He’s been hooping,” —Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum, on Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell
PHOENIX — Home or away, @spidadmitchell sends out a pregame tweet roughly three hours ahead of each tipoff.
That simple message often serves as a warning as Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell brings his best effort to every city.
His star-studded 2017 NBA rookie class is certainly paying attention.
“He’s a good player,” said Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons. “I like his game.”
“He’s been hooping,” Boston Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum added.
Mitchell currently leads all rookies in scoring, averaging 19.3 points per game, but a dozen first-year players are averaging at least 10 or more points in the group.
Although it’s early, the 2017 draft class is quickly growing respect as one of the best in recent memory. LeBron James’ 2003 class, Kobe Bryant’s 1996 class and Michael Jordan’s class of 1984 are often mentioned among the best in history, but the new guys are making their presence felt as they try to enter that elite category.
“It’s definitely a special class,” said Phoenix Suns rookie Josh Jackson. “I think every rookie is doing pretty good for themselves right now, whether they’ve been exceeding expectations or just playing and being average, but I think everybody’s been playing pretty good.”
On Monday, Mitchell became the first player this season to win back-to-back Rookie of the Month awards for December and January.
Even with rising stars in his class such as Simmons, Tatum, Jackson, Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen, Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr. and Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox, plus Los Angeles’ Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball, Mitchell has risen atop the CBS Sports’ latest NBA Rookie Power Rankings.
Although it’s hard to completely ignore the updates with social media, Mitchell insists he’s no longer obsessing over every move from his draft buddies anymore. However, those guys are using his success as a measuring board for them to improve.
“I for sure pay attention to guys,” Fox said. “I’ve known Donovan since high school, so yeah I’ve been paying attention, and what he has been doing is crazy.”
With AAU basketball so prevalent in today’s game, the current rookies have been competing against each other for years. They follow each other on social media while consistently liking and commenting on numerous posts.
“I met Donovan at an AAU camp when I was like 15,” Tatum said. “I’ve seen him in camps, we’ve played against each other in college and stuff like that.”
Those longtime battles have also bonded the guys to where they often communicate regularly even when they’re away from the hardwood.
Mitchell often sends text messages to Kuzma and even learned about Salt Lake City from the former University of Utah star after being selected by the Jazz in the summer.
“When he first got here, I was out here for the first football game and we linked up,” Kuzma said. “I kind of showed him the little spots to eat and whatever questions he had.”
Not only does Mitchell know his way around Salt Lake City now, he’s one of the most popular men in the town. His jersey is often sold out in stores, his autograph signing in late December drew more than 1,100 fans and his nationwide fame will only grow after his appearance at Los Angeles’ NBA All-Star Weekend this month in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge and MTN Dew Rising Stars Challenge.
His meteoric rise to fame is not only shocking to himself, but also Jackson who was highly regarded as the nation’s top recruit in high school.
“Donovan actually caught me by surprise a lot, him and Kuzma,” said Jackson, who is averaging 14.5 points and 4.8 rebounds since the New Year. “Kuzma really caught me by surprise as well.
“I knew he was real good, but me personally I didn’t think he was going to come in the league and be getting 30, 40, but I’m really proud of them and happy to see them doing that.”
The verdict has yet to be decided on how good Mitchell and this class will actually become, but NBA stars such as Phoenix’s Devin Booker are glued to the leaders of the new school. Only time will tell.
“Very special,” Booker said. “Donovan has been having a helluva year, Ben Simmons has been playing really well this year, I like Josh (Jackson) a lot on my team, so it’s a lot of really good rookies out there.
“It’s early and you still have to have careers play out, but I like to see young guys succeed in this league,” he added.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK: Jazz two-way player Georges Niang has been named to the Midseason All-NBA G League West Team. The former Iowa State All-American joined the Salt Lake City Stars on Jan. 14 and has averaged 19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in six games. Prior to that, he appeared in 26 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors — Golden State’s G-League affiliate. Ironically, Niang also made his Jazz debut on Jan. 30 against the Golden State Warriors.