Things got a tad awkward Thursday night on TNT when studio analyst Shaquille O’Neal, in lieu of asking Donovan Mitchell a question following his 36-point performance against the New Orleans Pelicans, openly criticized the Utah Jazz star in hopes that it would motivate him. “You are one of my favorite players but you don’t have what it takes to get to that next level,” said the Hall-of-Fame center, giving it to Mitchell straight. “I said it on purpose. I wanted you to hear it.”
That’s a pretty confrontational way to open an interview, though luckily Mitchell wasn’t fazed by Shaq’s brutal honestly. “Alright,” said Mitchell, channeling his inner Lebowski. “I’ve been hearing that since my rookie year. I’m just going to get better and do what I do.”
O’Neal is entitled to his opinion, though Mitchell’s employer must not share his view. The Jazz recently signed the All-Star to a five-year, $163-million max extension that will keep Mitchell in Salt Lake through his age-29 season. Though playoff success has eluded the Jazz throughout Mitchell’s Utah tenure (they’ve been bounced in the first round each of the last two seasons), the six-foot guard went nuclear in last year’s Western Conference quarterfinals, netting 36.3 points per game on blistering 52.5-percent shooting in a heartbreaking, seven-game loss to Denver.
While Mitchell’s postseason heroics apparently weren’t enough to convince Shaq of his qualifications, O’Neal won’t be able to deny him much longer if Utah continues its winning ways. Winners of seven straight, the 11-4 Jazz are tied with the Clippers for the NBA’s second-best record, trailing the reigning champion Lakers by only half a game (12-4).