What’s something that the NBA’s best scorers have in common?
They all get to the free-throw line with regularity. James Harden is the gold standard in this field, averaging 36 points per game while getting to the free-throw line 11 times each contest. But he’s not alone: Joel Embiid is second in free-throw attempts, Giannis Antetokounmpo is third and Anthony Davis is fourth. All of them find themselves in the league’s top seven in scoring.
But Donovan Mitchell has become much better at that since the turn of the calendar into 2019. In October, November, and December, Mitchell got to the line four times per contest, one of the lowest rates among 20-point-per-game scorers. But since then, he’s averaged 6.6 free throws per game, as he’s raised his aggression to a new level.
That’s been a big part of Mitchell’s scoring totals rising, too. Mitchell averaged 20.1 points per game in 2018 this season, but has averaged 27.0 points in 2019.
Truth be told, much of the story probably comes down to the Jazz’s easier strength of schedule in January and February compared to months previous. But whether it’s just the lull Mitchell needed, or a genuine step forward for the second-year player, it’s reflecting in the Jazz’s record. Since starting the season 18-19, they’re now 17-6.
Of course, that’s not the only thing Mitchell has done well in recent weeks. His assist totals are way up as well, averaging five per game this calendar year compared to 3.4 per game in the season’s first three months. And the 3-point percentage is up in a big way, too: 29.8 percent to 37.3 percent.
“He doesn’t take as many outside shots as he used to, and he’s able to get to the rim every time," Rudy Gobert said. When he does that, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, and he’s able to make better decisions and find his teammates, too. It’s big.”
Against the Clippers, he took his free-throw drawing game to an impressive level, getting to the line 12 times and making nine of those free throws. So even though Mitchell shot less than 50 percent from the floor (10 of 22), he still was able to score 32 points on 22 shots.
“It was a physical game. I think we adjusted to that, and Donovan attacked the rim," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "When you do that, you get a chance, good things can happen.”
Mitchell’s accomplishment also came against one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in L.A.'s Patrick Beverley. “Patty Bevs is a hell of a defender,” Mitchell said. “Coming into the league, I was like ‘man, he is one of the guys I am looking forward to, just for the challenge.’ He made me work tonight, hats off to him.”
But in the end, Mitchell got what he wanted: a win.