At 32-25, the Utah Jazz entered the All-Star break sixth in the Western Conference, two games out of fourth and two games ahead of ninth in the tightly contested race for playoff position.
Being in a playoff position at the break is never a bad thing, but for the Jazz only finding themselves in sixth is a bit disappointing given the expectations coming off of last year’s second-round playoff appearance in which they were arguably the best defensive squad in the league. To this point of the season, Utah is third in defensive rating, coming on strong of late after a rocky start to the season that coincided with an explosion in scoring around the league and one of the toughest schedules in the NBA in the first half of the season.
Of late, they seem to have found their stride on both ends of the floor, in part thanks to the schedule lightening up and also thanks to improved play from their second-year star Donovan Mitchell. Last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up struggled at the beginning of the year, but has looked improved since the calendar flipped to 2019, unsurprisingly sparking the best offensive stretch of Utah’s season.
Mitchell has been tasked with being the offensive leader of the Jazz, and as such he is personally going through the same transition Utah as a team is in the West. The Jazz are now a known commodity and the opposition respects them as a contender, preparing for them as such. Likewise, Mitchell is known to be the key for the Jazz offense, and defenses are scheming for him and trying to make it harder for him to score, to force those around him to beat them.
Uproxx spoke with Mitchell at the adidas lounge in Charlotte over All-Star weekend about those adjustments, both as a team and an individual, as well as the confidence he gets from his teammates entrusting him as a young player to be the proverbial man offensively, his upcoming signature sneaker, and more.