Rookie Mitchell Soars in Jazz 96 – 81 Victory

October 28th, 2017 | by Clint Johnson

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Story of the Game

While Utah broke its two-game losing streak at home against the lesser of Los Angeles’ NBA squads1, the victory didn’t warrant undue excitement – except for perhaps the showdown between lottery picks Lonzo Ball and Donovan Mitchell.

Entering the night, all eyes were on Rookie of the Year favorite Ball, the second overall pick from the summer’s draft. But Mitchell, taken 11 picks after Ball, outshined his rival guard both statistically and cosmetically. Ball’s 9 point (on 10 shots) and 4 assists to 5 turnovers fairly represent his muffled presence in the game. Though he played 36 minutes, long stretches of the contest passed where it was easy to forget the heralded talent was on the court.

No so for Mitchell. He led the Jazz in scoring with 22 points on 16 shots, including going 3 of 6 from three and making his only attempt from the free throw line. He added 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals. He also kept up his pattern of making more than his fair share of mistakes, including turning the ball over five times but routinely compensating for those poor plays soon after. While Mitchell played with greater patience for much of this game than has proven typical, a key to his success on the night, there were a few sequences of the exuberant chaos that has become part of the young man’s early pro career, such as third quarter stretch where he turned over the ball, hustled down court to steal the ball back from Brandon Ingram, only to turn the ball over again.

But taken as a whole, Mitchell had his best game in a Jazz uniform – and the most electric game of any Jazz player this season, largely because of back to back plays at the end of the third quarter.

Mitchell makes a combination of plays in immediate succession that few, if any, guard in Jazz history could accomplish:

Entering the night, the odds of a rookie in this game moving on to stardom skewed hugely to Ball, especially given Mitchell’s challenges shooting prior to tonight. By nights end, a few more people will be betting Mitchell after seeing him top all the nation’s highlight lists.

Stars of the Game

Superstar of the Game: Donovan Mitchell

No kidding. But it is worth adding that Mitchell fully expected this game. To be honest, he expected to have this type of impact earlier. The young man has a confidence and drive that resembles Rudy Gobert’s, a fixed internal certainty that he will be great. It was on display not only in his highlight sequence but also after, when he strutted to the Jazz sideline bobbing his head and jawing with his teammates. Then he did the same near the game’s end with a pumped Ricky Rubio. The young man has the It factor.

Secondary Stars: Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors

Rubio filled the stat sheet once again, notching 21 points on only 13 shots and adding 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal. His accuracy from three (4 of 7) and the three throw line (5 of 6) made him Utah’s most efficient scorer. If he can find a way to tamp down the turnovers – another five tonight – he’ll be everything Utah’s front office hoped when they procured him.

Favors contributed his first double double of the season with 14 points (on 11 shots) and 10 rebounds, adding an assist, steal, and block. It’s also worth noting that frustration built in the fourth quarter to the point where Favors played noticeably angry, exploding to viciously swat away a shot that was whistled as goaltending (in a questionable call) and bullying his way through three defenders in the post to a savage two handed dunk (wiped away as a travel in a questionable call). He also took another three, this time from the right corner, that rattled as far down as can be without going in. That combination of athleticism, power, and range is all there in potential. Will the attitude and confidence ever blossom to the point of bringing it out is the question.

Secret Stars: Rudy Gobert

From a purely statistical standpoint, Gobert appeared the least impactful of Utah’s starters. He only scored 6 points on 5 field goal attempts and contributed a (for him) pedestrian 8 rebounds. But he added another 3 blocks and has caught and eclipsed Ekpe Udoh’s team leading mark in that category with 14 to Udoh’s 12. More importantly, Gobert registered a sneaky good plus-22 on the night, his first notch on the box score ledger all season.

Stats of the Game

42 percent – Utah’s three point shooting. After back to back losses on 25 percent or worse shooting from long range, the Jazz made a season high percentage on a season high 31 attempts.

