We’ve said this before about Donovan, he just competes. He’s got some versatility defensively, and then he competes. —Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell’s NBA debut happened sooner than expected.
Although it was a given that the rookie would play in the Utah Jazz’s season-opener against the Denver Nuggets after he worked his way into the rotation this summer and fall, the lottery pick was penciled in — inked in, even — to come off the bench.
Starting shooting guard Rodney Hood, who’s been dealing with what the Jazz call “gastric distress,” was a very late scratch from the starting lineup as he took care of urgent matters in the locker room.
That lineup change happened even after the starters were introduced. The 21-year-old Mitchell said he had “literally seconds” of notice before tipoff of the Jazz's 106-96 win over the Nuggets at Vivint Arena.
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“It was crazy,” the Louisville product said. “That’s when the nerves really started kicking in at that point.”
Mitchell made some rookie mistakes, no doubt, including being called for traveling twice in a row and ending with three turnovers. The 6-foot-3 guard didn’t have a great shooting night, either, hitting just three of 11 shots while missing both 3-point attempts (he scored 10 points).
But the lottery pick, whom the Jazz acquired in exchange for Trey Lyles and the 24th selection in June’s draft after Denver took him 13th overall, contributed to Utah’s first win of the season with 10 points, four assists, one blocked shot and a stellar plus/minus rating of plus-22.
“We’ve said this before about Donovan, he just competes,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s got some versatility defensively, and then he competes.”
The competitive Mitchell believes he could’ve done better.
His personal assessment of his first NBA game?
“Probably like a C-,” Mitchell said. “Not too great.”
Mitchell thought he did “pretty well” on defense, even if there were a couple of calls that didn’t seem to go his way. To his point, the referees did seem to give him the rookie treatment on the court.
“Offensively,” he added, “I’ve got to let the game come to me. I tried to force things like I was back in Louisville and the shot got blocked about three times. Just getting used to that. It’s not the preseason. I learned that pretty quickly, too.”
Mitchell showed his exciting versatility, playing some tough defense on the wing and getting time at both guard positions because of injuries to Dante Exum (shoulder) and Raul Neto (leg).
Mitchell even had a SportsCenter-worthy highlight when he used a tricky move on a drive-by lunging toward the hoop while showing the ball to get Denver’s Wilson Chandler to commit and then pivoting around and lofting in a bucket.
“The young’un, man, he’s going to be very special in the future,” said Jazz guard Alec Burks, who had an impressive season debut. “He’s got a lot of game. He made some great plays, some great defensive plays. He made some good passes at point guard. He’s going to be all right.”
Mitchell was on the court with Burks (16 points) as the Jazz surged past the Nuggets late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. When he entered the game with about four minutes left in the third, the Jazz trailed by 10. When he was subbed out the final time five minutes into the fourth quarter, Utah was up by 12.
“We came out there and did our thing,” he said, “and I was really happy.”
Mitchell was impressed with the how the crowd of 17,588 responded in the spiffy-looking renovated arena, too.
“It was electric. It was loud. It was crazy,” Mitchell said. “I haven’t played in a game that loud in a long time. It was definitely great to have a crowd like that.”