Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant can get a little frustrated with his star pupil at times during practices. Donovan Mitchell will work on stringing together a combination of moves, replicating a sequence from an earlier game, and not quite get it right.
“It’s funny,” Mitchell says. “Johnnie always brings it up. ‘Do it like you do in the game.’ But in the game, I’m just doing it. If I think about it, that’s when I start to get stuck.”
And Mitchell has been anything but stuck to start 2019.
Over his last 10 games—the latest a 35-point performance in a 114-108 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday—the Jazz guard is averaging better 30 points.
That idea is now a very distant memory.
“I’m just being aggressive and continuing to have the same mindset I’ve had since pretty much, I feel like, Toronto,” Mitchell said, referencing the Jazz’s first game of the new year. “Sometimes those shots I take won’t go in but I’m going to continue to take the same shots.”
The Nuggets did what they could to try to limit Mitchell. But in the end, the guard finished the night with 35 points on 12-of-25 shooting, six assists, and six rebounds. Mitchell is the first Jazz player to put together back-to-back 35-point games since Karl Malone.
“Donovan is a helluva player,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s been playing at a high level for the last 10 games. He had another great game. … He puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
“He’s ultra-aggressive,” said Nuggets forward Torrey Craig, who was tasked with guarding Mitchell for long stretches of the game. “He’s looking to attack every single time he gets the ball. He’s always a threat.”
After shooting 38.1 percent from the field in December, Mitchell is shooting 46.4 percent in January. Mitchell went 6-for-10 from distance on Wednesday, knocking down four 3s in a record-setting first half for the Jazz.
“I think at the beginning of the year, I took tougher shots,” he said. “There are times I make passes now where I’m like, man, I would have shot that in October or November.”
Jazz forward Jae Crowder thinks the hamstring injury that sidelined Ricky Rubio for six games helped jumpstart Mitchell.
“We put the ball in his hands a little more, made him be a little smarter in his point of attack,” Crowder said. “I think he’s grown these last few games when we didn’t have a point guard and it’s made the game come a little easier to him when he moves off the ball. He’s done a great job of reading and reacting. He’s reading the defense at a high level, probably the best in his career.
“I’m very proud to see the growth in him and I’m glad to be alongside him.”