Utah guard Donovan Mitchell has proved himself as a feared one-man dynamo, an offensive juggernaut able to score in myriad ways while comfortably carrying a five-man unit. But the Jazz proved last season they are at their optimal best when Mitchell is their linchpin, yet not a solo act.
Mitchell was one of seven Utah players to score in double figures in a 122-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, and he is one of five players averaging double figures for the unbeaten Jazz this season. Utah will visit the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on Thursday seeking to maintain their early-season momentum while also best utilizing all of their options on offense.
Part of the latter challenge is not relying solely on Mitchell in crunch-time situations. The Jazz can rim run and shoot from the perimeter with the best teams in the NBA. Remembering that versatility is vital to unlocking all the Jazz can be when the score is close and the game is late.
“It’s been our default to give it to Don and let him just run the show,” Jazz guard Mike Conley said. “To ease some pressure off of him and even more so make ourselves better in those minutes is when we get opportunities to get turnovers and long rebounds, to run and push the ball, utilize our guys as if it was the third quarter, second quarter and look at trying to get layups, look at trying to get to the free-throw line, look at trying to get dunks and open 3s.”
Utah constructed a roster around Mitchell equally skilled at inflicting pick-and-roll mayhem and dismantling defenses with perimeter efficiency. Mitchell remains central to how the Jazz excel when they are at their very best, but when he has help, they are frighteningly prolific.
“We all know how great Don is,” Conley added, “but sometimes an open 3 in transition is just as good … as giving it to Don. Just balance that. But we know that when it comes down to the final couple minutes of the game, he’s going to be the guy and we’re going to try to get him the ball. But we’re going to try to run when we have opportunities.”
Utah should get ample opportunity to run against the Rockets, who ranked 29th in the NBA in turnovers at 19.5 per game entering Wednesday. Their live-ball turnovers continue to fuel opposing offenses, like when the Dallas Mavericks capitalized on a handful of Houston miscues immediately following the intermission in the Mavs’ 116-106 win Tuesday.
Dallas scored 20 points off 17 Houston turnovers and seized control early in the third quarter when the Rockets’ ball security grew shaky, a familiar refrain for Houston after four games.
“I thought we were over-penetrating at times,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “I thought we were distracted by the referees. Young-guy-type stuff where you’re trying to do too much at times and not reading what is available.
“So we need to learn from it, grow from it and know that the beginning of the third quarter is so, so very important as far as setting the tone for how you’re going to play for the rest of the half.”