This week, the collective decisions of 100 NBA media members are worth $32 million to the Utah Jazz.
Let me explain. You’ll remember that Donovan Mitchell signed a maximum contract extension this summer, but the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement has a provision that says that Mitchell’s maximum can be for a higher percentage of the salary cap if he makes All-NBA in the season before his extension kicks in.
Mitchell’s contract is guaranteed for 5 years and $163 million — 25% of the Jazz’s salary cap. If he makes an All-NBA team, that contract would jump to $195.6 million — 30% of the Jazz’s salary cap.
The NBA media’s ballots are due Monday, reflecting the performance of the league’s best players over the course of the 2020-21 season. The question is: does Mitchell qualify?
There’s no doubt that Mitchell has had an All-NBA caliber season. He’s played in 53 games, averaging 26.8 points per game on relatively reasonably shooting efficiency numbers: 43.8% from the field, a career-high 38.6% from three, and 84.5% from the free-throw line. He’s averaging career highs in assists per game: 5.2; and rebounds per game; 4.4. He’s had the league’s fifth-highest usage during this season — using more possessions than Luminaries like LeBron James and Damian Lillard.
And, of course, there’s the success of his team: the Jazz have the league’s best record, and were 39-14 when Mitchell played.
But will Mitchell actually make one of the three All-NBA teams? The problem comes in terms of the caliber of his competition — this has been a historic year for NBA guards.
JAZZ AT THUNDER
When • Friday, 6 p.m. MT
TV • ATTSN
At the top of the list are Steph Curry and Luka Doncic. Both have led their teams nearly singlehandedly to playoff berths, Curry leads the NBA with 31.8 points per game, while Doncic comes in sixth, averaging 28 points per game while nearing a triple double.
Behind Curry and Doncic in the eyes of most NBA voters are Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard. Lillard, too, is among the NBA’s scoring leaders at 28.7 points per game, and has carried the Blazers to a playoff spot — including big shots at the right times.
Irving is having a remarkable season, scoring 27 points per game while still shooting over 50% from the field — nearly unheard of for a guard. Irving has been the healthiest of Brooklyn’s big three, playing 52 games while Kevin Durant and James Harden have played only 35 and 33 games, respectively. He’s also carried them to the Eastern Conference’s second-best record.
Then, Mitchell will have to compete for a third-team spot among a number of very qualified candidates. Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Devin Booker, Zach Lavine, Ben Simmons, Trae Young and Chris Paul are all legitimate candidates. Furthermore, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Khris Middleton are all eligible at both the guard and the forward spots.
The result is that it’s going to be very difficult to find a spot for Mitchell on the ballot, even though he’s had a completely qualifying season. His month-long injury has impacted his candidacy, to be sure: when voters are looking for a way to choose between Mitchell and Booker, Beal, Westbrook, and LaVine, for example; games played can act as a bit of a tiebreaker, and Mitchell’s losing that tiebreaker in the mind of some voters.
There’s also somewhat of a perception that the Jazz’s relatively successful play without Mitchell may hurt his candidacy. The Jazz have gone 11-7 with him injured, and actually are slightly better at outscoring opponents while he’s off the court — though that’s heavily influenced by teammate Rudy Gobert’s minutes. Gobert is likely to be the NBA’s All-NBA third center, though his contract doesn’t change if he receives the honor.
Of the public ballots revealed early by the 100 NBA media voters, none of them have nominated Mitchell for All-NBA. The Tribune conducted some informal polling of a few media members with a vote who have yet to release their ballots publicly; those voters also prioritized other NBA guards over Mitchell in the end — though all referenced the difficulty of the decision.
That may well be good for the Jazz’s payroll flexibility in the future. While they won’t have salary cap space for the foreseeable future, the extra $5 million saved per year could allow them to stay under the luxury tax, or reduce luxury tax payments made.
So yes, Mitchell currently looks unlikely to make the $32 million bonus in his deal — unfortunate for him. But his award-related misfortune may well help the Jazz stay contenders during the course of his maximum deal.