When Richard Jefferson sat in Vivint Arena and watched Donovan Mitchell torch the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas night, the ESPN broadcast announcer said some incredible things about the Utah Jazz guard.
"Whoever decides these all-NBA teams, I can't believe he (Mitchell) wasn't on any of them. … They must not be watching the games because there's no way he isn't a top-15 guy in the league," Jefferson said of Mitchell, who finished with 33 points in the game.
Mitchell continues to prove Jefferson correct and the rest of the league wrong, as evident by his play over the last month.
Announced today by the NBA, Mitchell has been named the Western Conference Player of the Month. It is the first such accolade of his career, and the first time a member of the Jazz has won the award since Deron Williams back in Nov. 2010.
It's been the best month of Mitchell's career as he averaged 30.2 points, 5.0 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals in 34.2 minutes per game. While those are excellent numbers, it was the efficiency that truly set him apart, shooting 50.2% from the field, 37.7% from three-point territory, and 87% from the free throw line.
It was nearly a perfect month for the Jazz, going 10-2 as a team and climbing to the top-3 in the NBA standings, including victories over Boston, Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Mitchell was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for games from Monday, Nov. 29, through Sunday, Dec. 5, the third time in his career that he’s won the honor.
What makes Mitchell so special is his unique ability to affect the game in multiple ways.
As a player, he's improved his vision and passing to help get others involved — but his feel for knowing when and where to attack is at an all-time high. He plays the game with such confidence and high IQ that there's rarely a situation where he feels out of sorts or rushed.
Offensively, his uniqueness to win beyond the arc, in the midrange, and at the rim is rare in the sport. Listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Mitchell is strong enough to score around the rim but also athletic enough to create separation for his shot beyond the arc. His acrobatic finishes and crossovers are quickly becoming the stuff of legends at Vivint Arena.
But where he has truly taken the next step in the evolution of his game — and ideally leading to that ever-elusive all-NBA nod — is on the defensive end.
He's much more engaged on that side of the floor, not shying away from defending the opposing team's best perimeter player. He's communicating more efficiently in help-side defense, getting into passing lanes, and making it a priority to keep his man in front of him and not rely on three-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert as much.
Mitchell is averaging 23.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per game throughout his career. He's averaging 33.6 minutes per game with 304 starts in his 312 career games, shooting 44.1% from the floor, 36% from beyond the arc, and 83.4% from the free throw line.
But where many athletes might shrink when the lights get brighter, Mitchell gets better.
In 33 career playoff games, he's averaging 28.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.3 steals in 37 minutes per game. He's shooting 43.6% from the field, 39.4% from three-point territory, and 86.2% from the free throw line.
That Christmas Day game, the nightcap for the five games played on that day, even resulted in something special for him.
Shooting free throws late in the game, "M-V-P" chants reigned down on him from the Utah faithful. While he didn't express or show emotion in the moment, Mitchell acknowledged those chants in his postgame interview.
"It's the biggest holiday in sports for us, and you know, to be able to play on that day is extra motivation and extra drive," Mitchell said. "But on a night like tonight, you hear that, and you know, I'm just doing my thing. It's something as a kid I wouldn't have dreamed of. … I'm very appreciative of playing on this day."