Should Donovan Mitchell be in MVP contention?
Despite being the number 1 seed in the West, it feels as though the Utah Jazz continue to be an underrated side, with equally underrated personnel.
The Jazz were the first side in the NBA this season to clinch a playoff berth, having led the Western Conference for the majority of the 2020-21 campaign.
Still under the guidance of Quin Snyder, Utah currently boast a 44-17 record at the time of writing. The resurgence of Mike Conley and sixth-man of the year form from Jordan Clarkson have no doubt been two newer contributing factors to Utah’s renewal of the success they saw last year.
Perhaps too often unspoken, however, is the impact of Donovan Mitchell. Now, fans of the NBA no doubt have a great appreciation for Mitchell and what he brings to the game.
The issue, perhaps, is how underrated he seems to be to the league.
In KIA’s most recent MVP ladder (23rd April 2021), they have ranked Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Steph Curry as their top five.
It is fair to say that most, if not all, have at least some form of legitimacy in their claim to MVP. Steph is fresh from a month of monumental form that has cannoned him into conversations, and the four above him have maintained their place in discussions throughout the season.
It is easy to notice, though, that Mitchell is not in the top five, and seemingly hasn’t been even close to it this season. Not only should the seed of his side assist his claim, but so should his individual form.
After 53 games played, Mitchell is averaging career numbers. 26.4 points per game, 5.2 assists per game, as well as 4.4 rebounds, are all individual highs for Mitchell. The same is true for his efficient field goal percentage which is currently sitting at 52%, despite the guard averaging over 20 shots per game.
Of course, the Utah offensive system is centric to Donovan Mitchell. He is their star player and their primary scorer, so it is completely logical as to why Utah panders their attacking play around him.
This isn’t an excuse, however. Each candidate in the MVP race is the best on their team, therefore are too centric to their team’s playstyle. It is confusing as to why the best player, on the best team in the league, is struggling to truly break into MVP conversations.
The answer lies more so with the market of Utah, as opposed to their quality. Utah are a small market side and always have been. They have never contended with the likes of the traditional big markets, such as the Lakers, Bulls and Celtics.
As for teams like Milwaukee and Denver, their stars have developed over the years and have helped to gradually increase their current size. Mitchell, still young and only in his fourth year, is yet to have that level of impact.
It too is most likely a hindrance to Mitchell that his star teammate is Rudy Gobert.
This isn’t a criticism of Gobert, or the style of basketball he plays. The defence he offers is invaluable to the Jazz, and their system fits him just as he fits their system.
The issue with Gobert’s style is that, whilst serving to function for all of the essentials, it is hardly something that would make the casual fan eager to watch a Utah Jazz game. Therefore, Mitchell perhaps isn’t watched as much as he should be.
Mitchell’s name is yet to carry the weight of a Curry or an Antetokounmpo. This, combined with the misfortune of Utah’s market size and the way they play basketball, is unlikely to draw mass viewership.
Whilst the MVP award is designed to be designated to the best player in the league, who has the highest impact on their side, it wouldn’t always be assigned as such.
Those in charge understand that a lesser-known name will not be of the same value to that of, say, a LeBron James. Whilst the lesser-known candidate may deserve the award more, it shouldn’t be shocking to an onlooker if the higher profile athlete walks away as the victor. It would prove profitable to those in charge.
Donovan Mitchell is a very, very talented player. Averaging stats like his, at an age like his, is impressive in every sense. Perhaps guiding his side on a playoff run would serve to better his credibility. For now though, it seems he will have to patiently bide his time before he is involved in conversations about the best of the best.
Written by James O'Reilly