Donovan Mitchell put up the greatest playoff performance in Utah Jazz history on Monday afternoon.
The smooth jump shots. The dives to the basket off the dribble. The explosive finishes at the rim. The effortless splitting of double teams. It all accumulated to 57 points, placing him amongst the games greatest in the record books.
Only two people — Michael Jordan and Elgin Baylor to be exact — have reached the postseason heights Mitchell ascended to in the Orlando Disney bubble: 57 points, nine rebounds, seven assists.
The third greatest individual scoring playoff performance in NBA history.
The Utah Jazz came into the Bubble with the intention of winning. Ask anyone on the roster and their goal was to win the championship. But the front office also have their eyes on some other things.
This upcoming offseason is a huge one for the franchise. Both Gobert and Mitchell are allowed to sign max deal extensions after the season, and next. Mitchell appears to be safe, as does Gobert tho he is a little more questionable. But the front office wants to learn more about their roster, and how they can tweak and strengthen it during the pending offseason.
What’s also coming into focus is that Mitchell needs to be moved to the primary ball handler. The Jazz have been playing Mitchell at the shooting guard position since he’s been drafted, pairing him with pass first guards like Ricky Rubio and Mike Conley Jr.
Both of those veteran guards are good, serviceable players, but the Jazz haven’t been at their best with them.
Look at any stretch over Mitchell’s career when he’s “ran point” or been the primary ball handler, and you will see the Jazz thrive. Mitchell at the point is probably what gives the Jazz a championship-contending ceiling.
Mitchell isn’t your traditional point guard. From his high school and AAU days, to his time at Louisville under Rick Pitino to his almost three years in the league with the Jazz, he’s spent the vast majority of his time at shooting guard. At the NBA level, Mitchell is a star shooting guard. He’s a potential superstar point guard.
Trust me a star shooting guard to a superstar point guard is a very distinct difference. See what it did for James Harden a few seasons back.
Last nights 57 point outburst was just the latest example of why Mitchell needs to become the point guard.
The most impressive aspect about Mitchell’s Game 1 is that he did it efficiently and he found a way to get his teammates involved. With Mitchell running the offense, this wasn’t a isolation heavy, one man show from the start.
He had just two points by the end of the first quarter, which allowed for a steady diet of Joe Ingles pick and rolls, and for Rudy Gobert to find his requisite touches within the offense. But, when he took over, he took over.
“I was just trying to find ways to get into the paint and make the right read, whether it’s finishing or whether it’s drawing the foul. Whatever it is. For me, it’s just trying to find ways to make things easier. Obviously, not having Mike, I’m on the ball a little more. I knew I was going to have to take my time and approach it in a different way. And I was able to do that.”
Now Mitchell wouldn’t be the perfect point guard. He is a score first guard. He’s a good passer, not a great one. Plus he’s prone to turnovers at times. But the upside of making that move opens up a whole new dimension for a Jazz offense that is rather pedestrian.
In today’s NBA, with the rules so heavily favoring guys who can get downhill off the dribble, it just makes sense to put the ball in Mitchell’s hands as much as possible. We’ve seen the Rockets have success with this when they turned Harden into the full time point guard.
Mitchell probably will never become the passer that Harden currently is. But Mitchell puts so much stress on a defense, his handle is so tight and he’s so explosive in the paint that the Jazz should be able to surround him with shooters and secondary playmakers and become a very good offensive team.
This move might have to wait until next season as Mike Conley Jr. is on his way back to the bubble as you read this. Conley will be welcomed back with open arms, as the Jazz need a better option than Joe Ingles guarding Jamal Murray. Maybe the Jazz keep Mitchell as the primary ball handler and have Conley more off ball, similar to how the Rockets used Chris Paul a year ago.
Only time will tell, but with Conley in quarantine til Game 3, Mitchell has another game at point to prove that’s where he belongs.
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