Everyone knows the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But the Utah Jazz are broken, and they need to be fixed.
The Jazz are consistently one of the top teams in the Western Conference year-in and year-out, but Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert can’t lead them past the conference semifinals (they didn’t even make it that far this year). So, it may be time for Utah to shake things up.
Shaquille O’Neal challenged Donovan Mitchell
In a recent episode of The Big Podcast with Shaq, O’Neal said Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell “ain’t that good.” Mitchell and Utah lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in four seasons this year, dropping to the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
The loss has intensified significant speculation about Mitchell’s future. It has also drawn out criticism from Shaq.
“You wanna be good, or you wanna be great? Whichever one you want, let me know,” O’Neal said on the May 4 episode.
He then clarified his comments on the May 9 episode of Inside the NBA.
“When I speak, I speak in our language,” O’Neal said, explaining that he didn’t mean Mitchell isn’t a good player. “You wanna be good, or you wanna be great? That’s all. That’s the only question I ask these youngsters. You wanna be good, or you wanna be great? ‘Oh, I wanna be great.’ You wanna be the greatest, or you wanna be great? … Like [Charles Barkley] says, there’s always the next level. He’s really good, but it’s time for him to go to that great level.”
The four-time NBA champion continued: “This is motivation talk; this ain’t hate talk. … He’s really good. He’s been in the league too damn long to be ‘really good.’ It’s time for him to take that next level. And I hope he’s watching this. It’s time for him to be great. And it’s time for him to be greater than everybody else. … He’s really good; that ain’t good enough.”
It’s time for Donovan Mitchell to go on a deep playoff run
Shaq is right. Donovan Mitchell is “really good.”
He has averaged at least 24.0 points each of the last three seasons and has earned three straight All-Star selections. The Louisville product has also had some monster playoff games, including a 57-point performance in the 2020 bubble and a 45-point game last season.
But the Jazz have lost in the first round three times in Mitchell’s five NBA seasons and have never made it past the conference semifinals. That’s despite having the No. 1 record in the West in 2020-21.
How does that compare to other players close to Mitchell’s age?
Devin Booker entered the league just two seasons before the Jazz star, and he has reached the NBA Finals. Jaylen Brown was a part of the 2016 draft class, and Jayson Tatum was in the 2017 class with Mitchell, and they have both played in multiple conference finals with the Boston Celtics. Trae Young was in the 2018 draft, and he has also made it to the conference finals.
Donovan Mitchell is a talented player and one of the NBA’s best shooting guards. If he wants legends like Shaq to think he’s great, he needs to find more postseason success, whether that’s with the Jazz or on another team.
Early exits year after year won’t cut it.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference