What people tend to remember is Utah dropped four straight in their second-round playoff series against the Clippers, and it wasn’t pretty.
What people tend to forget is that Utah’s two best playmakers were battling injuries — Mike Conley played in only one game of the series due to a hamstring issue, and Donovan Mitchell averaged 34.8 points per game playing on one good ankle. He was hobbled.
Mitchell, one of the more positive players around the league, has put that injury and that loss in perspective — it helped him get better. He had to tap into different parts of his game. Here is what he told Sam Amick of The Athletic about it.
“I’ve kind of got to a point where I’m appreciative of the injury for myself,” Mitchell said. “For my personal growth on and off the floor, I think that injury really — and you know me, Sam, like I love jumping through, around you or over you — (but) that injury kept me on the ground for the entire playoffs, and it allowed me to have to make decisions on the ground. Slow it down. Different things that really opened things up to (where) I was like, ‘OK, this is another level, (a) layer of my game that I can get to without (the athleticism).
“But now you’re adding back the jumping and the athleticism. The ankle feels good. I’ll be ready to go. I think last year definitely was shaky. There were just so many different obstacles with the ankle and whatnot, but — like I said — no slight to Phoenix or Milwaukee or the Clippers, you know, (but) I feel like if we were healthy, you know, we, we get to the Finals. I feel like we (would) win, but you know it’s all easy when you say ifs, ands or buts. It’s easy to say that.”
The Jazz are unlike the Lakers — the betting favorite to come out of the West — because they have to win as an ensemble. Los Angeles won a ring and is targeting another based on the idea they have two of the top five players in the world (when healthy), and that will be too much if everyone else just plays their roles (including Russell Westbrook). The Jazz have three All-Stars — Conley, Mitchell, and Rudy Gobert — surrounded by a high level of quality role players (Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson, and the list goes on) plus an elite defense. The idea is it will be too much to stop when everyone is healthy and executes.
Phoenix just made the NBA Finals with a model much closer to Utah’s than the Lakers (Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and company being too much as an ensemble — and they stayed healthy). The Jazz have to see that and realize they have a chance in a deep West to be the team to come out of it. Mitchell seems to realize it and seems energized heading into the season.
But he is always positive. The key is bringing everyone else along with him into that space.