CLEVELAND — Donovan Mitchell has bounce.
There was that one play in Cleveland Saturday night where Jeff Green switched on the rookie guard as he threw down a two-handed jam off a spin move at 8:53 in the fourth quarter.
Oh yeah, and that lob he caught from Joe Ingles where he changed hands in the air to finish an alley-oop against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Or the nasty putback dunk he soared through the air to cram in against the L.A. Lakers.
He also threw down a driving power dunk, a la Dominique Wilkins, on a recent road trip to Chicago.
Yes, it’s early, but if the opportunity presented itself, the NBA’s top-scoring rookie is open to the idea of possibly competing in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. It’s certainly not on his mind every day, as the Jazz are in the midst of a brutal road stretch, but All-Star Weekend is set for Feb. 16-18 in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. That’ll be here in no time.
“It would be great, but I haven’t paid any attention to that whatsoever,” Mitchell said. “Not even the whole weekend. That’s not even been on my head at all.
“People bring it up, but I don’t even like to entertain it,” he added. “I just focus on the task at hand.”
It would be hard to imagine him not being picked for the NBA Rising Stars Game on Friday, Feb. 16, when the top rookies and second-year players compete in a USA against the World format.
Mitchell currently leads all rookies in scoring with 18.1 points per game, but has also headlined ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays with some vicious dunks. The only other Jazzman to win the NBA dunk contest was Jeremy Evans in 2012.
DeShawn Stevenson, Jamie Watson, David Benoit, Blue Edwards and Mitchell’s mentor Darrell Griffith were other Jazz participants.
Mitchell once competed in the BallIsLife All American Game dunk contest and won the 2015 Derby Basketball Classic dunk championship with an off-the-wall dunk that he cocked back to throw down.
He completed a windmill on another play after catching a lob off the side of the glass from a teammate. If asked to participate, Mitchell says he has a few tricks, but not too many.
“High school dunk contests are a little bit different than the ones in the league, that’s for sure,” Mitchell explained.
Boston Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum has known Mitchell for many years and has always respected his elite athleticism. He has confidence that Mitchell would do well in that dunk contest setting.
“I met Donovan at an AAU camp when I was like 15,” Tatum said. “I’ve seen him in camps, we’ve played against each other in college and stuff like that.
“Yeah. He’s always had bounce,” he added. Maybe not this year, but sometime soon I could see him doing (the dunk contest). He’s got to be creative.”
Pacers swingman Glenn Robison III won the 2017 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest in New Orleans on All-Star Saturday. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James has long teased fans about possibly participating but has never actually entered his name.
James witnessed Mitchell drop 26 points in a 109-100 loss to Cleveland Saturday and respects the 21-year-old’s fearless approach to the game, especially in the clutch. James is unbothered by Mitchell’s decision to contend in the dunk-off, saying “if he wants to, that’s up to him,” but appreciates his on-court talent.
“I think this league is all about opportunity and confidence, and he’s been giving both,” James said. “Obviously the talent, that’s what this league is about.
“It’s talent all over the place from top to bottom, but when you’re given the opportunity and given the confidence and given the ability to make mistakes, then you can do well in this league, and he’s definitely done that so far.”