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Stat Just Happened: Can Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell bounce back from an underwhelming postseason?

"Stat Just Happened" is our series where we'll highlight an important stat to illuminate what's unfolding on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

Today, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell takes the spotlight.

2,246th

Devoid of any context whatsoever, ranking 2,246th in anything does not inspire much confidence...

... especially when it's out of 2,247.

That's how many players in NBA history have taken 100 shots throughout a single postseason. If you line them up and sort them by the catch-all stat Win Shares, only one - ONE! - ranks below Donovan Mitchell.

Nevertheless, that's the kind of history that Utah's burgeoning All-Star is trying to rewrite once the season restarts in Orlando.

Mitchell is off to one of the most perplexing starts to a postseason career imaginable and it's tough to overstate how underwhelming he was in last year's first-round flameout against the Houston Rockets. In five games, Mitchell shot just 32.1 percent from the floor and finished the series with more turnovers (21) than assists (16) or made 3s (11). Much of that stemmed from the fact that he simply didn't have much help as the Rockets swarmed Mitchell, sent extra defenders, stymied Utah's entire half-court flow, and forced Mitchell into desperate and high degree of difficulty looks at the end of the shot clock.

Case in point? Mitchell shot 1-for-12 in the final four seconds of the shot clock including 0-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Were the conditions ripe for underwhelming results? Of course.

Was Mitchell able to meet the moment? No.

It also came just one year removed from a 2018 postseason in which a rookie Mitchell outplayed both Russell Westbrook and Paul George en route to a brow-raising first-round triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Those same reasons trumpeted as reasons for 2019's underwhelming play were conspicuously absent during Utah's dispatch of OKC.

Donovan Mitchell
Infogram

While it's unreasonable to expect any single player (let alone a guard in his second season) to perform well under those conditions, it's also fair to point out shortcomings as they play out. That comes with the territory of any player tasked with carrying the load on a contender, even someone not yet in his prime. When torch-bearing annual All-Stars are anointed the next big thing, the bar gets higher. You can't have your cake and eat it too, and in the world of judging the NBA's brightest stars, that's just the way it is.

Utah sees Mitchell as a game-changing, franchise-altering talent much in the same way that a young Dwyane Wade once ushered in a new era with the Miami Heat. Even if the Wade comparisons prove too bullish, the prudent move remains to surround Mitchell with others capable of lightening the load and placing him in the best possible position to succeed. It's why the Jazz traded for Mike Conley last summer, signed Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency and even acquired Jordan Clarkson mid-season. Rudy Gobert may be a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and an elite screen-sitting, rim-running centre, but he's not exactly a pressure-relieving bucket-getting safety valve.

In the court of public opinion and talking-head punditry, those first two moves, in particular, elevated the Jazz from a frisky middle of the pack playoff team to a legitimate contender capable of winning the West. Right here on NBA.com, we published a story leading into the start of the season about why the Jazz could finish with the NBA's best record. Suffice it to say, that didn't happen. Google "Utah Jazz 2019 season preview" and you'll find we weren't alone in our praise.

The Jazz enter the restart fourth in the Western Conference, but fraught with more concerns than perhaps any team not named the Brooklyn Nets or Washington Wizards. Bogdanovic is out after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery and replacing his 20.2 points per game won't come easy. The frosty relationship between Mitchell and Gobert remains tepid at best and unusually complicated following a pair of positive tests for COVID-19 back in March. Then there's the on-court chemistry between Mitchell and Conley as the two of them never seemed to find a groove as Mitchell - and the team - played best during a six-week stretch that Conley was out recovering from a hamstring injury.

Even if Utah's 2020 championship dreams have been squashed by a myriad of factors, there's still pressure on Mitchell to perform and lead his team through troubled waters.

Nobody would blink if the Jazz bow out in the first round given everything that's happened. But if that were to happen with Mitchell once again struggling to the degree he did last year, perhaps doubt about Mitchell's prospects as a superstar begins to creep in. It's further complicated by the fact that Mitchell becomes eligible to sign a max extension this offseason with Gobert eligible for a supermax extension, a tricky situation to navigate that becomes further complicated if there's any doubt about Mitchell's standing.

It doesn't necessarily have to be a "one or the other" situation, but there's undoubtedly a delicate balancing act to perform that hinges in part on how they play together in the coming weeks in Orlando.

At this point, we know what we're getting with Gobert. Can the same be said of Mitchell?

Can Mitchell rise to the occasion?

Can Mitchell co-exist alongside Gobert?

Can Mitchell figure out how to thrive alongside Conley?

Can Mitchell coax the most out of his team and sow the seeds for a strong return in 2020-21?

Those are the most pressing questions with the season now set to restart and the onus on Mitchell to rebound from an underwhelming performance in last year's playoffs. All of this pressure that's mounting below the surface? It's the result of a chain of events dating back to and exacerbated by that one big number...

2,246th

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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