To have a guy like that analyze my game and he was talking as if it was me, which is kind of cool, but there were times where he was basically saying ‘that can’t happen, this can’t happen,’ and I’m laughing because he’s right. —Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, on being analyzed by Kobe Bryant
HOUSTON — LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard were some of Donovan Mitchell’s favorite NBA players growing up — not Kobe Bryant.
But as his rookie season has progressed, now with the Utah Jazz facing the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals, Mitchell has grown a deeper respect for “The Black Mamba.”
His Game 1 performance against the Rockets caught the attention of the five-time NBA champion. On Monday, Bryant released his newest episode of his ESPN series “Detail,” with Mitchell being the subject of the in-depth analysis.
In less than 24 hours, Mitchell said he’s watched it twice already with the Jazz set to face the Rockets at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Toyota Center.
“To have a guy like that analyze my game and he was talking as if it was me, which is kind of cool, but there were times where he was basically saying ‘that can’t happen, this can’t happen,’ and I’m laughing because he’s right,” Mitchell explained. “They can’t push me off my spot.
“I can’t catch the ball at half court and little things like that, that you don’t understand until a guy like that breaks it down and the way he broke it down made so much sense and you guys should definitely check it out.”
Bryant shares the adjustments that Mitchell needs to make for Game 2.
“If I’m Donovan Mitchell, I’m making sure that I’m not catching the ball out by half court and looking to attack from this distance,” Bryant analyzes. “From this distance, the defense can set up, they can spy on me, they can sag in, they can close the lane and make opportunities tough.
“I have to be able to catch it down below, free-throw line extended,” Bryant says. “Down in these corners, where now I can operate and shift and get to that rim in two dribbles before Houston can realize what’s going on. That’s how I can put maximum pressure on their defense by operating in these short porch areas.”
Ironically, Mitchell says he’s been studying the legendary postseason performances from Bryant to develop his famed “Mamba Mentality.” One of Mitchell’s favorite moments was the 2009 first-round series against the Jazz, where Bryant led the Lakers to a 4-1 win with 38 points on the road in Salt Lake City to win Game 4.
“I watched the ’09 series against the Jazz, over and over again, because the way he responded after losing in Game 3 at home and he came out and hit like the first 11 points,” Mitchell described. “That mentality is one that I’m trying to get in myself, just being able to take over in any way that I can.”
In his debut playoff run, Mitchell already has a postseason win under his belt while averaging 27.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He didn’t need Bryant or anyone else to tell him how to be successful, but the advice from one of the legendary stars is certainly appreciated.
“The coolest thing about that is that I wasn’t a Kobe fan growing up,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t understand how much time and his presence and how hard he worked on his game and being in my first year in the league he’s become one of my favorite players to watch. I think that’s the coolest thing.”
ROOKIE?: While soaking in the atmosphere at Minute Maid Park Tuesday, Utah Jazz rookie Mitchell was paying attention to the Houston Astros versus New York Yankees game, but also the NBA playoffs. The live baseball experience was loud, but he was also tuning into the Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics game where he drew amusement from the fans heckling Ben Simmons with chants of “not a rookie.” Simmons and Mitchell have thrown shots at each other throughout the year during the Rookie of the Year campaign, but it’s all in good spirits on Mitchell’s end. Adidas has even plastered “Rookie?” ads throughout Salt Lake City to vouch for Mitchell to win the award.
“That’s the kid in me just having fun with this whole thing,” Mitchell said.
SLOWING DOWN HARDEN: In four regular-season games against the Utah Jazz, MVP front-runner James Harden lit them up for 34.3 points per game, 6.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds on 55.4 percent shooting while going 4-0. His finest performance was a then-career high 56 points with 13 assists on Nov. 5, 2017, as the Rockets won 137-110. Harden continued that trend in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals with 41 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to help the Rockets win 110-96. Containing him is certainly the focus for Game 2.
“He’s artistic the way he plays,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “It’s pure. Whatever his style is and Houston’s style, he adapts to the situation. There’s an artistry to what he does on the court because he sees so many things that are going on, he’s got such an awareness.”