Donovan Mitchell Is Rare Exception To Jazz Phenomenon

Jan 3, 2023, 1:53 PM | Updated: 1:54 pm
Cleveland Cavaliers Guard Donovan Mitchell...
Cleveland Cavaliers Guard Donovan Mitchell (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Donovan Mitchell has proven that he’s the rare exception to a traditional Utah Jazz phenomenon.

After the guard’s superhuman 71-point performance over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, it’s clear, Mitchell is a better Cleveland Cavalier than he ever was a Jazzman, and that’s unique.

The Jazz’s history is littered with players who became stars in Utah, only to diminish in bigger markets. Players would come to Utah, grow their brand, only to find that their success didn’t follow them when they left the Jazz.

The trend started during the Jerry Sloan era when players would establish themselves as strong contributors alongside John Stockton and Karl Malone before leaving for larger, more lucrative roles on other teams, only to fail to meet expectations.

Howard Eisley was one of the league’s top young point guards playing behind Stockton in the late 90s. After turning down a multi-year deal to continue as Stockton’s backup, Eisley was traded to the Mavericks where he received a bigger role, but never developed into the upper-echelon starter Dallas hoped they were acquiring in the deal.

Within a year, Eisley was redirected to the New York Knicks, before finishing his career as a veteran journeyman.

Shandon Anderson suffered a similar fate. Anderson was a strong contributor in the Jazz’s runs to the Finals, but turned down a larger role with the Jazz for an opportunity to take a starting role with the Houston Rockets.

After one solid season in Houston, Anderson’s numbers regressed, and he never regained his value as a role player on a Finals-caliber team.

Carlos Arroyo suffered a similar fate among mid-level contributors.

The phenomenon has not been exclusive to role players, however. Bigger names like Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, and Gordon Hayward all left Utah, and never regained the stardom they found with the Jazz.

Even now, Rudy Gobert is on the verge of falling victim to the curse of former Jazzmen as he’s seen his numbers and reputation as the league’s top defender slip as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But while the list of players who have left Utah and struggled is a long one, Donovan Mitchell has proven his star can shine brighter in Cleveland than it ever did in a Jazz uniform.

Mitchell has seen his scoring average climb by nearly four points per game with the Cavaliers while dramatically improving his efficiency. He’s also kept Cleveland relevant in the standings, positioning the Cavaliers as a top-four team in the East at the midway point of his first season as a non-Jazzman.

By all measures, Mitchell has proven that his stardom was no anomaly in Utah, and he’s elevated his game to new heights with the Cavaliers.

It’s important to note that Mitchell never asked out of Utah. Despite ongoing rumors that he would prefer to play in a larger market, the guard never demanded a trade nor forced his way off the roster in an unsavory manner.

The Jazz chose to move on from Donovan Mitchell, recognizing their timeline was better served to hit the reset button, rather than trying to piecemeal a new supporting cast around him. And, even with the guard having a career year with the Cavaliers, it’s far too early to say the Jazz made a bad move.

Lauri Markkanen has similarly elevated his game to new heights in Utah, and the full value of the draft picks the Jazz got in the trade won’t be known until 2029.

Regardless, Mitchell’s performance in Cleveland has bucked the trend of many ill-fated former Jazz stars, and it’s a testament to his talent and perseverance.

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Donovan Mitchell Is Rare Exception To Jazz Phenomenon