SALT LAKE CITY — Sixteen minutes before the first game of the Utah Jazz Summer League between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers was set to tip off Monday evening at the Huntsman Center, new Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell sent a tweet conveying his gratitude for the chance to officially begin his NBA career.
Both his play in the Huntsman Center as well as Mitchell’s Twitter account offer an initial glimpse at the 6-foot-3, 20-year-old Utah traded the 24th pick of June's draft and Trey Lyles to the Denver Nuggets to get with the 13th pick.
Let’s start with Twitter first. Since draft night, Mitchell has indicated on the social media site that he plays the drums (he shared a video of a man jamming on a New York City subway), indeed plays baseball as has been widely reported (he jokingly said after throwing out the first pitch at a Salt Lake Bees game that he’d be interested in playing for them in the summer) and that he knows at least some Spanish (he welcomed Spaniard Ricky Rubio to Utah after the point guard was traded here June 30).
The son of a public relations official for the New York Mets, Mitchell, who wears No. 45 as Michael Jordan did during his stint playing professional baseball, has already displayed a media savvy that is rare for an athlete his age.
Coming into his Summer League debut Monday against the San Antonio Spurs, the general scouting report on the player who left Louisville after his sophomore season was that he’s advanced on the defensive end thanks in large part to his 6-foot-10 wingspan, that he’s a rather explosive athlete who was on the oop end of a bevy of alley-oops during his time with the Cardinals and that he needs to improve as a shooter and playmaker.
https://twitter.com/utahjazz/status/882080501439188992Even before Utah and San Antonio tipped off, Mitchell’s athleticism was on display, as he at times turned the pregame layup line into a dunk contest worthy of All-Star weekend, and some of his teammates followed suit.
“That’s just how I warm up, just to get my legs going,” he said. “It adds a little excitement to it for me as well. Just try new things. I know a lot of guys on the team can dunk. I just try to get them to go with me and just have fun.”
That leadership was also evident Monday during timeouts. If Mitchell was on the bench as his teammates were exiting the floor, he was routinely the first one up to greet them.
“I pride myself on being the best teammate,” he said. “The summer league guys are playing for contracts. Fortunately I have one, but guys are playing for contracts and guys are playing their butts off. You’ve got to show them the same effort they give you...that’s how you keep the chemistry up.”
Starting at shooting guard, he picked up two fouls within 17 seconds of each other early in the first quarter, but responded to the second violation by hitting a 3-pointer on Utah’s next possession. He finished the first half with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting (2-of-4 from behind the 3-point line) with three assists and two rebounds, and was the first off the bench to greet his teammates at the end of the second quarter.
“Usually when I get mad at myself, I like to counter it with a steal or a shot,” he said of the shot after the second foul, adding that he wasn’t too pleased with his defensive performance overall despite being largely responsible for holding Spurs guard Bryn Forbes to just 3-of-14 shooting. “Just gotta keep working on the defensive end.”
If he was good in the first half, he was outstanding in the second. In the first six minutes of the third quarter, he scored 11 points, displaying his athleticism, shooting stroke and ability to turn defense into offense as the Jazz opened up their lead to 16 points.
He left the game to a standing ovation with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter and Utah up 82-67. The Jazz wound up winning 87-74. Mitchell finished with a game-high 23 points and added five assists, three steals and two rebounds.
“That was amazing to have that in your first game,” he said of the ovation. “You can’t let it consume you...I was definitely honored. I love the crowd, love the fans, but just gotta keep working.”
Jazz assistant Alex Jensen, who is serving as Utah’s head coach during summer league, doesn’t think Mitchell will get complacent after his star performance.
“He’s one of the kids that’ll want to be in here early tomorrow in the gym shooting,” Jensen said. “He loves to play. That’s one thing that, for a coach, when you have a kid that loves to play, you can put up with a lot of things. He loves to play, and that’s easy to coach.”