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There was a basketball player on TNT Thursday night that did everything right, and his name is Donovan Mitchell

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) lays the ball up as New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe (5) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

The Utah Jazz earned their seventh straight win on Thursday night, and they did it behind a stellar performance from Donovan Mitchell, who became the fastest player in NBA history to hit 600 3-pointers.

“But if he’s not scoring, what else can he do?” Shaquille O’Neal posited during the TNT halftime show.

Mitchell was dialed in and making plays on both ends of the court, he was unselfish, he was smart and he was dominant. He finished the night with 36 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a block.

But if he’s not scoring, what else can he do?

Mitchell’s actually been incredible during the Jazz’s win streak. He’s been tight on defense, picking up steals and deflections, creating space, collapsing the defense, making amazing passes, rebounding, playing through contact and getting to the free-throw line where he’s shot 91.4% over the last seven games.

But if he’s not scoring, what else can he do?

On Thursday night in particular, with the Jazz on the longest active win streak in the NBA as they moved into second place in the Western Conference with a gritty 129-118 win over the Pelicans with Mitchell leading the way in convincing fashion, there really wasn’t a reason to talk about anything other than how dominant Mitchell and the Jazz have been over the last seven games.

But, the Inside the NBA on TNT crew decided at halftime to criticize the best player on the one of the hottest teams in the league. O’Neal called Mitchell a “second or third option” and said he isn’t a superstar. Charles Barkley said Mitchell had “zero impact on the rest of the game” outside of scoring.

Then, even after Mitchell turned in a second-half performance worthy of praise, O’Neal doubled down during Mitchell’s walk-off interview.

“I said tonight that you are one of my favorite players but you don’t have what it takes to get to the next level,” O’Neal said. “I said it on purpose and wanted you to hear it. What do you have to say about that?”

Mitchell replied, “Aight.”

Later, when Mitchell spoke to local reporters, he was flustered that a great team win had been made about him.

“I’m here to play basketball and to be the best teammate and best player that I can be. They don’t like it, they don’t like it,” Mitchell said with a shrug. “I’m not trying to make this about me. This is team basketball. At the end of the day we’re winning, we’re doing good things. We just got to keep it up because we got Golden State coming in. We’ve got to be ready for that.”

The TNT crew was adamant that in order to be a superstar, you have to impact the game in several areas, not just scoring. Mitchell did that on Thursday, and it wasn’t good enough for them.

It’s not the first time that O’Neal has decided that a Utah Jazz player is getting more praise than deserved. Rudy Gobert, who has been a target of O’Neal’s for earning a $205 million contract extension, also pointed to the fact that the Jazz are winning, while also getting in a couple more subtle jabs.

“If we keep winning games they’re going to have to watch us anyway,” he said of the TNT crew. “Hopefully they get until July, and then they can call us whatever they want.”

Whether or not Mitchell is a superstar in O’Neal’s eyes or Gobert is worthy of a lucrative contract by O’Neal’s standards doesn’t really matter. Mitchell has already led the Jazz to three consecutive postseason appearances and is very likely to do the same this season. He knows, and those who watch him on a regular basis know, that he impacts the game in several areas and is more than just a scorer — and by the way, he’s pretty good at that, too.

He is already motivated to become a better player without awkward confrontations on national television.

“He’s a guy that’s gotten better every year,” Mike Conley said after noting that he’s been a fan of Mitchell’s for years. “He’s added things to his game and continues to get better.”

If Mitchell does end up taking the Jazz to the next level, it’s very likely that O’Neal will take some credit, say that he motivated Mitchell. If the Jazz falter, O’Neal will probably say that he was right all along about Mitchell.

But it’s not about Shaquille O’Neal.

Mitchell’s NBA career has not and will not be defined by criticism from retired players. It’s more likely to be determined by team basketball and his ability to block out the haters and continue on.