Jazz Mitchell Must Fill Big Shoes Without Conley

Feb 9, 2021, 1:15 PM | Updated: 1:22 pm

Utah Jazz guards Donovan Mitchell, left, and Mike Conley talk during a break in the action during t...

Utah Jazz guards Donovan Mitchell, left, and Mike Conley talk during a break in the action during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. The Kings won 102-101. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) AP

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s unknown how long the Utah Jazz will be without guard Mike Conley who will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury on his right leg Tuesday night.

The veteran’s absence leaves a glaring hole for a team that owns the best record in basketball, thanks in large part to the guard’s incredible play.

Conley is the NBA’s current plus-minus leader, as the Jazz have outscored their opponents by 265 points in the guard’s 23 appearances so far this season. For comparison, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James ranks second at +218.

With Conley off the floor, a heavier burden now falls on fourth-year guard Donovan Mitchell who will be tasked with assuming the veteran’s playmaking skills while also maintaining his role as the Jazz go-to scorer.

It’s a challenge Mitchell is willing to accept.

Ahead of Tuesday night’s nationally televised game against the Celtics, Mitchell said the time spent watching Conley has helped prepare him for that challenge.

“As far as Mike goes, I’m right next to the locker room so I’ve asked him probably 1,000 questions you know just about how he sees things,” Mitchell said. “Where guys need to be and what guy has it going and how he sees that.”

Mitchell passed his first test with flying colors on Sunday against the Indiana Pacers. The guard scored 27 points, dished out 11 assists, and grabbed nine rebounds in the team’s 103-95 victory.

Guard Joe Ingles was moved into the starting lineup alongside Mitchell to aid in the playmaking.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching Joe for four years straight,” Mitchell said. “I call him slow, but he does it in such a way where he manipulates whether it’s the ball fake, drawing the defense in with the left-hand pass, finding Rudy on the late look. I’ve been continuously watching so when you see that on the daily, I think that’s something that definitely helps me.”

Mitchell Has Led Jazz Without Conley Before

This isn’t the first time Mitchell has been tasked with filling in at lead guard for the Jazz, and the All-Star has flourished in the role before.

During the 2020 playoffs, Conley had to leave the Orlando bubble for the first two games of the postseason to attend the birth of his third child. In his absence, Mitchell averaged 43.5 points, 7.5 assists, and five rebounds as the Jazz split the opening two games of the series with the Denver Nuggets.

When Conley missed 19 out of 20 games in the heart of last season for the Jazz, Mitchell averaged 24.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds and led the team to a 16-3 record.

Make no mistake, the Jazz will need to be at full-strength if they want to maintain their status as contenders later in the season, but Mitchell has proven he can carry the franchise for extended stretches even when assuming Conley’s role.

“I’m really trying to find ways to implement that into my game,” Mitchell said. “I think I’ve done an okay job with that but I can continue to be better.”

The Jazz and Celtics will tip-off at 8 pm MST. The game will be broadcast on TNT.

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Jazz Mitchell Must Fill Big Shoes Without Conley