Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell defense against the Dallas Mavericks

Donovan Mitchell has an outsized influence on the Utah Jazz organization.

In an NBA that has embraced player empowerment, it’s no surprise: Every team takes care of its star player, and the Utah Jazz have arguably never had a bigger star – certainly not in terms of magnetism and marketing.

Countless aspects of the organization cater to Mitchell’s preferences. You see them popping up in ways both big and small: A change in the training staff after Mitchell and Vice President of Health Care Mike Elliott clashed last season over the guard’s availability for the start playoffs; arranging travel plans for the team to spend more time in Mitchell’s hometown; the acquisition of his childhood best friend, Eric Paschall, during the offseason. (Paschall turned out to be a good value pick, but it was certainly no accident that Paschall was the player acquired with the asset.)

But because that organizational influence has been given away, Mitchell must now reward it by becoming a true leader on the pitch. At this point, he is disappointed in this regard in this regular season and in this playoffs.

We will first turn our eyes to the offensive end of the floor. Mitchell is an absurdly talented offensive player – one of the only players in the NBA who can really score at all three levels. He has great 3-point shooting, shows craftsmanship and balance in the midrange, and still shows off an impressive dunk or trick finish at least once or twice a game.

Remarkably, he is also an extremely gifted passer, capable of playing on-the-go helpers that, oh, five to 10 players in the world can throw. The “total package” cliché was coined for skills like Mitchell’s.

But when the going gets tough, Mitchell’s decision-making can become an issue late in the game. During this year’s regular season, he shot 33% from the field, 18% from the 3-point line and 61% from the free throw line when the game was within five points in the last five minutes. I don’t have to tell you: it’s catastrophic. He’s 1 of 6 in those playoff situations so far, or 8 of 24 in the fourth quarter.

What is happening? Well, Mitchell is starting to force the issue into the clutch. He slows the ball down, then drives or shoots over a defined defence. He takes ineffective hits rather than good ones.

A disturbing fact is that Mitchell does not recognize the problem. When the Jazz lost to the Phoenix Suns in the penultimate game of the regular season, losing a 17-point lead in fourth in part due to Mitchell’s poor offensive decisions, he was asked what he would like. change in his approach in these times.

“Make shots,” Mitchell said. “The same shots that you all consider difficult are the ones I’ve been doing all summer, all year, so I work to take those shots in those times. I just have to go out and hit them, there is no other formula.

In fact, the best formula for the team as a whole has been when Mitchell chooses not to take those bad shots and instead creates for others. When Mitchell passed out from the pick and roll in this year’s playoffs, the team is averaging 1.7 points per possession. When Mitchell tries to score, they average 0.6 points per possession. Despite that, he leads the NBA in playoff shots taken so far, with 80.

But it was Mitchell’s defense that earned most of the national criticism. The eyesight test was relatively damning on this issue, as Mitchell simply doesn’t put in the effort to be successful on the court.

Sometimes it’s a lack of effort when a player misses him:

And sometimes it’s a lack of effort to get around the screens:

And sometimes it’s a lack of effort when pairing in transition:

What’s disheartening about Mitchell’s defense is that he has the tools to do better. He was drafted for being a defensive star, most often compared to Avery Bradley. He was blessed with a 6-9 wingspan and is one of the best athletes on planet earth. He has an almost unrivaled sense of space and balance. He should be good at it.

Recently, he also had good intentions. Two years ago, while in Australia with USA Basketball, he made it very clear that he wanted to become an elite defender: “For me, the most important thing is just to get back to my roots. The most important thing is to raise my defense, to get back to what got me drafted.

We haven’t seen this in the game’s live action, however. Mitchell was ranked among the NBA’s bottom 20 defensemen by RAPTOR by FiveThirtyEightwhich analyzes shooting and tracking data to estimate a player’s impact on that end of the pitch.

And in the playoffs, when it counts, Mitchell’s defense has a negative impact: Players shoot 11% better than their normal FG% when guarded by the Jazz star in the first three games of this series. Jalen Brunson, in particular, had a field day.

And again, Mitchell’s recent comments on the matter leave something to be desired. When asked if Dallas was targeting him on defense, he said, “I wouldn’t say I felt targeted, to be honest. I didn’t feel like it was like “Go to Donovan”. But if that’s what they decide to do, I have confidence in my defensive abilities, and so do my teammates. But I’m not too worried about it.

Mitchell responds here as if we don’t have the ability to watch the games – he is, without a doubt, targeted on the defensive side of the pitch. The Mavericks believe Brunson’s isolation against Mitchell will be a success, and they were right in Games 2 and 3. Mitchell played a big part in the Jazz’s defensive problem, and they will need him to improve. if they want to have a chance. defensively in this series.

In short, he must be worried about it.

I believe Mitchell means well. He’s a good person, his heart is in the right place. Of this I have no doubt.

And Mitchell has done so much for the Jazz. There’s the league’s best regular season record from last year, yes, but really pulling the Jazz out of the dark days expected after the departure of Gordon Hayward was remarkable, especially for someone so misunderstood, to so young.

But he asked for the weight of the organization to rest on his shoulders, then recently shied away from responsibility for his failures.

The Jazz’s two major problems this season — missed fourth-quarter leads and an inability to defend the perimeter — have their roots in Mitchell’s approach to his game. On several occasions, he said things were going to change, but the Jazz now have a disappointing 2-1 in a series it was definitely favored to win after an undeniably disappointing regular season.

For decades, “Jazz Basketball” was a slogan that defined the team’s approach to its game. The Jazz were known to run and share the ball offensively no matter the circumstances. In defense, they were known for their tough, no-prisoner attitude. Under Frank Layden, Jerry Sloan and even most of Quin Snyder’s tenures, the Jazz have had this consistent bedrock.

As the Jazz progress in their partnership with Mitchell, they need their star guard to take these team principles to heart. We’ve seen what happens when he doesn’t.

Ada J. Kenney