21 – Jazz turnovers, two more than their already horrid season average. To a degree these numbers should decrease as new players, particular Rubio, gel with teammates. But Utah’s ball shifting style invites turnovers, particularly when relying as much on rookie Mitchell as they do.

18 – Minutes played by Brook Lopez, the nearest thing the current Lakers have to a star talent. He finished the night with 6 points and 3 rebounds.

13 – Total free throws attempted by the Jazz. The low number of free throw attempts and high turnovers betray how mediocre the Jazz offense was, a fact partially hidden by the strong three point shooting.

36.3 percent – Usage rate for Donovan Mitchell, who led the team in the game in that category. He also leads for the season.


  • The Lakers aren’t a particularly competitive basketball team. After a 31 to 16 first quarter advantage, Utah should have blown LA off the court, especially at home with the opponent on the second game of a back-to-back. The night’s end feels much better than the bad losses at the Clippers and Suns, but that shouldn’t hide that Utah didn’t truly play well.
  • Utah’s offense struggled much of the night when the Lakers played small and switched all over the court. In such situations, the defense is counting on several things: 1) Utah’s point guard won’t be able to punish a big who sags into the lane by hitting threes; 2) Neither Gobert nor Udoh pose a genuine threat in the post against even a guard; and 3) the Jazz will be unable to enter the ball to Favors deep in the post. All three proved largely true tonight, which kept LA in the game.
  • The Lakers’ best offense at present is give Jordan Clarkson the ball in isolation or off a screen. He scored 15 points in 20 minutes of action, adding 4 rebounds and 2 assists. There’s a future Sixth Man of the Year right there.
  • Andrew Bogut played 6 minutes, in which time he grabbed 4 rebounds – 2 offensive – set a bunch of evil-good screens, and palm smacked Ingles in the face.  Physically hardest 6 minutes of the night for the Jazz.
  • Mitchell has both a nice little floater in the lane and a terrific right to left spin move to get to the rim. When he gets comfortable with the NBA game, he will be able to get good shots in the paint despite his height.
  • Utah has won all three home games and lost all three road games, which is something to track this season.
  • Alec Burks got into the game but struggled, scoring 2 points on 3 shots and missing a gimmie layup off a beautiful sideline out of bounds set. He made under control look natural in the preseason but looks to be fighting for control now.

With eight of their next nine contests at home, Utah should push both to pad their record and to add cohesiveness as a team with more practices than are typically possible in the NBA. Those dual objectives will next be on display on Monday against the Mavericks.

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.


  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Although it is still early in the season and we have a very small sample size, Rodney Hood does not appear to be comfortable in his designated role as the primary scoring option for the Jazz.

    Although we all recall how Gordon Hayward struggled to settle into that role, and it took him three seasons of steady progress to become comfortable in that role, he at least seemed to be willing to take that responsibility upon himself, even if he did not do well in that role initially.

    So far this season, Rodney does not appear to be demanding to be given that role. Rather, Donovan Mitchell is the Jazz player who seems to be stepping up and demanding that role–even as a rookie (and even though he has not had great success in that role, so far).

    • Magic Johnson says:

      Rodney Hood is the softest player in the NBA

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I’ve seen Hood asserting himself in spurts. He currently has a usage rate of around 25%, which is nearly what Hayward had in his first and second seasons in a primary scorer role. But Hood’s ball handling isn’t strong enough for him to get where he wants to go against resistance on the court, and he doesn’t handle contact that well. Mitchell has those things in his favor. But lets be real, another major difference is every team has Hood at the top of their scouting report. Opponents want Mitchell taking as many shots as he’s willing. So Mitchell’s high usage is largely a product of defenses dictating to the Jazz offense.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        Hood looked much better in the Dallas game. Again, small sample size, so I guess I just need to wait and see and not be so impatient.

  2. Pingback: Best, Worse Case Scenario After Two Weeks of Play | Salt City Hoops

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