Having tons of familiarity with the team that we follow, but not being as knowledgeable about what’s going on around the league, is something we’re all a little guilty of. I’m going to try and make an effort this year to reach out and network with some other SB Nation bloggers around the NBA to preview significant games on Orlando’s schedule. This time around, Mychal Lowman of SLC Dunk was kind enough to answer some questions I prepared for him to help preview Saturday’s match-up between the Magic and the Utah Jazz.
1) The Jazz seem to be struggling a bit on offense this year. It's still very early in the season, but is there anything you can pinpoint that's going on with the Jazz that might be contributing to their lack of offensive production?
Mychal Lowman, Editor-in-Chief of SLC Dunk (@My_Lo): What we're watching with Utah's offense is what happens when you lose two of your top scorers and try to replace that scoring with a streaky 4th year player in Rodney Hood and an unproven rookie in Donovan Mitchell. Many in the offseason said the scoring would be replaced by Favors and Gobert, but that was just not realistic. Rudy Gobert, a 12-14 ppg scorer, wasn't going to increase his scoring by over 10 points without outside shooting; same goes for Derrick Favors. Without spacing those player's potential scoring output has stayed the same. Rodney Hood for the season has been up and down, but he is showing some potential by coming off the bench.
In the month of November, Donovan Mitchell is nearly averaging 20 points per game as a rookie. He's the lone bright spot for Utah and the only player in a Jazz uniform capable of getting his shot off the dribble, off the screen, or anywhere, for that matter, in the offense. The offense literally has nowhere to go but up, but it literally doesn't have any hidden gems who can score the ball right now. Utah is reliant on Rubio pulling it together on offense, Rodney Hood becoming consistent, and Donovan Mitchell being the top scorer as a rookie.
2) With Gordon Hayward now departed, are the Jazz officially Rudy Gobert's team? Speak to what you've seen from Gobert in'17-'18 for those of us that don't follow the Jazz as closely as you do.
Lowman: This is Rudy Gobert's team, but with injuries hitting Rudy Gobert, it would seem to reason that at the present it is Derrick Favors' team. He is the longest tenured Jazzman on the roster, but even then, I wouldn't say this is Derrick Favors' team with Rudy Gobert out with an injury.
This is very quickly becoming Donovan Mitchell's team. He has an infectious attitude when he plays. He is competitive on both sides of the ball. It seems weird to compare 6'3 Donovan Mitchell to 7'1 Rudy Gobert, but his impact is immediately being felt much like Gobert's was when he got playing time in his sophomore season. Donovan Mitchell has already usurped Rodney Hood in the starting lineup and gets the ball in pressure situations. With Ricky Rubio now being hobbled by an Achilles injury, Donovan Mitchell is going to be thrust into the point guard role. We're only 15 games in the season and this feels like Mitchell's squad. The defensive identity still rests with Rudy, but the face of the franchise could be Donovan Mitchell in just a year from now.
3) The Jazz traded up into the lottery last summer to select Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell performed brilliantly in Summer League play; how has the rookie performed to begin this season? What are some of the things you really like about Mitchell's game, and what are some of the things you recognize that Mitchell needs to improve upon?
Lowman: Let's continue this Donovan Mitchell love-fest, shall we? Only one other Jazz rookie has had more 20 point or more games than Donovan Mitchell: Darrell Griffith. The Golden Griff. Dr. Dunkenstein. Griffith hailed from Louisville as well and was a high flying shooting guard. Donovan Mitchell started the first 5 games of the season pretty rough. When looking at his numbers it is easy to look at them and wonder what the hubbub is all about, then you look at how he has been since November; he's averaging nearly 20 points a game, leading the Jazz in scoring, and is a defensive monster. There was one play against the Timberwolves where he stole the ball from Andrew Wiggins and it made Thibodeau lose his mind, jumping and yelling on the sideline like a child. Donovan Mitchell is the real deal.
With that said, Donovan has a lot to learn. He forces his shot sometimes as he's learning the NBA is a lot faster than NCAA. He's learning he can't power through players like he did in the NCAA. I jokingly call him Chappie. He started out as a child and within days he was a seasoned sophomore, reading the pick and roll flawlessly. While Donovan Mitchell has a lot to learn, he adapts quickly like an Artificial Intelligence with an unfettered connection to the internet. If he messes up one night, those mistakes are corrected by the next game.
4) Is there a positional match-up in Friday's contest when the Jazz visit the Magic that you are looking forward to or that you happen to find interesting?
Lowman: The matchup we're interested in seeing is the Aaron Gordon vs whoever the Jazz put at the 4 Saturday night. The Orlando Magic's selection of Aaron Gordon allowed Dante Exum to fall to the Utah Jazz. On draft night, many clowned the Magic for that decision--we did--but now it looks like the Jazz might not have got the better end of that decision. Dante Exum is currently sitting out for the second time for a season in four years due to injury and while Exum looked to be ready to seize on his potential, that's a what if scenario that doesn't exist in reality. Meanwhile Aaron Gordon has been looking like a star player in Orlando. Jazz fans are going to watch Aaron Gordon Saturday wondering 'What if' and it's going to sting. Especially as they have had to watch their two big lineup of Favors and Gobert struggle with spacing and offensive efficiency.
I want to personally thank Mychal Lowman for taking the time to answer a few questions for us in preparation for what is shaping up to be a match-up between two teams desperate to get back on the right track Saturday night at the Amway Center. Game time is 7:00 EST.