League Pass Don’t Lie: The Growth of Donovan Mitchell; Traditions of Pettiness; Chris Paul’s Sidestep

Donovan Title

League Pass Don’t Lie is an outlet for me to nerd out and celebrate some of the cool/bizarre/fascinating things I noticed when I got sucked into the League Pass wormhole this week.

Donovan Mitchell’s Learning Curve

I wrote about the Utah Jazz at length earlier in the week, but that article didn’t delve into Donovan Mitchell’s outstanding start. The rookie has been sensational, quickly establishing himself as the best offensive player in Utah and the only Jazzman capable of consistently getting to the basket. What should give Jazz fans even more hope is the rate at which he’s improving.

DraftExpress explicitly listed “Finishing in Traffic” as a weakness in their scouting report for Mitchell. They cited a lack of skill/touch when finishing, difficulty finishing over size/length, and an inability to jump/extend off one foot (a must-have for guards to create separation against NBA size).

He’s clearly worked very hard since he left Louisville to address those shortcomings. The rookie has quickly improved his footwork while developing an arsenal of tricks to help him get the job done in the pros.

Mitchell’s vision, playmaking instincts and passing skills have also noticeably improved over the course of the season. After a rough first few games, he seems to have adjusted to NBA speed and is seeing the floor well. He’s already shown the ability to create the most efficient shots on the floor with cross-court lasers to shooters and tough passes in traffic to teammates at the rim.

It’s also noteworthy how much trust coach Quin Snyder has already placed in the 21-year-old and how much his teammates seem to respect him. On a team full of veterans, nobody seems to have any problems with a rookie taking the most shots.

Losing Gordon Hayward was a demoralizing and disorienting loss for a small-market team like the Jazz, but Mitchell has given the franchise a renewed sense of direction. There are no guarantees, but a core of Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is reason for optimism.

Shooters Stay Ready, NBA Players Stay Petty

As I was watching the Detroit Pistons – Golden State Warriors matchup from last week, one moment caught my eye. It wasn’t even in the course of play, so it wasn’t recorded in any play-by-play or box score.

Klay Thompson had a rough first half: 6 points, 3/9 FG, 0/5 3P. The sharpshooter was out of rhythm and missed multiple wide-open looks. As players were filing off the court after the half-time buzzer, the ball found its way to Thompson. Naturally, he tried to find his form by launching a dead-ball three. That’s when Reggie Jackson paid homage to a hallowed NBA rite of pettiness:

The dead-ball goaltend is deeply embedded into the fabric of the game. It is a time-honored tradition, passed down from generation to generation.

It must be SO maddening for the shooter—especially if he’s struggling with his stroke. Of course, that’s why defenders do it. There’s logic in not wanting to give your opponent the opportunity to practice, but psychological warfare is the main goal here. It’s the unwillingness to concede an inch that makes the dead-ball goaltend so wonderful. Jackson committed to the pettiness more than anyone I can remember by hanging on the rim to make sure he swatted Klay’s jumper aside.

This made me think about the most enjoyable customs of pettiness that exist in this wonderful league.

Pettiness Power Rankings

1) Sharing Is Caring

We’ve all seen it. If you’ve played basketball, you may have even experienced it yourself. That moment when a foul is called and there’s a scuffle for the ball. Chris Paul is a frequent offender on both sides of the confrontation, so it’s fitting that he’s my example here:

I will never tire of watching adult millionaires fighting over a ball.

2) Dead-Ball Goaltending

The aforementioned ritual of spitefulness comes in at No. 2 in my books. It was vitally important that Jackson hung on the rim to complete the task because there’s nothing more emasculating than failing at the dead-ball goaltend.

3) Peaceful Protest

Pettiness isn’t reserved for just the players; referees have to deal with a good amount of it as well. One such example is players expressing their displeasure with a call by being intentionally obnoxious with the ball. The mature thing to do would be to hand the ball to the ref while making an impassioned argument about why the call was inaccurate. I guess it’s more satisfying to play a game of Fetch with the ref.

Chris Paul’s Sidestep

Coach Nick of BBALLBREAKDOWN posted a tremendous video analyzing the mechanics and footwork of the best stepbacks in the game. He dug into the film of 6 different players, breaking down their moves in painstaking detail. One name that wasn’t on his list: Chris Paul. As I’ve watched Paul over the years, I’ve grown fond of one of his go-to moves: the sidestep.

If you watch the BBALLBREAKDOWN video, you’ll notice that all of the stepbacks involve a reversal of momentum. The ball handler moves (or jabs) forwards before stepping back to create the space needed to launch a jumper. Paul’s sidestep is different. He lulls the defender to sleep by standing still and then takes a big step to the side to uncork a jumper. It seems like it should get blocked more, but it rarely does.

CP3 can go either direction with this sidestep, and he often uses the defender’s stance against him. If a defender has his right arm and foot forward, Paul will sidestep to the defender’s left to maximize the distance the defender has to cover to block the shot. The move is a nice metaphor for Paul’s game: devastating in its guile and precision.


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