LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz smiles during the game against the LA Clippers during Round 2, Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 18, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Mitchell Ready to Help Utah Take the Next Step Forward

After a tough end in the playoffs last season, Donovan Mitchell went back to work on expanding his ever-evolving game in order to help the Jazz achieve new heights

On the night Utah’s 2020-21 season ended this past June, Donovan Mitchell could barely walk off the court.

While being both mentally and emotionally exhausted after falling to the Clippers 4-2 in the second round of the playoffs, the most notable trait of Mitchell was his distinct limp. Utah’s all-star gutted out out an incredible performance after playing significantly hampered following a severe right ankle sprain suffered eight nights prior.

Despite the injury, Mitchell posted 39 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists in 40 minutes of action that night. He averaged 34.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists for the series.

While his Game 6 performance was one for the ages, Mitchell didn’t care.

“It hurt, there was just a lot going on and it was slipping away,” Mitchell said following the 131-119 season-ending loss. “We tried to fight. …We all did.”

It didn’t matter that the Jazz were hampered by injuries to Mitchell and fellow all-star Mike Conley. It didn’t matter that the team finished with the best record in the NBA. It didn’t matter that Mitchell had proven himself, once again, as a legitimate star in the playoffs.

All that mattered was that the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy would not be coming to Salt Lake City.

“I’m still in shock,” Mitchell said that night. “This hurts more than last year. This is going to eat at me for a long time.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Not only did last season’s end eat at him all summer, but it also provided all of the fuel he needed moving forward.

He went back and watched himself play, identifying specific areas where he needed to improve if Utah was going to take the next step forward. From his ball-handling to the way he attacks pick-and-rolls or pulls up for three-pointers in transition, Mitchell dissected it all.

“I know that I have to improve on a lot of things,” Mitchell said on Monday. “I go back, and I see a lot of areas where my game has a lot of room for improvement. We have a goal, and we want to reach that goal, and for that to happen, I have to get better across the board.

One of Mitchell’s most prominent areas for improvement, at least according to him, comes on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a sentiment that head coach Quin Snyder agreed with, but not because Mitchell already lacked a defensive skillset.

“I think the truth is that if you allow yourself that out, that when you get tired it’s easy to take it. ... The reason he’s (Mitchell) saying that is because I think he’s determined to commit to every possession,” Snyder said Tuesday. “I like to think there isn’t a ceiling. It’s hard to focus on every possession. … That focus and concentration is something he’s continued to emphasize and continued to improve.”

Ironically, when Mitchell was taken with the 13th overall pick in 2017, he believed his quickest route to seeing minutes on the court was through defense. According to multiple draft experts, he came out of college as a 3-and-D guard, with many failing to see his superstar potential.

“I remember when I was drafted, I wanted to run around a make a bunch of plays and make an impact defensively,” Mitchell said. “I just wanted to crack the rotation, and I thought defensively is where I would be able to get that done.”

Now entering his fifth season in the league, Mitchell has established himself as one of the game's best scorers, but he’s not satisfied yet. He’s expanding his offensive arsenal, particularly his court vision and passing abilities, and is now adding to his defense.

“I’m still working on little things,” Mitchell said. “I want to be more efficient. The efficiency is important. It’s all about just trying to continue to get better and continuing to work hard.”

A more efficient Mitchell is a scary thought for the rest of the NBA. But it also allows the Jazz to be the best version of themselves—and maybe bring that trophy home where it belongs.

Utah tips off the 2021-22 season on Wednesday when it hosts the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7 p.m. MST. To purchase tickets, click HERE.

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