Players that have elite rookie NBA seasons often plateau at the start of — or during all of — their second season. The leap in adjusting to the NBA that often players make in their second or third season tends to happen earlier for these elite rookies, meaning they already made their jump. Also, defenses are now aware of them and are focused on them.
It happened to Utah’s Donovan Mitchell — in November and December his offensive net rating was less than a point per possession. He had a below average true shooting percentage of 51 in November and 47.3 in December. Mitchell told Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated that Jazz coach Quin Snyder warned him this was coming, that he was the first thing in the scouting report and defenses would be focused on him, but being told that and experiencing it are two different things.
“Coach Snyder stressed to me that this year was going to be a lot different, and it was one thing for me to hear, and another thing for me to go through it,” Mitchell said regarding Utah’s poor start. “It’s one of those things you really have to go through, to experience. They kind of anticipated this happening, I didn’t. But to have the support of my teammates through the early part of the season was really special, and really helped get us back to where we need to be.”
“This year, it’s different. I have to be locked in for every moment, they make it so tough on every possession,” Mitchell told The Crossover. “But the words I’ve received from James [Harden], from Kobe [Bryant], Chris Paul, it’s helped me understand that. I think in my rookie year, I was really taken aback. This year I came seeking advice….
“Changing my pace and making an effort to get to the free-throw line, that’s something James [Harden] is great at and Dwyane Wade talked to me about as well,” Mitchell said. “To hear that from them and then trying to follow their advice really helped me get back on track.”
In November and December, Mitchell averaged 4 free throw attempts per game (which was in line with his 3.8 attempts per game as a rookie). However, since Jan. 1 that is up to 6 a game — and the Jazz are 24-11. (Part of that is the Jazz had a very tough early schedule that has softened up considerably since.)
That Mitchell is reaching out and seeking help from the best is a good thing — it shows his drive, his desire to improve. That is what is going to help him take the next step (although another good playmaker next to him to relieve some of that defensive attention wouldn’t hurt).