In the aftermath of the Utah Jazz’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks back on Jan. 8, Donovan Mitchell was asked what it was like to play a game without Joe Ingles for the first time in his professional career.
“It was weird,” Mitchell conceded. “There are a lot of things I didn’t realize that Joe does, you know, until he’s not there.”
He’s been getting a chance to learn, though, with Ingles having now missed four of the Jazz’s past five games due to right Achilles soreness.
Another guy who’s been getting a chance to learn as a result of Ingles’ absence is second-year wing Miye Oni. The Yale product made an appearance in each of those four games that Ingles missed, and has seen the court in eight games total this season, after making just 10 total appearances in all of his rookie season.
While Oni hasn’t completely filled the void, given that he doesn’t duplicate Ingles’ skill set as a secondary ballhandler and playmaker, and he has not exactly been setting the league ablaze with unanticipated exploits — he’s averaging just 1.9 points and 1.5 rebounds in 9.4 minutes — he is nevertheless getting a chance to make an impact on the court.
While a cursory look at the box score would seem to reveal a pretty nondescript performance (11 minutes, 30 seconds of court time, zero shots attempted, two defensive rebounds, one personal foul), the justification for his presence on the court were the opportunities he got, particularly in the second half, to try to slow down Nuggets star Jamal Murray.
And while Oni certainly wasn’t solely responsible, the fact remains that after Murray dropped in 24 first-half points on 9-for-16 shooting, he scored only six after halftime and went 2 for 11 from the field.
“Miye did a terrific job,” said coach Quin Snyder.
“I’ve got to give Miye his credit,” added Mitchell. “… As far as Jamal goes, we know [it comes down to] trying to speed him up and staying solid; that’s the biggest thing, is just staying solid. [Miye’s] done a great job of that.”
The progress of the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder stands as the primary reason why offseason addition and noted perimeter pest Shaq Harrison has not seen much run yet this season.
Given that Oni is providing a comparable level of defense, and boasts superior shooting and playmaking skills on top of that, Snyder has continued to call his number — with double-digit minute totals in each of the past three games.
For his part, the 23-year-old noted that while it can be difficult going from not playing one night to getting 18 minutes the next, all he can control is his mentality and preparedness and effort.
“I go with the same approach: just try to play hard in any minutes I’m given. Whether I’m probably gonna play or if I have no clue, I just try to stay ready,” Oni said. “It’s tough, but I focus on just staying ready every single game.”
He added that these recent appearances, where he’s getting minutes and reps alongside rotation regulars rather than only being thrown out there with end-of-bench guys in garbage-time situations, has helped to bolster his “overall feel of the offense. … I think I’m just gonna keep getting better as time progresses.”
Mitchell is sure of that much.
The most promising sign the All-Star guard has seen from his young teammate is the ability to take instruction and immediately apply it.
Mitchell cited an example from Sunday vs. Denver, when on one play, Oni remained a bit too attached to the man he was guarding at the expense of a chance to apply some extra weak-side pressure to center Nikola Jokic, who wound up scoring off a post-up. At the next stop in play, Mitchell broke down the coverage options, pointing out that in that particular scenario, Oni had an option to either come with a hard trap or to at least fake a double-team to entice a pass before retreating to his man.
And, indeed, when faced with the same scenario again, Oni modified his coverage, and the Jazz forced a miss and wound up getting a bucket of their own on the other end.
“He’s just been absorbing a lot. It’s tough when you have a lot of voices coming at you, [but] he’s been great taking information from everybody and going out there putting it into the game,” Mitchell said. “… For him to be able to pick that up throughout the game as a young player, that’s big. [To] be able to do it against a player like [Jokic], who is All-NBA, that’s impressive.”