SALT LAKE CITY — Turns out, the Utah Jazz tipped their hand on their biggest draft plan in May.
Though Donovan Mitchell was projected to be a lottery pick, the Jazz got the Louisville guard to visit their practice facility for a pre-draft workout even though they weren’t slated to draft until long after he was likely to be off the board.
Mitchell was a willing participant in that workout, by the way.
“I wanted to work out for the Jazz,” Mitchell said at the time. “I love the organization.”
The feeling is even stronger now that Utah traded up 11 spots in the draft to bolster its backcourt with the Cardinals’ leading scorer. The Jazz also dealt the 30th and 42nd picks — which turned out to be Villanova guard Josh Hart and Indiana center Thomas Bryant — to the Lakers to move up a couple of picks to nab young North Carolina big Tony Bradley at No. 28.
Utah sent the No. 24 selection — Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon — and third-year small forward Trey Lyles to the Nuggets in exchange for Mitchell, who led Louisville in scoring (15.6 ppg), steals (2.1) and 3-point field goals (80) as a sophomore last year.
“I love everything about them,” Mitchell said in the ESPN broadcast right after being selected by Denver on behalf of the Jazz. “All the work. I’m shaking right now. This is just incredible.”
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has been high on Mitchell since he was able to watch his Louisville team play his son's Baylor team in a tournament in the Bahamas. The more Utah learned about Mitchell, the more impressed the front office became.
"He loved us. We loved him," Lindsey said. "It’s kind of a mutual admiration club."
The Jazz, who drafted Gonzaga point guard Nigel Williams-Goss with the No. 55 pick, are also quite content that they were able to move up into the lottery to draft a playmaker that one source described as having the ability to make an instant impact as an enticing 3-and-D athlete.
"We didn’t know for sure when we talked him (Mitchell) to come into Salt Lake City that we could move up, but we had a lot of assets to move up and so we felt like we got really fortunate where things lined up in a unique way," Lindsey said.
"Now the kid’s got to get a lot better, but he has tools, he has character. He loves the game."
Mitchell opened eyes at the NBA Draft Combine when he had the best standing vertical jump of 36.5 inches and the quickest three-quarters-court run of 3.01 seconds, which was the best time since 2008. Though he's only 6-foot-3, he has a 6-foot-10 wingspan.
“He’s certainly special,” the source told the Deseret News. “Haven’t had a playmaker like him in a long time.”
Leading up to the draft, Lindsey was insistent that incoming players — via the draft, trades or free agency — will have good character, and that appears to be the case with Mitchell, Bradley and Williams-Goss.
"It’s a talent evaluation first. It’s a fit," Lindsey said. "You guys know how we feel about character here as well. They fit the Jazz DNA profile."
Mitchell, also a talented baseball player, said he’s blessed to be a part of Utah’s organization.
“I thank Mr. Lindsey, Coach Snyder and the Miller family for trusting me and having faith in me,” Mitchell said. “It’s a tough decision when you have to pick for a team that is in the playoffs and develop a young guy like myself.”
Mitchell got better as his sophomore season progressed and ended up shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range, including 40 percent during ACC play. He anticipates playing both guard positions in the NBA and believes his wingspan, quickness and strength will help him defend a variety of different types of backcourt players. He admitted he'll have to earn every minute he gets, though.
“I’m just ready to work and put the work in,” Mitchell said. “I’m just ready for that first day of practice, that’s all.”
In Bradley, the Jazz are getting a young but skilled big man who could eventually become Rudy Gobert’s backup. The 6-foot-10 big man didn’t play much in North Carolina’s NCAA championship season, but he impressed Utah enough with his ability to defend, rebound, handle the ball and shoot from mid-range to convince the Jazz to pull off a trade to acquire his services.
Utah was also impressed with his recent pre-draft workout at Zions Bank Basketball Center.
“Tony showcased some things we hadn’t seen at North Carolina,” Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin said. “It was a good workout. There are some things at 19 he’s got to get a lot better at, but he can have a long career in the NBA.”
This is the fifth year in a row that the Jazz did some draft-time wheeling and dealing. Last season, Lindsey sent the No. 12 pick (Taurean Prince) to Atlanta in a three-way deal that landed them veteran point guard George Hill.
Utah’s biggest draft-day haul happened in 2013 when the Jazz worked some one-sided magic to acquire an intriguing French big named Rudy Gobert. That transaction overshadows a trade miss from the same year when two first-round picks (Shabazz Muhammad, 14, and Gorgui Dieng, 21) were swapped in exchange for point guard Trey Burke.
Lyles, who struggled in his second NBA season after a promising rookie year, was gracious on Twitter after learning about the trade.
“Want to say thank you to the Jazz organization/Coaches/Fans/Teammates for all the help and support and a great 2 years!” he wrote.