Gordon Hayward Who? Rookie Mitchell Helping Jazz Fans Forget

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 9:10 PM UTC

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 9:10 PM UTC

Very few NBA prognosticators expected the Utah Jazz to be a playoff team this season, but they just might be thanks in large part to somewhat overlooked rookie Donovan Mitchell.

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The Utah Jazz looked like they were a rising powerhouse in the Western Conference last season. Led by All-Star forward Gordon Hayward and should-have-been All-Star center Rudy Gobert, a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, Utah won 51 games – the franchise’s most since 2009-10. The Jazz knocked off the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before running into the buzz-saw that is the Golden State Warriors in the West semis. No shame in being swept by them,

Still, the future was very bright in Salt Lake City with one big if: IF the team could re-sign Hayward in free agency. Alas, Hayward decided to take his talents to Boston to play for his college coach, Brad Stevens (and then, sadly, Hayward broke his leg on Opening Night). SBR’s top-rated sportsbooks adjusted to the loss accordingly, setting Utah’s win total for this season at just 38.5. Made some sense as you don’t easily replace a guy who averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists as Hayward did in 2016-17. That was good for a career-high player efficiency rating of 22.23, a better number than guys like DeAndre Jordan, Kemba Walker, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, Paul George and other bigger names.

However, the Jazz might have found their Hayward replacement already in guard Donovan Mitchell, a rookie out of Louisville. During the 2017 draft, the Jazz traded the No. 24 pick and Trey Lyles to Denver to move up to the Nuggets’ 13th spot to grab Mitchell. He had started the draft process as a late first-round projection, but shined in workouts move his way into the lottery.

At this point, it looks like utter thievery for Utah.

It’s likely that Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons will win the Rookie of the Year Award, even though he’s technically in his second pro season, and he’s a -2000 NBA betting favorite there. But Simmons was supposed to be great. Mitchell, who is +2000 on the ROY prop at Bovada, has been way better than expected.

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Donovan Mitchell can get up a little bit. pic.twitter.com/1DM96Fqwhl

— Dave DuFour (@DaveDuFourNBA) December 1, 2017

As of this writing Mitchell is first among rookies in 20-point games – he had a Jazz rookie record 41 in a Dec. 1 win over the Pelicans and was the first rookie with a 40-point games since 2011 (Blake Griffin) -- and is averaging 17.2 points, 3.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds. Nearly 70 percent of his field goals have come either within three feet of the basket or from behind the arc. His 6-foot-10 wingspan lets him finish from all types of angles around the rim.

Since Nov. 1, Mitchell leads all rookies in scoring (20.2 ppg). He largely started the year coming off the bench, but he’s not leaving the starting lineup anytime soon. The team is four games over .500 with him starting and well under when he’s not.

The Jazz aren’t going to win the Western Conference this year or anything as they are +10000 to do that. But they survived nicely when Gobert missed 11 games with a knee injury and making the playoffs is very doable with teams like the Thunder and Grizzlies underachieving and the Clippers ravaged by injuries.

If you took over 38.5 wins on the Jazz futures, that’s looking like a smart bet now too. And, who knows, maybe Mitchell is worth that long-shot bet on Rookie of the Year in case Simmons gets injured.

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