The Jazz hosted (and smoked) the Lakers last night, and you will be forgiven if this matchup didn’t strike you right away as a meeting of two of the most exciting rookie guards in the NBA. After all, the Jazz are good, and the Lakers are very much not good, and Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s prized rookie, is therefore in a different boat altogether from Lonzo Ball, if not a different class.
But man oh man did Mitchell put on a show last night. While Lonzo was struggling mightily to make headway against Utah’s outrageously tough defense, Mitchell was feasting on the Lakers:
There’s not a facet of NBA guard play that Mitchell didn’t show off last night: he used quick and crafty ball-handling to get into the paint; he knocked down shots from the perimeter; he put Lonzo on his hip and finished with his off-hand through contact; he played tough, ball-hawking defense; and he showed fucking outrageous athleticism.
Of course your favorite highlight is the putback jam, you brute, you philistine. I, the sophisticated basketblogger, am especially fond of the sequence at about 0:55 in the video above, when Mitchell snakes in front of Lonzo, feels the contact, gets into the air, moves the ball to his left hand, and muscles it over the front of the rim. In part I love this play because I am a rotten, bitter husk of a man who takes pleasure from watching Lonzo get worked by another rookie; also, it took John Wall like five years in the NBA before he learned to put a defender on his hip like that. That’s the kind of play that makes you think Mitchell might not top out as a fiery three-and-D type player—he might someday soon have legitimate scoring chops (that putback dunk was incredible, too).
Mitchell finished with 22 points on 16 shooting possessions in 27 minutes, and a healthy plus-17 on the night. Before you start proclaiming him definitively better than Ball, know that it was by far his best performance of this young season, and his True Shooting on the season, even after that electric performance, is sub-40 percent. But it was a glimpse of what he can do on an NBA court, and, man, when he’s cooking, Donovan Mitchell can do a lot.