SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz’s latest draft discovery is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind. A regular Boy Scout.
Donovan Mitchell also has a 6-foot-11 wingspan on a 6-3 body.
With all that out of the way, I have one small request: Could we just tap on the brakes?
The post-Gordon Hayward era begins Wednesday at home against Denver, at which point things move beyond “hopeful” and into “real.” Mitchell is perceptive enough to understand that. He has openly predicted his climb in the NBA will be steep.
But plenty of Jazz fans aren’t holding back. They’re making him out to be the next best thing to another Louisville star that played for the Jazz. No, not Felton Spencer. Darrell Griffith arrived with the nickname “Dr. Dunkenstein,” even though he couldn’t palm a basketball. Later, Hot Rod Hundley tagged him the “Golden Griff.”
Griffith, the No. 2 overall pick in 1980, signed with the Jazz for the princely salary of around $250,000. Inflation calculators say that equates to $469,000 in today’s dollars. That’s nice money, but a maximum contract player like LeBron James or Stephen Curry makes that much for a single regular-season game.
Griffith was good, but he was no All-Star. So my advice is to give Mitchell some space by not getting so excited.
Hardly anyone not named Magic immediately lives up to the fantasy.
This kind of planning has occurred before in Utah. Consider, for instance, Dante Exum. He was acquired with the fifth pick of the 2014 draft. Rangy and athletic, there were high expectations. But injury and reality intervened.
While Exum’s damaged shoulder this year and his knee injury in 2014 were no fault of his own, he hasn’t looked great even when healthy. He’s still young, but he has been with the Jazz long enough to see that even without injuries, he’s not a dominant player.
Mitchell is explosive and a rare defensive prospect. But he’s not a shooter. In the preseason he made just 28 percent of his 3-point attempts. While management argues that outside shooting isn’t why he’s here, the Jazz already have a guard who can’t shoot (Ricky Rubio).
That doesn’t mean Mitchell can’t improve. But whenever someone has it all together like Mitchell, it’s hard to separate reality from hope. Hungry players sometimes become far better than expected (see Isaiah Thomas, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, John Stockton, etc.). Mitchell already has a great attitude.
He clearly respects coaches and veteran players. His Twitter profile says, “Be humble.” He has embraced — not just adopted — his new home and attends University of Utah football games, tweeting from the stadium. When Cosmo the Cougar's mad dance routine at BYU went viral, Mitchell retweeted it with the caption “This is hot!”
It’s impossible not to like the guy.
If he doesn’t make the All-Star team, he’s a good candidate to replace Orrin Hatch in the Senate.
There have been other rookies that Utahns wanted to love to death. When the Jazz traded up to get Trey Burke in 2013, you could hear applause in Evanston. But he never got traction, on or off the court. Deron Williams was supposed to be the next John Stockton and he was good enough to be an All-Star — no small accomplishment — but no hall of famer. His game mood ranged from bored to curt to angry. DeShawn Stevenson broke new Jazz ground by being drafted out of high school, but never became a starter.
None was a match in combined popularity and expectations.
Mitchell starred in summer league play and averaged 15.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in the preseason. It’s unlikely he’ll fail on the defensive end, especially when he says mistakes on offense cause him to “try to make up for it on defense.”
Sometimes players such as Rudy Gobert far exceed early expectations. Others, like Gordon Hayward, take their time rising to the top. But Mitchell has people already dreaming. They should dial that down a notch.
Mitchell would never shoot for anything but great. But in terms of the public’s expectations, good should be good enough.