The question to James Harden was if there was a “superstar” in the league he watches to try to “match.”
Harden took a sidestep from that framework, and said he likes to watch younger players.
“Even guys like Mitchell from the Jazz,” he said to the press back on Nov. 8. “He got game.”
Donovan Mitchell’s people took notice. It wasn’t long before his mother sent him the link.
“It’s really cool,” Mitchell said Thursday morning at shootaround. “It’s one of those things: You grew up watching guys like that play, and to have him even mention my name at all is an honor. I just want to go out and compete so he sees I’m a competitor who loves to compete. I was kind of surprised when he did say that.”
What’s worth noting is that back then, Mitchell was still going through some struggles — but now Harden’s words seem prophetic as the Jazz guard has thrust himself squarely in the discussion for rookie of the year.
By now, the story of Chris Paul working out with Mitchell and telling him to go pro this spring is a well-established part of his career. Along with Harden’s comments, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni also is buying into Mitchell’s legitimacy.
“He’s really good, he’s really good,” he said. “He’s going to be a force for a long time with his attitude, the way he plays. He already plays like a veteran, he’s impressive.”
The challenge for Mitchell, who has received a lot of praise lately, is to not let the talk go to his head. He said he doesn’t feel added pressure to have a great game against the Rockets, but it will be a little more fun, in one sense, than other games.
“I don’t really get into it personally,” he said. “I try to treat every game the same. Obviously the level is going to be high tonight, good team in the Houston Rockets. Definitely going against Chris, we’ll be talking.”
Gobert still working back in
The declaration that he was 100 percent healthy on Monday night was perhaps a little premature: Rudy Gobert admitted that he had difficulty on Tuesday night against Steven Adams and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Obviously the second one was a little rough, but the knee is fine — that’s the good news,” he said. “Getting back to my playing shape. It’s a process.”
He hasn’t lit the world on fire since coming back from an 11-game absence, scoring only one basket in his last appearance. But coach Quin Snyder said he’s confident in Gobert, who worked hard throughout his rehab.
“That’s relevanton some level,” Snyder said of Gobert’s adjustment back to playing. “I think if anything, just Rudy getting his timing back, his balance and his conditioning is something he’s going to have to do.”
No routine changes for late tip
Snyder said the 8:30 p.m. tipoff on TNT may put the Jazz in a different spotlight, but it doesn’t affect how they go through things on gameday. It’s Utah’s second major national broadcast, but the team tries to go through the same approach.
“We can go a little later, go a little shorter, guys may get a longer nap,” he said. “But I don’t think the start time is that different where if you have a day game or back-to-back, your routine really changes.”