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Donovan Mitchell did something Friday night in Philadelphia that no NBA player had done in over two decades. He did a second thing that the league hadn’t seen in 49 years. And afterwards, understandably, he was appalled.
Because Mitchell’s stat line in a 113-107 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was the exact type the modern NBA frowns upon. It was high-volume, low-efficiency to a 21st century extreme.
Mitchell scored 31 points. Or, rather, only 31 points, on 35 shots – as many as Utah’s four other starters combined. Oh, and 0 assists. Zero.
The historical precedent for Mitchell’s gunning
It was the second 35-shot, 0-assist night of the last 20 years. But the other was acceptable. It was Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point isolation masterpiece against the Bobcats in 2014. The Knicks won that game, and Melo scored twice as much as Mitchell did Friday.
For the last such performance in a loss, we have to go all the way back to January 1998. To Antoine Walker, who had 49 points on 21-of-36 shooting in a Boston Celtics loss to Phoenix. But even Walker’s individual line was more than satisfactory.
In fact, so were most of the 34 other 35-shot, no-assist games in NBA history. (Twenty-two of them, per Basketball Reference, belong to Wilt Chamberlain.) No player had scored as few points as Mitchell on as many field goal attempts without an assist since Elvin Hayes went for 28 on 40 shots in a 1969 San Diego Rockets’ loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Mitchell’s 31 points represented the third-worst scoring output of the 35-game game sample in Basketball Reference’s database. The only other lesser performance was one of Wilt’s. (And Wilt had 33 rebounds in that 1959 Philadelphia Warriors’ win. On Friday, Mitchell had two.)
Mitchell didn’t know all of that context when he looked at Friday’s box score in the immediate aftermath. But he didn’t need them to feel repulsed by it.
Mitchell speaks: ‘That can’t happen’
Mitchell jacked half of the team’s 3-pointers and made only one. He missed 22 shots – 10 more than any teammate attempted, and more than Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale, Thabo Sefolosha and Alec Burks missed combined.
“I took 35 shots,” Mitchell said after the game. “That can’t happen. Zero assists. That’s not who I am. That’s not how I play. I know I’m still being aggressive, but I’ve got to be smart.”
Mitchell was rightfully horrified. But he was more or less the only one with that strong a reaction in the visiting locker room at Wells Fargo Center. Because everyone in there has seen a lot more good than bad from him over the past 13 months.
Jazz teammates support Mitchell
Mitchell, over a year-plus in the NBA, has already built enough clout to garner steadfast support after such a rough night.
From head coach Quin Snyder: “We know where his heart is as far as wanting to play the right way and being [unselfish]. The biggest thing is just having him attack. If he’s not attacking, he’s not in situations where he can improve. I think that’s the most important thing, and then over time, you just become more efficient. That doesn’t happen overnight.”
From teammate Joe Ingles, via ESPN: “We want him to be aggressive. We need him to be aggressive. I said it to him during one of the timeouts: If he feels good about the shot and it’s a good shot within our offense, he needs to shoot it. If he’s 1-for-20 or 20-for-20, it doesn’t matter for us. He’s our guy. That’s what he does. He’s aggressive. He doesn’t need to overthink it. He doesn’t need to think that it’s his fault that we lost. I think the last thing he needs to do is be worrying about it.”
And from center Rudy Gobert: “He needs to be aggressive. His No. 1 strength is to get to the rim and make plays. He needs to learn to make the right decision at the right time. It’s not easy. The NBA is hard. It’s a tough league. He’s learning.”
Nonetheless, Mitchell was almost the hero
Mitchell almost rewrote the script with a dazzling fourth-quarter stretch. He hit a step-back mid-range jumper with 5:19 left to bring Utah within one. He then drilled his only 3-pointer of the night in Joel Embiid’s eye to give the Jazz a lead.
His bucket with 2:31 to play again put Utah ahead, and gave Mitchell 13 points for the quarter in less than seven minutes of action. In a game that had been billed as a duel between last year’s Rookie of the Year contenders, and a reignition of their miniature feud, Mitchell was suddenly outdueling Ben Simmons when it mattered. He was completing Utah’s comeback from a 16-point first-quarter deficit.
But he went 0-for-3 over the final two minutes. And on the key possession, down two with under a minute to go, he kicked to Ingles for what would have been assist No. 1. Ingles air-balled a 3 from the top of the key. And Mitchell’s stat line sailed into the worst chapter of the record books.
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