When we talk about the current rookie crop in the NBA, we talk about the most popular names like Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. We also talk about the top picks who have made quite a name for themselves. These are guys like Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Josh Jackson, DeAaron Fox and Malik Monk. Then we also talk about the so-called steals of the draft like Dennis Smith Jr. and Kyle Kuzma.
Diamond in the Rough
But in the middle of the first round pack is a shooting guard who remained under the radar until just recently. On Friday night, he made headlines again when he scored 41 big points against the New Orleans Pelicans. Now everybody knows who he is and what he is capable of.
Donovan Mitchell was 13th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft out of Louisville. The 6-3 guard from Elmsford, New York played college ball for the Louisville Cardinals and was named to the All-ACC Team in 2017. After two collegiate seasons, Mitchell declared his eligibility for the 2017 NBA Draft.
Mitchell was picked by the Denver Nuggets in the draft, but was immediately traded to the Utah Jazz for Trey Lyles and the 24th overall pick ( Tyler Lydon ). Defense was Denver’s main problem last season and after barely missing the playoffs at #9 in the Western Conference, they figured that getting two bigs in Lyles and Lydon would help address that need. Instead, they ended up giving away a diamond in the rough.
Finding his Mark
Donovan Mitchell quickly earned a reputation as one of this year’s most exciting rookies with his alley-oop finishes, fancy dunks, acrobatic shots and big scoring spurts. But other than the highlights, he had a slow start. Mitchell would score just two points each in three of his first five NBA games. Since then though, he’s found his mark.
Mitchell averaged 9.3 points per game in October, increased it to 18.1 in November and then opened up December with a big 41 point explosion. It was the 8th time in 23 games that he’s topped the 20 point scoring plateau and the 17th time he’s scored in double digits this season.
He has emerged to become the Jazz’s current second leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, just behind Rodney Hood ( 17.87 PPG ). His 2.3 three point makes a night is second behind Joe Ingles’ 2.6 three pointers per game. Mitchell’s 377 total points scored thru their first 23 games is the most on the team.
With his 41 point game, Mitchell became the first NBA rookie to score at least 40 points since Blake Griffin on January 11, 2011. He also joined LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin as the only active players to score 40 points as an NBA rookie. Mitchell also topped Darrell Griffith’s Utah Jazz rookie record of 38 points set in 1981. He is also only the 8th rookie in franchise history to score at least 30 points.
Furthermore, Mitchell accomplished his feat by going 6-12 from the three point distance. According to Basketball Insiders’ Ben Dowsett, Mitchell is also the first rookie since Stephen Curry in 2010 to make at least five three pointers in consecutive games. Mitchell went 5-10 against the Los Angeles Clippers the night before.
After scoring a November-low of 4 points ( on 1-10 shooting ) against the Bulls on November 22, Mitchell has gone off by averaging 26.25 points in his last four games, including a combined 19-37 ( 51.35% ) from beyond the arc. Mitchell currently ranks third behind Ben Simmons ( 18.6 PPG ) and Kyle Kuzma ( 16.4 PPG ) in rookie scoring. He also leads all rookies with 53 three pointers made thru 23 games played.
With Mitchell on fire, the Jazz have won five games in a row. That’s currently the third longest winning streak in the league behind Cleveland ( 10 ) and Houston ( 6 ). The current winning run has also placed the Jazz at #4 in the Northwest Division and more importantly at #7 in the ultra tough Western Conference.
Utah is still missing the services of defensive anchor Rudy Gobert who has missed the Jazz’s last 11 games after suffering a bone bruise in his right knee following a collision with Dion Waiters during their November 10 game against the Miami Heat.
After Gobert went down, the Jazz immediately went 2-4 before this five game winning run sparked by Donovan Mitchell. Gobert is expected to be sidelined for 4-6 weeks with a mid to late December timetable for his return, depending on how quickly the injury heals. But with Donovan Mitchell stepping up big time, don’t expect the Utah Jazz to go out of tune.
Playing Beautiful Music
Even before Donovan Mitchell got here, his eyes were already fixated at Salt Lake City, During the pre draft workouts, Mitchell spoke highly of the Jazz organization and talked about wanting to play there.
Donovan Mitchell said this about Utah a month ago: pic.twitter.com/TZ5vnnF88C— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) June 23, 2017
Many scouts were surprised why a top draft prospect like Donovan Mitchell would workout with a team like the Jazz who didn’t have a lottery pick to snatch him. But the Jazz already had a plan. By chance, Mitchell caught the eye of Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey during a Louisville vs Baylor game where Lindsey’s son Jake played. After the pre-draft workout, the Jazz fell in love with Mitchell and worked their way to trading up to get him in the draft. The rest is history.
Mitchell and the Jazz are playing beautiful music together. Mitchell is playing like a star. Utah is winning games. So now, people are now saying that Mitchell is the steal of the draft. Not Dennis Smith Jr., not Kyle Kuzma. Some are even saying that Donovan Mitchell will be Rookie of the Year. Not Ben Simmons, not Jayson Tatum. Whatever.
Breakups are always hard. It was tough for Utah to see Gordon Hayward go. But just like in any romantic breakup, a quick rebound makes it so much easier. That’s what this is all about. Donovan Mitchell is making Utah forget Gordon Hayward much easier and faster.
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