- The Jazz are outperforming the Thunder and Donovan Mitchell has a lot to do with that. In his first playoff performance, Mitchell has outpaced expectations and served as a pleasant surprise.
Donovan Mitchell has been a revelation in his first NBA playoff experience, pushing his game to another level and leading the Jazz offense as a rookie. That's no small task, and the Open Floor podcast crew gives him props for understanding the moment and rising to the occasion. Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss Mitchell's surprising performance and assess the future of the Jazz.
Andrew Sharp: Ethan, an emailer asked, 'Which rookie has had the most impressive start to the playoffs? Twelve-time Tatum, Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell?' I mean, it's hard to pick...
Ben Golliver: Come on, is Ethan is a Celtics fan trying to slip Tatum into this conversation? Get out of here. Get out of here.
Sharp: I really respect it if that's the case. Tatum has been alright. But Donovan Mitchell has been amazing, but he's in kind of the future All-Star end of things, where Ben Simmons is looking like a future Hall of Famer out here and has totally changed the Sixers' season. So I think you have to go with Simmons, but I especially have been blown away by Donovan Mitchell. Even as someone who liked him and liked watching him in Utah all year, I didn't expect him to be this good in the Thunder series. He has been awesome in almost every game.
Golliver: I would have Simmons one, but like you're saying Mitchell is a half-step behind him. I love what Dwyane Wade said about Ben Simmons. He said, 'Look, Simmons, mich like LeBron, in this playoff series, never had a bad game.' He left his imprint on the game every single time, with and without Embiid. Like I mentioned earlier, he did a great job of sort of shape-shifting his skillset to allow Joel Embiid to come back and thrive. He brings it defensive. He's a very good defensive player, and his shot selection is pretty good. Even though he has no jumper, he gets to his spots and he gets to the rim. His passing and vision has just been phenomenal. He picked Miami apart in multiple games with his looks, and from that standpoint I'd still give it to Simmons.
You know how you mentioned a couple a weeks ago that part of the reason Simmons has been so impressive is because he got a lot better the last couple months of his rookie season than he was previously? I think the same is basically true of Mitchell. I think Mitchell has raised his game another notch here in the playoffs, and that's not easy for a rookie. Usually you expect those rookie struggles. His efficiency hasn't been perfect, but it's been pretty solid. He's hit a lot of big time buckets. He's done a great job of taking guys on switches. He goes right for the throat and he's done a lot getting toward the basket and carving up defenses. He's been the real deal, and he's been better than I expected. I actually thought Simmons would have a pretty good transition to the playoffs, but I was a little bit shakier on whether Mitchell would. And he has outperformed my expectations more than Simmons has in the playoffs, and that's saying something because Simmons is almost averaging a triple double.
Sharp: Simmons I had questions about how he was going to fare at the end of games and how teams were going to guard him and most of that was totally misplaced. He's like the most dominant player on the floor almost anytime he's out there. Mitchell, I agree, he's just so crafty around the basket and all he needs to add is a little big better three-point shot and he's going to be so dangerous. I was prepared to be like a little league parent in these playoffs with Donovan Mitchell. I expected him to go like 5 of 17 and have like 16 points and six assists. I was going to be like, 'Look, there are a lot of encouraging signs.' But he's just out there, he is one of the best players on the floor and it raises the ceiling for the Jazz long-term. If he is going to be at a superstar level, that player paired with Gobert is going to make the Jazz really good for a long time.
Golliver: Well said, and you mentioned the word crafty. This is going to sound like more tabernacle talk from me, but one thing I love from Mitchell is his disciple to work himself free off the ball. The guy works hard, especially when Paul George is guarding him off the ball. That's tough. You have to run that guy through multiple screens, left and right, that is exhausting. The effort that he puts in just to get himself in scoring position to receive passes as a primary guy, at his age, is excellent and one more sign that he's headed for big things.