Al Jefferson in 2013.

The buzz of Mitchell possessing star potential has hummed since summer league, and the sound has only intensified through the first quarter of the rookie’s first NBA season. But that sound is now silent, clearly obsolete.

There is no more hum about the future, no more starry-eyed visions of tomorrow, no more anticipation of future stardom.

Donovan Mitchell is a star right now, and that may be the great story of this entire Jazz season.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Donovan Mitchell

13 of 25 from the field. Six of 12 from three. Nine of 11 from the free throw line. Four rebounds. Four assists. But if you didn’t watch him tonight, you missed what makes Mitchell special. The smile. He loves being great. He believes he is, knows he is, won’t accept less, and feeds on that. It’s that rarest of attitudes, even among professional athletes, the combination of confidence and drive that turns great potential into competitive greatness. Jazz coaches and front office personnel were talking about that trait in Rudy Gobert well before he exploded as a franchise-altering defensive force. They didn’t get much of a chance to put the word out about Mitchell because he couldn’t be contained that long. We’ve already witnessed it.

Secondary Stars: Derrick Favors and Alec Burks

Favors has been awesome with Gobert out of the lineup, and tonight he outplayed DeMarcus Cousins. Both had impressive stat lines, Favors with 18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals, and Cousins with a (for him) fairly typical 23 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block. But Cousins required 21 shots to get his 23 points, and even that fails to show how well Favors defended him as Cousins punished any defender other than Favors, adding some cosmetic efficiency to his line. Meanwhile, Favors produced his 18 points on 9 shots. That’s 2 points per shot for Favors to 1.1 for Cousins. By the fourth quarter, Cousins was relegated to taking only jumpers or turning the ball over trying to bully his way through Favors, who is one of the only players in the league with enough combined strength and agility to resist Cousins moving toward the hoop. It was another all-around gem of a game for number 15.

Burks notched his second consecutive 20-point game, this time tallying 24 on 17 shots and adding in three rebounds, an assist, two steals, and a block. He did most of his damage in the first three quarters, times when Utah desperately needed the scoring. The team was clearly dragging on this tail end of a back to back, and the offense wasn’t creating the kick out three opportunities that have fueled the recent win streak. Burks played a controlled game, finishing three of four at the rim and using his speed and sly motion with the dribble to get six open midrange jumpers, making five. For much of the night, Mitchell and Burks were all the offense really had, and that propped up the team enough for the win.

Secret Star: Joe Ingles

Ingles played his prototypical game, doing nothing loudly1 and ending the night with a solid 13 points on eight shots, including three made threes on six attempts, along with 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and a late steal to stamp the victory. On a night where Utah relied disproportionately on Mitchell, Burks, and Favors, Ingles contribution wasn’t as noticeable but was absolutely necessary to the victory.

Stats of the Game

37 – Threes attempted by Donovan Mitchell in the last four games. He’s made 19. That’s 51 percent shooting on more than nine attempts per game.

Plus-20 – Jonus Jerebko’s plus-minus for the game. This is a great example of how misleading this stat can be. See the bullet point about Anthony Davis’ presence–and absence–in this game below for more on this.

0 – Ricky Rubio points. Just when it looked like Rubio was finding his way back to confident production, he went zero of seven from the field, including missing both his three pointers and, very rare for the excellent free throw shooter, both his attempts from the stripe. He was the only Jazz starter with a negative plus-minus, five points on the wrong side of that measure.

8 – Jazz turnovers. Where at the beginning of the season this was a huge problem, they have now turned the ball over 10 times or fewer in four of the last eight games.

65 – Combined points by Mitchell and Burks. Last game they had 52. If these two keep playing well, it transforms Utah’s potential this season.

Sundries

  • The impact of Mitchell’s long range shooting cannot be overstated. In the last four games he’s taken nine threes per contest. Even if he made no more than his season average of 37 percent, that efficiency on that volume of threes would make Mitchell a genuine primary scorer in the modern NBA. Consider these other players this season for perspective. Stephen Curry: 9.4 threes attempted per game at 37 percent shooting. Damian Lillard: 7.6 threes at 33 percent shooting. Kemba Walker: 6.5 attempts at 37 percent shooting. Add to the equation that Mitchell has the speed, directional changeability, and explosiveness to get to the rim and finish or get fouled, and he perfectly fits the profile of the modern lethal scoring guard that drives most NBA offenses.
  • Despite Mitchell’s heroics, there is a legitimate question as to whether Utah would have won this game had Anthony Davis not gone out with what was essentially a non-contact left groin injury. The injury itself looked worrisome as no cause was apparent but Davis was clearly in agony. He had to be wheeled off the floor. This changed the game. Not because Davis was himself destroying the Jazz, though he did have 19 points and 10 rebounds through three quarters. His greatest value was punishing Utah’s undersized fours in the post and easily shooting over them, which created double teams that fueled New Orleans atypical 15 of 30 bombardment from long range. E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller were eight of 13 from three, primarily because with Favors committed to Cousins no player on Utah’s roster could resist Davis. With Gobert and Favors both healthy, the Jazz may be the worst match up for the Pelicans in the league. Gobert’s absence hasn’t hurt Utah notably yet this season, but it absolutely could have today except for the unfortunately injury.
  • If the Jazz cannot figure out a way to mesh the talents of Gobert and Favors, it will be tragic. I cannot see a possibility of trading Favors for anything close to equal talent given his contract expires at the end of the season. He made seven of nine shots again today, including four of five at the rim and three of four between 15 and 20 feet. He dished another five assists, making that 14 assists in the last three games. He is shooting 73 percent within five feet of the rim but also 51 percent on jumpers from 16 to 24 feet. He can guard everyone from DeMarcus Cousins, as he did tonight, to Carmelo Anthony, who had a very similar game earlier this year where he took 26 shots to get 26 points while playing power forward, often with Favors guarding him. Favors is clearly most comfortable in the role he’s long played, as a traditional pick and roll big, but he is also showing skills needed for a playmaking four. By the time he was 26, Paul Millsap was a 26 percent three point shooter with a career 9.9 assist percentage. This year, the 26-year-old Favors is shooting 27 percent from three (38 percent from the right corner) and has an assist percentage of 11 percent. Given how much Millsap’s game developed after this, I see no reason why Favors can’t do something similar.
  • I suspect more and more that Utah’s stagnant offense to start the season was more about Rubio trying to drive the offense than Gobert and Favors sharing the floor. In the last ten games, Utah has outscored opponents by 84 with Alec Burks on the floor, 65 when Neto plays, 45 in Mitchell’s team-leading minutes, and two with Rubio. His dampening effect on the offense is glaring even in a four-out spaced offense. The simple fact is that Utah doesn’t need a ball dominant distributor. They’ve had 23 or more assists in five straight games and Rubio hasn’t led the team in assists in any of those contests. Everyone is unselfish; everyone passes the ball. They need pick and rolls run by players who can hit pull up threes and finish at the rim. Those are prerequisites for compromising defenses in ways that fuel Quin Snyder’s motion offense. Mitchell can do that. Burks can do that. Even Neto has shown some ability to do that. Rubio largely hasn’t, often glaringly so. A few weeks ago I wrote that I wouldn’t be surprised if Mitchell and Burks both saw their minutes expand significantly, which has since happened2. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Snyder eventually reaches the point where he determines Rubio’s most productive position is coming off Utah’s bench.

