Some folks are sniffing around about it, sitting and waiting on it, poking and hinting at it, looking and hoping for it, so … why don’t we just come right out and say it?
The Jazz have themselves another star in the making.
They have a kid who has swooped into the front of the Wasatch at a time of doubt and need, after a painful period during which the place, just as it was feeling good about basketball again, had been deceived and, ultimately, deserted. And now, the young player with a distinctive name and a burgeoning game has arrived without yet completely arriving.
He’s here to do what he can to lift the Jazz back up, to erase the absence of You-Know-Who, to play defense first, and then utilize his accuracy and athleticism at the offensive end because he’s been blessed with the opportunity and ability to do exactly that.
He’s got the kind of attitude even Quin Snyder likes.
Yeah, Donovan Mitchell is going to be a star.
Don’t doubt it. Relish it. Embrace it.
The sooner everybody realizes it, and takes advantage of it, the quicker his ascent will be.
This is not a case of a punk youngster who must be put in his secondary place, in a check-back-with-us-later sort of role, because he lacks the obligatory rings around the trunk to be granted front-line, most-favored status. There’s no need for any macho-seniority B.S. with him. That may be necessary for most rookies, but Mitchell is not of that ilk. He needs no humbling. He needs no reminders that guys like Joe Johnson were in the league, balling out, before he ever learned his ABCs.
The Jazz are fully aware.
“We got lucky,” Dennis Lindsey said. “There’s not a lot of times when you’re a 50-plus win team and are able to move up in the lottery and get a talent like Donovan Mitchell.”
They did and there’s not.
But luck and acumen often are rewarded. And, with Mitchell, the rewarding can come immediately.
Sometimes talent trumps tenure.
And this is one of those times.
Mitchell can get his shots, can move to the rim, can stop and pop, can force the action, but, on that last one, has no voice in his head telling him he has to. The voice he hears is that of Snyder — and assistant coach Johnnie Bryant, who regularly works with Mitchell — instructing him where to take the ball to benefit the team.
After Mitchell scored 26 points, hitting a couple of key shots, in the Jazz’s preseason win over the Lakers the other night, he was asked what it was like to be on the floor at the end of a tight game. He said: “It’s a good feeling to be out there and close the game … but it’s just playing as a team.”
Mitchell might have turned just 21 last month, but … he’s got it and he gets it.
“He competes,” Snyder said. “Anytime you’ve got a guy who competes and has a desire to get better, it’s going to happen. We’re going to continue to see him have his ups and downs, but he’s out there competing.”
There will be undulations. Mitchell will have off nights, games when the shot doesn’t fall and when veterans rough him up, bump him around, educating him with each bruise on the realities of an 82-game grown-man regular season.
But Snyder said his rookie will live and learn: “He’s a quick study. He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s doing that.”
Fortunately for Mitchell, the Jazz have space for a player who can make shots, especially when he takes care of his defensive business, too, even in a Jazz system that is built to be egalitarian, as Lindsey explained: “The ball will find the open shot. We have to honor ball movement. We’re not going to stop the ball. You’re either going to dribble, pass or shoot, but you’re going to make a quick decision.”
Lindsey added that the Jazz need players who not only will benefit from ball movement, hitting shots that are created for them, but also shot-creators who, without being offensive hogs, can generate points out of advantageous matchups.
For a kid so young, he’s got the physical attributes, the strength and quickness, to nicely adorn his competitive wherewithal, his humility, his attitudinal edge.
His education is about to go throttle up.
But he’s got the game to absorb it, to get even better.
Donovan Mitchell will be a star. Perhaps, he already is.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.