The 2017-18 rookie class may go down as one of the best ever. Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr., and Lonzo Ball have proven to be high-level players with elite talent. In fact, it's hard to imagine this class not producing multiple All-Stars - and possibly a couple superstars.
Mitchell is currently leading all rookies in points, averaging 19.5 per game. That's three full points higher than Simmons - who most would narrowly select over Mitchell for Rookie of the Year. These two have blown past everyone for the coveted award.
What's amazing about Mitchell is his constant progression through the season. Initial belief was that he would be nothing more than a high-volume scorer, which is partially true. The rookie is taking 16.4 shots per game, hitting 44 percent. But he's suddenly taking on the role of top option for a Jazz team that looked to be broken and far from a playoff team a few weeks ago.
On January 23, after an embarrassing 14-point loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks, the Jazz fell to 19-28 and were five games away from a playoff spot. The season was falling apart for a team that was trying to recover from losing Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics. Mitchell gave them hope, but there was no expectation of the rookie making a difference in his first season on a roster that simply couldn't perform on a nightly basis.
Since that tough loss, the Jazz have won 10 straight - including a clutch victory over the Toronto Raptors, a 30 point blowout of the Golden State Warriors, and two big wins over the San Antonio Spurs. They're now 29-28 and have climbed up to just 1.5 games out of that eighth seed, being led by a 21-year-old undersized rookie.
Here's a synopsis of how Mitchell's fared thus far this season and throughout the Jazz's current hot streak:
|Games Played||MPG||PPG||FG%||3P%||+/-||Net Rtg|
Mitchell is an elite athlete with an explosive vertical and terrifying downhill speed. But in Utah's victory over the Spurs on Monday, the team relied on him for his clutch play.
Mitchell has been the go-to-guy for Utah late in games this season. He's taken a team-high 2.7 shots in the last five minutes of close games and is averaging 3.2 points per game, placing him in the top 20 in the league and topping all rookies in that category.
Mitchell will be participating in Saturday night's Slam Dunk Contest, replacing Orlando Magic star Aaron Gordon for a chance to showcase his top-flight athleticism. He's shown off his insane dunking throughout the season, and playing for a struggling squad like Utah has kept him under the radar at times. But really, how could anyone ignore someone that can do this:
Despite measuring at just 6-foot-3 and playing the off-guard position, Mitchell has shown his lack of size as a shooting guard doesn't change what he's capable of doing with the ball. He's proven to be a great passer and excellent on the boards for his size.
Through the Jazz's winning streak, Mitchell hasn't hindered the team's elite-level defense at all either. His defensive rating of 94.4 during this streak while carrying the offense on many stretches has been well above what many expected out of him.
But at the end of the day, it's his ability to score in any way he wants to despite his height disadvantage that's been amazing. Mitchell has two 40-point games this season, with one coming against the Phoenix Suns on just 19 shots a little over a week ago.
With the dunk contest coming up, it's time to pay more attention to this up-and-coming superstar. Few rookies in the past have shown they can take over a game the way Mitchell does. It's been a joy and it doesn't look like anything will be slowing him down.