“I took 35 shots. That can’t happen. Zero assists,” Mitchell said after the Jazz’s 113-107 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. “That’s not who I am. That’s not how I play. I know I’m still being aggressive, but I’ve got to be smart.”
Mitchell, who heard boos throughout the night from 76ers fans who backed Ben Simmons in last season’s contentious NBA Rookie of the Year race, scored 31 points on 13-of-35 shooting in the loss.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, it’s the first 35-shot, no-assist outing in the NBA since Carmelo Anthony‘s 62-point performance for the New York Knicks in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Jan. 24, 2014. Before that, the last such statistical line in the league occurred two decades ago, when the Boston Celtics‘ Antoine Walker hoisted 35 shots without an assist in a loss on Jan. 7, 1998.
Nobody has taken so many shots with no assists and scored fewer points than Mitchell since the San Diego Rockets’ Elvin Hayes had 28 points in a loss Feb. 8, 1969. But Utah coach Quin Snyder and Jazz veterans took no issue with Mitchell’s shot selection against the 76ers.
“We want him to be aggressive. We need him to be aggressive,” said Jazz small forward Joe Ingles, who missed a good look at a potential go-ahead 3-pointer off a drive-and-kick feed from Mitchell with 42.1 seconds remaining. “I said it to him during one of the timeouts: If he feels good about the shot and it’s a good shot within our offense, he needs to shoot it. If he’s 1-for-20 or 20-for-20, it doesn’t matter for us. He’s our guy. That’s what he does. He’s aggressive.
“He doesn’t need to overthink it. He doesn’t need to think that it’s his fault that we lost. I think the last thing he needs to do is be worrying about it.”
Mitchell, who was the first rookie to be a playoff team’s leading scorer since Anthony 15 years earlier, is going through growing pains early in his second season as the Jazz have sputtered to a 7-8 record. He is averaging 21.2 points per game but shooting only 40.8 percent from the floor, the lowest mark of the 23 players in the NBA who average at least 17 shots per game.
Snyder, however, has stressed to Mitchell that he wants him in “attack mode” on a consistent basis and will live with the results as the guard works on making reads.
“We know where his heart is as far as wanting to play the right way and being [selfless],” Snyder said. “The biggest thing is just having him attack. If he’s not attacking, he’s not in situations where he can improve. I think that’s the most important thing, and then over time, you just become more efficient. That doesn’t happen overnight.”
Said center Rudy Gobert: “His No. 1 strength is to get to the rim and make plays. He needs to learn to make the right decision at the right time. It’s not easy. The NBA is hard. It’s a tough league. He’s learning.”
But Mitchell, whose average of 4.0 assists per game is up slightly from last season, holds himself to high standards. He admits he struggles with patience and often allows losses to gnaw at him.
“I expect to be perfect,” Mitchell said on the way to the team bus as the Jazz headed to Boston for Saturday’s game. “I just can’t have a game like that, in my opinion. My teammates are always going to be there for me, having my back. My coach is always going to have my back. That’s what keeps me going, because I’m hard on myself.
“But I’m going to shoot my way out of this and just stay locked in and stay focused.”