Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell got the rookie on skates.
New Orleans rookie Herb Jones slid to the baseline to stop Mitchell’s right-handed drive. Before Jones knew what happened, Mitchell stopped, dribbled right to left between his legs and rose up for a jump shot.
Jones, meanwhile, was simply trying to not completely fall down.
That type of play has become more common for Mitchell this season. No, he’s not just picking on rookies — he went on to praise Jones in postgame interviews — he’s just learned to adjust to how defenses have guarded him.
Mitchell is a strong right-handed driver and an elite finisher. Naturally, opponents are going to try to cut off those drives and keep him from the rim. The counter to that is a developed step-back jumper.
“I’m a dominant right driver; it’s no secret,” Mitchell said. “But if you try to cut me off, that’s kind of when I get to the pullback. If you don’t cut me off, I’m getting to the rim.”
He’s gotten to the rim more this season than any other since his rookie season when he had to do all the heavy lifting and hadn’t yet become one of the league’s best high-volume 3-point shooters.
What’s even better is he’s converting at a higher clip near the basket than he’s ever done. Last season, he shot a career-low 58% at the rim; that’s jumped to a career-best 66% this season.
Put it all together and teams don’t want him getting near the basket; that means more opponents sellout to stop drives, and that’s when Mitchell can pull the rug out on his defenders.
And that’s what happened to Jones Monday.
“I think my finishing has allowed me to progress to get into that,” Mitchell said. “Guys and teams don’t want me to get to the rim so they’re so determined to get back in front, which allows me to kind of get to those moves.”
They take away his right hand, so he’ll just cross to his left and leave defenders scrambling — and maybe even falling. Jones isn’t alone in getting fooled by Mitchell this season; the Jazz star made it clear the 23-year-old rookie from Alabama actually defended him quite well during the team’s three matchups this season.
“I do want to say this, though,” Mitchell said. “Herb Jones, I think he’s gonna be in this league for a long time. I gotta give him his props. He’s made it tough on me every night we played him. He’s a guy that doesn’t talk much but he goes out there and competes. Defensively, he’s tough. I want to give him his props for that.
“So he’s gonna be in the league for a while and I hope he is because he’s a helluva player, a helluva kid — we’re the same age (Mitchell is 25) — but kid, whatever. He’s a guy who can make life hard for scorers like myself.”
For definitely one play, though, Mitchell made life pretty hard for him.