The Utah Jazz’s ceiling and championship hopes in 2019-20 will depend greatly on the improvements and execution of rising star Donovan Mitchell.
Ask just about anyone familiar with the NBA and that understands the game of basketball and they’ll likely agree that the Utah Jazz are going to be a formidable team next season. An already staunch defense with a brilliant coach at the helm upgraded several key positions and patched up many weaknesses. In all, their incredible offseason has them appearing primed for success in 2019-20.
And a big part of that is due to the fact that the Jazz already had and added guys that are sure and steady, in whom you largely know what you’re going to get. And that ‘what you’re going to get’ is solid productivity. Mike Conley is a proven and sure point guard, capable of running an offense efficiently, filling it up as a scoring weapon and locking down opposing guards on defense. Bojan Bogdanovic is a heralded deep-ball shooter that will open up Utah’s offense and spread the floor.
Incumbent players such as Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles fit that mold as well. Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year that can be counted on to fortify Utah’s defense night in and night out. Ingles is a Swiss (Australian?) Army Knife capable of providing so much value on both ends of the floor with his well-rounded game.
Newly acquired vets like Ed Davis and Jeff Green bring consistent hustle and valuable experience to the floor. The Jazz will be a solid team by and large due to the reliability and predictability of these key members of their roster.
But Utah also has one key wild card on their roster. He’s already arguably the team’s best player, so you could contend that in some ways, you know what you’re going to get with him as well. Nevertheless, Utah’s ability to go from a good team to a potential championship contender hinges completely on the strides he makes this upcoming season from a rising star to a solidified NBA star.
The man I speak of, of course, is none other than Donovan Mitchell.
And let me repeat it one more time. The ultimate success of the 2019-20 Utah Jazz hinges significantly on the ascent of Mitchell in his third season.
We’ve heard and seen a lot of good and promising things about Mitchell already, dating back to last season when he averaged 26.5 points on 44.6 percent shooting from the field and 41.4 percent shooting from deep from the turn of the calendar year until the end of the regular season. He also has had the luxury of entering the offseason fully healthy (unlike what was the case a year ago), giving him a chance to be in a normal workout routine all summer.
Furthermore and more recently, he’s been a standout as a member of Team USA, securing the starting backcourt position alongside All-Star and All-NBA guard Kemba Walker. Even more impressive have been many of the comments made about him as he looks to step into an important leadership role for that team.
Recently on the Bill Simmons podcast from The Ringer, Simmons and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst talked specifically about Donovan Mitchell. They reported that the one player that was jumping out to the execs following Team USA was none other than Spida himself. Specifically, Windhorst stated:
“The guy who exploded off the court, the guy who made everybody’s eyes open up and dominated the week was Donovan Mitchell.”
From there, the comparisons that have long been in place reached a new level as Donovan was yet again described as bearing similarities to Dwyane Wade. Simmons and Windhorst raved about the increased strength Mitchell has added thus far this offseason, and that his explosiveness has really set him apart. These two traits have led to several drawing a comparison to Mitchell appearing similar to 2006 Dwyane Wade.
Of course, that Wade was, just like Mitchell, in his third NBA season. And as he took an astronomical leap that year, he managed to lead his Miami Heat squad to an NBA Championship.
That obviously is the hope Utah Jazz fans have with Mitchell. First, that we’ll see an astronomical leap out of him, and that it can be enough to elevate the Jazz to their first-ever championship. Truthfully, as I mentioned initially, the Jazz have the solid and steady pieces in place surrounding him. Whether they’re truly able to get over the hump and become a team of legend depends on Mitchell taking that next step.
If Mitchell matches the third-year leap of Wade and elevates himself to superstar status, carrying his now well-rounded and deep Jazz team with him, the Jazz absolutely will be a championship contender and perhaps even arguably a favorite. If he remains about the same as last season, or only slightly improves, Utah will likely once again remain a solid, but not sufficiently elite team to win it all.
In Wade’s year three, he upped his points per game from 24.1 to 27.2 and his shooting percentage from 47.8 to 49.5. It should be noted that he shot just 17.1 percent from three-point range that season, a figure that seems appalling and nigh-unbelievable in today’s three-heavy systems. Nevertheless, Wade took command of the court in so many other ways using principally his strength and explosiveness which Mitchell is aiming to replicate.
I can guarantee that Mitchell will outdo Wade’s third-year mark of 17.1 percent from the perimeter on one attempt per game pretty handily. And if he can somehow match his 40+ percent shooting from the end of last regular season, the ceiling to his game will elevate exponentially. Nevertheless, the fact that Wade dominated the way he did despite a non-existent perimeter shooting game is a nice reminder that to be most effective, Mitchell needs to stick to his strengths.
Those strengths include getting to the paint and attacking with his crafty arsenal of floaters, scoop layups and of course, when opportunity allows, scintillating dunks. It also means that, as pointed out in the aforementioned podcast, Mitchell needs to add more frequent trips to the free throw line to his skill set.
In Wade’s year two, he went to the free throw line 9.9 times per game and upped that to 10.7 in his breakout in year three. Meanwhile, Mitchell went to the line just 5.1 times in his year two despite being the overwhelming number one offensive option on the team. Of course, the styles and circumstances of the 2019-20 Utah Jazz and the 2005-06 Miami Heat are quite different, but Mitchell still should aim to up his free throw attempts.
If he can do that (and hopefully we see some of Mitchell’s improvements which have caught execs’ eyes on display during Team USA international play), the Utah Jazz will be primed for an incredible season. The NBA is a star-driven league with much of the level of success coming down to how far a star can carry his squad. If Donovan is able to take that leap, there’s simply no telling just how high the Jazz can ascend.
It’s a big task and a lofty expectation. But if the Utah Jazz want to reach their illustrious hopes of an NBA championship, a large portion of the burden will rest heavily on the young shoulders of superstar hopeful Donovan Mitchell.