Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell’s Rookie of the Year chances

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images /

There are some big expectations for Utah Jazz rookie, Donovan Mitchell. Can he do what no Jazz player has done since 1981 and win Rookie of the Year?

Heading into his rookie season with the Utah Jazz, Donovan Mitchell is carrying as much expectation as any rookie to ever play for the franchise.

Not since Deron Williams was drafted in 2005 has there been this much intrigue in a Jazz youngster before he sees his first tip.

Mitchell was selected with the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets before being sent to Utah for Trey Lyles and the draft rights to Tyler Lydon (24th overall pick). The Jazz had their eye on Mitchell during his time at Louisville and made sure they got their man.

Mitchell has all the tools of a modern NBA shooting guard. He’s the classic 3-and-D player that is becoming a necessity for any contending team. His 6’10” wingspan allows him to defend either guard spot with an ability to pick up a few 3s in the league when opposing teams run a smaller lineup.

A lot of the time in the NBA, it’s not so much about a player’s ability to defend as much as his desire to defend. Based on his Media Day comments when asked about his own expectations, defense is Mitchell’s opening night priority:

"“I think just contributing defensively. That’s where I really want to start. And everything else will build off from that. I think getting into the game, a lot of guys worry about, I got to make my first shot. If I just get a steal I think I’ll be settled in, settled down and just kind of be good from there.”"

He’s making all the right noise and for a young player battling other guys on the team for minutes, contributing defensively is how you get Quin Snyder to check you in. With Ricky Rubio and Rodney Hood all but locked in as the starters in the backcourt, Mitchell is fighting for time with Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Raul Neto, Joe Ingles and to a lesser extent, Joe Johnson and Thabo Sefolosha.

All are handy offensive players, but only Sefolosha has the reputation as an out-and-out defender; Mitchell has found his niche.

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With regular minutes comes comfort. Comfort removes nerves and once Mitchell is playing with confidence, his exceptional offensive talents will be on display.

He has a plan and monthly goals he’s setting himself. With defense being his No. 1 priority, it won’t be long before he makes more of an effort to score the ball. He made his goal-setting process clear on Media Day:

"“I think just being the best defensive player I can be is definitely one thing I’ve been focusing on and then we’ll take it from there. Once December, January hits, I’ll have a new one, hopefully. And then by February, March I’ll have a new one, just taking it month by month or in that area.”"

When Mitchell does decide to put more stock into scoring, it won’t take him long to put up points; he’s NBA-ready in that regard.

A great shooter when catching and shooting, pulling up or creating off the dribble, Mitchell won’t be short of ways to score. As an improved secondary ball-handler, the 21-year-old can involve his teammates and score out of the pick-and-roll or drive to the basket where he can finish with both hands.

The excitement surrounding the Louisville guard isn’t all that common for the franchise. Not since Darrell Griffith (also a Louisville alum) in 1980-81 has a Utah Jazz player won Rookie of the Year.

Can Donovan Mitchell be the next?

It’s unlikely.

Coming off the bench to start the year, Mitchell’s numbers aren’t going to be there; he might not even see the court on opening night. Even if he does become the star many of us expect, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball will be hogging the spotlight. Playing out of the high-profile markets of the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, that’s at least three players — all likely starters — that will finish ahead of Mitchell in the voting.

Next: Top 10 candidates for the 2017-18 NBA Rookie of the Year Award

Nevertheless, the 2017-18 Utah Jazz season will be captivating and exciting for those lucky enough to be a part of it. Let’s hope Mitchell plays a significant role in helping this team to another playoff appearance.