Winners of four straight and six of their last seven, this offensive juggernaut that is the Jazz have two badly needed days off before a home contest against the Washington Wizards, where Donovan Mitchell will get his first chance to size up John Wall.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

8 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Woooooo! Hooooooo! Wooooooo! Hooooooo! Wooooooo! Hoooooooo! Dahn-oh-vahnnnn!!

    Utah’s Man of La Mancha.

    I haven’t been this excited since the 2013-2104 season, when I realized what the Jazz had in Rudy Gobert–when he was a rookie.

    To top it off, we are seeing both Derrick Favors and Alec Burks rise from the dead, rebound from injury and begin to play like we always imagined they could play. What if Rodney Hood and Dante Exum could also live up to their potential? This could be a mighty fun team for Utah Jazz fans.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Imagine replacing O’Neale (whose done admirably, don’t get me wrong) with Hood in Snyder’s rotation. Talk about putting offensive pressure on a defense for 48 minutes!

  2. Jim says:

    Great article. Great analysis. Great conclusions.

  3. Spencer says:

    Some great points that have real long term implications.

    1-Favors is walking into a situation that is the Millsap 2.0 situation. I loved Millsap and hated to see him go. Favors-looking healthier and in better shape than ever-has now turned into that guy who, if he doesn’t come back is going to be an all-star in the east for the next four to six years.

    2-For the first time EVER Alec Burks looks like an NBA basketball player. I had given up on his ability to make reads both offensively and defensively, then all of the sudden…he looks like he knows what is going on out there. He went from talented but worthless to extremely valuable in one week. (I need more time seeing this happen to be fully convinced it is here to stay) If this is the new Burks, see the above post on Favors. Same age, same approximate ceiling. Either stick with the Jazz or head east young man.

    3- If Mitchell was a stock, I would put all my savings in it. It is that certain to be a great investment. (Knock on the injury wood somewhere). This kid is for real and you thought that might be the case from the first week of summer-league. What he is doing right now as a rookie is staggering. If he can keep up what looks like play that is easy for him, he is a Westbrook/Curry hybrid in the best sense. What?!?

    Those are some significant things to find out in a week. They could effect then next 5-10 years of the Jazz. Add them up and look at what else is happening and Homecourt in the playoffs seems like a reasonable goal to shoot for. I was pondering tanking and trading everyone but Mitchell and Gobert two weeks ago.

    Side note:

    Aaron Gordon is my pick for the perfect fit next to Gobert. Is there any possible way that happens? Last summer I think we could have had him for Exum and a first. Now he is a no-brain max guy that Orlando matches as a restricted FA right?

    • Clint Johnson says:

      As I see it, you’re right on in regard to Gordon. Given his age, athleticism, and field goal percentages across the board, he’s not leaving Orlando. They’d match any offer in free agency and the cost to trade for him would be enormous.

  4. Spencer says:

    Oh yeah, last great point you made:

    Rubio is best suited to take Neto’s spot (3rd String PG).

    Starters:

    Mitchell Burks Favors Ingles Gobert

    Gobert leaves 5 minutes into the game for Jarebko and Favors/Gobert mostly play center afterwords.

    Hood, Neto, Sefalosha Wreak havoc off the bench. Rubio is the third PG until (if) we can offload him somewhere for anything.

    I love the Wing rotation right now.

    By the way, Joe Johnson has an expiring deal and his usefulness to us has also expired. Is there any way we can turn that into something?

    How about this:

    Favors, Joe Johnson to Cleveland for the Boston pick plus

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I don’t think the Jazz are looking to do anything precipitous for multiple reasons. This offensive stretch has been against lower tier competition. Favors and particularly Burks have far from eliminated injury concerns, and I think the team would want present talent rather than future picks in major trades given how they feel about Gobert and where the franchise is.

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