Donovan Mitchell plays 40-chess with the Pelicans

DeMarcus Cousins ponders his place in the cosmos as Donovan Mitchell leaves him behind to score two of his 40 points. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has been making his own push for Rookie of the Year this week. On Thursday night, Austin Rivers called Mitchell the best rookie not named Ben Simmons after the rook peppered 24 points on the Los Angeles Clippers and displayed impressive levitation to flush home possibly the best lob dunk of the young season.

Mitchell outdid himself on the first night of December. While everyone else was playing checkers, Mitchell was operating on another plane and playing 40-chess. In Utah’s 114-104 win, Mitchell obliterated New Orleans with 41 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 9-of-11 at the free-throw line.

Mitchell’s fusillade on the Pelicans defense also placed him in unique company. He joined LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Eric Gordon, Steph Curry and Blake Griffin as the only active players to score 40 points as rookies.


Mitchell started out the night splashing treys over a lax Pelicans perimeter defense. When the defense realized he had the hot hand and pressed up, he began slicing through the Pelicans defense with the ease of Salt Bae. You could practically smell the burnt rubber as he hit the speed burst button and turned Vivint Smart Home Arena into his imaginarium during downhill excursions to the rim.  No other Jazz starter attempted more than 10 shots. This was Donovan’s show.

Mitchell has been a streaky scorer from day one in the summer league, ebbing between highs and grossly inefficient lows. His 1-for-10 shooting performance against Chicago on the day before Thanksgiving was the fifth time this season he’d shot worse than 15 percent from the field. However, as he’s adjusted to the speed of the NBA and gotten more comfortable within the Jazz offense, the off shooting nights have occurred less often.

In Rudy Gobert’s absence, the Jazz may be reinventing themselves as a more vibrant offensive team with Mitchell as their catalyst. Mitchell’s performance is the first 40-burger by a rookie since 2011, but it sure won’t be his last.