The Triple Team: Donovan Mitchell, who carried the Jazz to another win, is playing like one of the best in the league

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) drives around Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 109-96 win over the Orlando Magic from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Donovan Mitchell is playing at an top-10 level

Donovan Mitchell was incredible tonight, the biggest reason the Jazz went into Orlando and won a game against a team that had won their last two by 20+ points. He scored 32 points on 14-21 shooting, 4-7 from three, and added six assists.

A lot of it was just incredible midrange shotmaking from Mitchell: on floaters, on pull-up jumpers. Long-time readers know that I’d prefer Mitchell to get other shots, but if he makes them at this level, then it doesn’t matter — in the same way it’s fine if, say, Kawhi Leonard takes a bunch of tough midrangers.

Obviously, shotmaking is a key piece of development. But there were some other things Mitchell did that showed how much he’s improved in other ways, too. First, there’s his search dribble, which has made him much more effective as a passer. He bends the defense by dribbling through the paint, then takes advantage of that movement to find open shooters.

Critically, keeping that dribble alive has reduced turnovers, too. He only had two tonight, and I think it’s because he’s keeping his feet more frequently: he’s not jumping in the air and looking to connect on difficult passes.

Mitchell was 10th on the NBA’s last MVP ladder, and it’s easy to see why: the Jazz have won five in a row, and Mitchell is leading them extremely well on the offensive end.

There’s also some talk about Mitchell being more of a point guard, even when Mike Conley comes back. I’m not quite there yet, mostly because Mitchell pick and roll skills aren’t either. But given how good he’s been, allocating some of Conley’s possessions from early in the season to Mitchell makes a lot of sense.

2. 3-point attack breaks game wide open

The Jazz had just a one-point lead entering the 4th quarter, but they broke it open quickly thanks to hot 3-point shooting, especially from Georges Niang. The Jazz were 6-24 from deep with about 14 minutes left to go, and then went 10-16 the rest of the way.

It was actually humorous to watch Quin Snyder’s postgame press conference respond to questions about the change in 3-point shooting. “What happened to turn it around?,” Orlando’s press wanted to know. And the answer was essentially “Nothing.” The Jazz kept shooting even though they were missing them early, and then they started making them late. Not too complicated.

Fans get really frustrated when 3-point shots don’t go in, often asking for the team to go inside, because the 3-point attack seems not to be working. But this game is a perfect example of why it’s a good idea to keep shooting, eventually, the game will turn around.

Anyway, credit to Niang, who was so hot there that the Jazz started running him off multiple screens to try to get open 3-point looks for him. He’s now shooting 45.8% from deep this season, and given his 41% shooting last year, it’s probably not a complete fluke.

He did it in a variety of situations, too. Of course, there were multiple drive-and-kick catch-and-shoots. But on one, he ran to the corner in transition and quickly shot the ball, getting ahead of the Magic defense. On another, he played pick and pop with Mitchell, getting the open look that way. And finally, while he did have one heat check, when the defense overcorrected and guarded him instead of Joe Ingles, Niang found Ingles for another 3-point make. It’s good play from Georges.

3. Rudy Gobert passing in the short roll

Rudy Gobert is a terrific pick and roll player, that much everyone knows. But all pick and roll situations aren’t identical: of course, there’s the short-range lob finish he’s got down that defenses are terrified of. What happens when the defense takes that away, by sending a man to get in Gobert’s way?

Typically, Gobert has struggled in those situations. He’s very capable of catching the ball about 15 feet away and going to the hoop if there’s no one in front of him, but if there is, that’s when we’ve seen charges, or poorly attempted floaters, or turnovers.

That’s why this point of development is important for Gobert: he’s doing a better job of recognizing the player in front of him and where he’s come from, and then hitting the open player. Here’s one example from early in the game:

Nicely done! It seems easy, but it is a legitimate skill to find that pass early and deliver it on target. That’s something that Derrick Favors really developed over the course of his Jazz career, and in recent games, he’s been excellent at doing it with the Pelicans. If Gobert can do it as well, it makes the Jazz even harder to guard, especially given their corner three conversion percentage.