The Utah Jazz went out and won their ninth-straight game on Sunday, and Damian Lillard had high praise for rookie Donovan Mitchell.
Donovan Mitchell has broken out over the last few weeks. He’s averaging 21.7 points and 3.3 assists over his last 15 games, and the Utah Jazz are 12-4 since Jan. 10. During their nine-game winning streak, the scoring has dropped a bit to 20.5, but he’s still been the most significant piece of their success.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, Utah pulled out the 115-96 win wherein Mitchell had a team-high 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting. After the game, Damian Lillard — who had 39 points of his own — praised Mitchell for both his play and his leadership.
“I think he should be Rookie of the Year, for sure,” said Lillard to Joe Freeman of OregonLive. “Not just because of his numbers, but his impact on their team. He’s basically leading them. It’s special to see a rookie be able to do what he’s doing out there.
For the last few months, Mitchell and Ben Simmons have been the only two running in the Rookie of the Year race. Picking a winner at this juncture is difficult. Simmons and Mitchell both do incredible things individually, but their teams have seen varying degrees of success. Utah is currently 10th overall in the Western Conference whereas the Philadelphia 76ers are eighth in the East. A grand caveat against them, however, is that Joel Embiid is the centerpiece of that team.
Utah lacks a player of Embiid’s caliber. Their roster doesn’t have a transcendent superstar that dominates both ends of the floor. Before Mitchell had his explosion, Rudy Gobert was viewed as the team’s leader, but his primary role is to protect the rim and anchor the defense.
In 53 games, Mitchell’s scoring 19.4 points a night while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. The first category leads all rookies. He also tops the first-year player leaderboard with six 30-point games and is the first rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011 to have multiple 40-point performances. Donovan Mitchell rounds that off by being first in threes made (121) and is second in steals (77).
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