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Donovan Mitchell Slowly Saying Goodbye To Dunks

Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz dunks over Kevin Hart, Jordan Mitchell and Hendrix Hart in the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest at Staples Center on February 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Donovan Mitchell burst onto the NBA scene during his rookie season when at All-Star Weekend, he won the 2018 Dunk Contest. The Utah Jazz guard wowed the Los Angeles crowd with his high-flying performance, including his nod to former dunk champ Vince Carter.

It should be no surprise that Mitchell paid homage to one of the league’s greatest dunk contest participants — the guard is a self-described student of the event, having studied the contest as a young player.

“If you knew me in high school, you knew me in middle school, I meant it when I said I used to study the dunk contest,” Mitchell said. “Whether it was Vince Carter, or it was Jason Richardson or Jeremy Evans, there was a bunch of others, Dwight [Howard], Nate [Robinson], there’re so many others, that was just what I did. I’d go to the gym and lower the hoop and try and dunk.”

Even Mitchell’s first breakout moment in the regular season for Jazz fans came on a spectacular putback dunk against the Los Angeles Lakers, proving that his elite athleticism and knack for highlight-reel plays would translate to the NBA.

And yet, something has changed for the All-Star guard this season. Mitchell has just six dunks in 27 games so far and is missing dunks at the highest rate of his career.

“I make the joke that I’m getting old,” Mitchell said. “So I stopped dunking.”

Mitchell Purposely Trying Fewer Dunks

Though Mitchell exaggerated his advanced age, having turned only 24 years old in September, the guard indicated that there is a strategic approach to dunking less than he did earlier in his career.

“As you start to play the minutes that I’ve been playing, and you start to play into the playoffs you learn something that all vets will tell you which is to save your legs,” Mitchell said. “I see why, I understand now. I don’t even dunk in warmups which is crazy to me.”

The Jazz have made the playoffs each of Mitchell’s first three seasons in the NBA, and are poised to return to the postseason owning the best record in the NBA through 27 games.

Mitchell’s dunking decline should come as no surprise for basketball fans, as his numbers at the rim have seen a steady drop throughout his career.

During the guard’s rookie season, he successfully completed 42 dunks on 49 attempts. As a sophomore, the number dipped to 31 makes on 37 attempts. Last season, Mitchell dunked just 26 times on 33 attempts.

This season, Mitchell’s dunk numbers have cratered. As mentioned, the guard has just six made dunks on 12 attempts. At this rate, the fourth-year star will attempt a career-low 32 dunks and is on pace to complete just 16 of them.

Yet, the guard doesn’t seem concerned about his changing reputation. Mitchell said the value of saving his legs far outweighs the cachet of being one of the league’s premier dunkers.

“You’ve just got to save them for as much as you can for as long as you can,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s something that’s just been my mindset. Bring it out when needed, when necessary. There was a stretch where I went three games with three missed dunks, so that should tell you everything you need to know.”

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