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Utah Jazz

NBA All-Star Game 2019: Donovan Mitchell is making a late push to represent the Utah Jazz amidst the hottest stretch of his career

#Donovan Mitchell

If you made a list of potential first-time All-Stars entering the season, one name that easily could have been included in Donovan Mitchell.

Following a maiden voyage into the postseason that included a first-round win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in which he outplayed the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, Mitchell seemed destined for superstardom in his second season.

Not only were the Jazz a trendy pick to finish second in the West, they were even picked to host a Christmas Day game which they hadn't done in over two decades.

And then it came. The reality check that so many second-year players experience.

MORE: Potential first-time All-Stars

Two months into the season, Mitchell was shooting just 42% while averaging almost as many turnovers as assists for a floundering team that sat in 14th in the Western Conference. Puzzling games like the one in Philadelphia in which he shot 35 times without dishing out even a single assist kept cropping up.

The NBA is hard, man.

That slow start did enough to throw us off the scent. While the NBA headlines have been dominated by James Harden and the Warriors and LeBron-mania and Anthony Davis trade talk, Mitchell has quietly been terrific in January, and he's playing arguably the best basketball of his early career.

Just how good has he been of late?

Mitchell's torrid stretch began January 5 at Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back in which he scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half to lead the Jazz to a come from behind win.

Since that game, the second-year guard is pouring in 29.7 points on 46% shooting to go along with 5.6 assists per game.

The only guards scoring at a higher clip over that stretch? James Harden and Stephen Curry, first and third in our MVP Power Rankings each of the last two weeks.

It's impossible to talk guard play in January without uttering Harden's name. Over this same span beginning January 5, the reigning MVP has single-handedly carried Houston's offence as the Rockets offensive rating jumps 13.1 points with Harden in the game compared to when he's on the bench. You don't have to watch League Pass every night to know that Harden has meant everything for the Houston Rockets.

As for Mitchell, you can make the case he's having an even bigger impact on his team's bottom line than Harden.

Since January 5, Utah's offence averages a paltry 97.8 points per 100 possessions whenever Mitchell's out of the game, a number that would rank by far the worst in the NBA. Whenever he's on the floor, that figure sky-rockets to 113.0, a jump of over 15 points - larger than Harden in Houston.

Nobody would use that number alone to imply that Mitchell's been better than Harden. He hasn't and it would be irresponsible to do so.

But it is a useful comparison in order to shed light on the incredible impact Mitchell is having that's flown somewhat under the radar given Harden's transformation into 1987 Michael Jordan.

More important than any of it? Utah is winning. That sweet Jazz you hear in the air is the sound of a team that's 10-2 over their last 12 games, second only to the awakened juggernaut by the bay.

Mitchell showed flashes of brilliance last season but for the most part, was labelled a scorer.

It wasn't until his performance in the playoffs where all doubters saw the light - Donovan Mitchell could ball.

This year, he's adding things to his game to counter what defences are trying to force him into and the results are starting to show and right now you can argue that he's playing better ball than he did in the postseason.

Last season, Mitchell had 25 games where he recorded at least five assists. This year, he's already gone for five assists or more in 20 games and we're still in January.

Over the last month, Mitchell's been attacking teams aggressively in pick and roll situations and making them pay when they decide to turn him into a passer.

In a game earlier this month against the Timberwolves, Mitchell caught rookie Josh Okogie playing too far off of Kyle Korver as the Timberwolves attempted to clog the lane - the result was an open look for one of the league's deadliest shooters.

Later in the same game, Mitchell attacks downhill and finds an open Derrick Favors for three.

Those two plays show that when defences look to "wall up" on Mitchell he has the vision to find the open man for a rhythm jumper. Also if teams don't build a wall in front on Mitchell, he still has the ability to get to the cup for a layup.

Mitchell leads the league in drives per game at 21.5 in the new year - that's better than Harden and Russell Westbrook.

The Jazz average 28.9 points on catch and shoot jumpers in January, good for top ten in the league.

The combination of the two has made the Jazz as deadly on offence as they are on defence.

Whether or not the Jazz go on a crazy second half of the season run like they did last year remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure - if they make the post-season, they'll be a tough out once again led by Donovan Mitchell.

Boy is this league in good hands.

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