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The Triple Team: Has Donovan Mitchell become one of the elite shooters in the NBA?

(Rick Bowmer | The Associated Press) Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell (45) celebrates with Joe Ingles (2) after scoring a three-point basket against the Orlando Magic in the first half during an NBA basketball game Saturday, April 3, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 137-91 win over the Orlando Magic from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Donovan Mitchell — elite shooter?

People don’t really think of Donovan Mitchell as a shooter first. I think when the average fan thinks of Mitchell, they think of the athleticism: the dunks, the creative layup package, even the contortionary passes.

But I’m at the point now where I think maybe the brightest part of Mitchell’s game is the outside shot. Here’s the full list of players who have made more threes than Mitchell has this year:

Damian Lillard: 193

Steph Curry: 193

Buddy Hield: 193

Duncan Robinson: 173

Joe Harris: 161

That puts him in pretty elite company! Now, at 159 threes, he’s still significantly below those elite-of-the-elite Dame/Steph types. But he’s in that very next tier, and creeping up to join them.

Tonight, he shot 6 of 7 from deep to reach 41% as a 3-point shooter for the season. But I thought that there was also hugely significant variety in the shots he was taking — these aren’t easy looks by any means.

Like, a jab-step three from the corner? That’s a hard shot to get at 6-foot-1. An iso side-step three? That’s also tough. Catch-and-shoot from 5 feet beyond the 3-point line? A ton of guys in the NBA don’t have that in their bag. No. 4 and No. 5 are pretty standard pick and roll pull-up threes, though Mitchell manipulates the screens expertly. And No. 6 is a hard shot ... a transition three after a dribbling mistake with a hand in your face? Wow.

These, honestly, are Dame/Steph-esque looks. Again, I’m not saying he’s there yet, but when you take these difficult of shots and still shoot 41% for the season, you’re a really, really good shooter.

Now, these kinds of tough looks are also the ones that the Jazz might have to rely on against some of the better teams in the league. And Mitchell knew that, saying after the game:

“In a game like this, I’m just trying to find ways to pick my spots and find a way to get shots that — maybe not so much in this game — but I’m going to have to make and have to take in games coming up and the playoffs. That’s really where my mind is with those.”

We’ll get the chance to see it over the next week, with matchups against Dallas, Phoenix and Portland providing tougher tests. But I thought Mitchell’s mindset about his recent hot shooting streak was telling.

“I would say this is probably my best stretch, you know, but I’m kind of trying to get to a point where we don’t call them stretches anymore, you know? It’s yearly, it’s a career. It’s not just the best stretch, you know?”

Mitchell’s right: If he can go from “guy having a hot few weeks” to “one of the best shooters in the NBA,” that’s a big difference. And he’s on his way to doing just that.

2. Jordan Clarkson: 9 assists!

Jordan Clarkson had nine assists tonight; the most he’s ever had in a Jazz uniform. Given that he played only 21 minutes, it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment.

I expected many of them to be standard swing-pass style assists, where the assistor shouldn’t get much credit. But in reality, Clarkson was legitimately terrific in breaking the defense down, forcing them to collapse on him, and finding the open man in a variety of situations.

Obviously, most common was the pick-and-roll. This was the best one ... runs it with Derrick Favors, stares down Trent Forrest the whole way, then finds Fav for the easy finish with a no-look pass. Just great manipulation of the defense with his eyes.

I also like when the Jazz subvert expectations and make Clarkson into a rolling screener. This has actually been one of their most successful play wrinkles of the season; no one really thinks Clarkson’s going to roll to the basket, but he catches the ball well in traffic then finds the open man.

Finally, I think it says a lot about Quin Snyder’s belief in Clarkson that he has him as the passer in this play. Typically, when you set up a play like this, the ball is in the point guard’s hands as the best passer on the floor, knowing that you’re going to have to both make a decision between the two options and deliver an on-the-money pass from distance either way. Here, it’s Clarkson, and he executes the pass well.

Again, it’s a matter of expectations vs. reality: Everyone thinks of Clarkson as an isolation scorer, but I think this year he’s proved that he really works best inside of a system, or at least running pick-and-roll or with some other stuff going on. He’s done that so well this year, and it’s been a big part of the Jazz’s success.

3. Lots of blowouts

For the first time in NBA history, there were three 40-point blowouts today in the NBA. The Jazz beat the Magic by 46, the Blazers beat the Thunder by 48 and the Knicks beat the Pistons by 44.

In general, we have seen more blowouts this year than in the standard regular season. Why? I think all of these are playing some part:

• Higher-scoring games. Look, when you have teams with the highest offensive ratings in league history, more points are going to be scored, and the margins are going to be higher. A 120-90 game of today has a higher margin than a 90-70 game of the 1990′s, but I don’t know that one game is actually more competitive than the other.

• No/fewer fans. I think fans are an inherently motivating factor for players. On the road, even if you’re playing out the string, you never want to be the target of ridicule from opposing fans. At home, you want to impress your wife/girlfriend/friends/whoever. Fans might make a difference!

• Less rubber-band refereeing. Referees used to call the game to benefit the losing team, trying to keep the game close to some extent. Now, with referees graded on every call over the course of the season, referees promotions and playoff bonuses depend on how good they are even in these situations. Keeping things fair is important.

• A mix of fatigue and illness. Tonight, the Magic were battling a non-COVID illness that limited them to eight players. Those players are also probably pretty tired, having played an even higher number of games than they’re used to over the course of the last week, thanks to a compressed schedule.

I’d be curious to hear other thoughts of yours. Why have we seen so many blowouts?

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