His summer itinerary is already completely mapped out. It’s going to be nowhere near like last spring, when Donovan Mitchell stepped up to the podium in a walking boot, asked to try and put into words his tantalizing rookie year and what lay ahead in the coming months. Last summer, after the world got to see the Donovan Mitchell the NBA was earlier introduced to, he made stops in Serbia, Spain, China and the Philippines. The requisite superstar stuff that comes along with the gig.
“The whole year itself was unexpected,” Mitchell said.
Year 2, however, undoubtedly wasn’t.
The reality is Mitchell is Utah’s superstar and the bottom-line is the Jazz will only go as far as he’ll be able to take them in the years to come. He won’t get caught up in his own whirlwind, he vows, not anymore. To take that necessary next step, the the 22-year-old knows exactly where he’ll be next month to the start of the regular season in October. Mitchell isn’t going to China twice like last summer.
“I don’t think I handled it great,” Mitchell said, in retrospect. “It’s all part of the learning experience. You can’t succeed without failures, you can’t go through things without having to experience them.”
So before No. 45 laces up his own line of Adidas sneakers in training camp, he’ll have to toe that delicate balance between being a marketed, known commodity as an NBA household name and having to find time to get into a gym and refining his game. After averaging nearly 24 points and over four rebounds and four assists a game, Mitchell’s second trip to the playoffs featured mesmerizing runs like his 19-point fourth quarter in the Game 4 win and the dismay of going 4 of 22 in an elimination game in Game 5.
Mitchell shot 32 percent from the field in the first-round series against the Rockets, including just 25 percent from 3-point range. Shooting efficiency and decision-making could be areas of targeted improvement for the dynamic playmaker.
Mitchell is both the now and the future of the NBA, a second-year guard being asked to carry a team against the proven heavyweights of the league.
“He’s capable of taking over a game and this is only his second year,” said Houston star James Harden. “Once he gets those years under his belt and more comfortable and obviously he knows what his job is, once he gets more comfortable in his role and he knows he’s one of those guys, the sky’s the limit for him.”
The Jazz are encouraging the young face of the franchise to find time to embrace the symmetry between life away from the court and finding a way to add elements of his game on it. Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said knowing Mitchell, he’d want to go grab a ball and start working away even in the hours after a disappointing first-round exit.
“It’s pretty easy with him, because he’s intrinsically motivated,” Lindsey said. “It’s not like we can have a bunch of slogans to fire him up. It’s just there. Some of it is discipline, precision — less, not more. Donovan’s just 22 and not married and an abundance of energy and wants to be everything to everyone. And that’s great. There’s a time and place for that, but there’s also a time to get quiet, get still, and get dedicated rest."
Added Lindsey: "He’ll look at himself and he’ll come up with a very good response in his development. I will say, it’s not just this offseason, this is a multi-year deal where we’ll grow him into one of the most significant players in the league. I’m confident of that.”
Ricky Rubio, Utah’s free-agent point guard, relayed just one instance of Mitchell’s relentless work, saying he thought he’d be the only player to show up to the Jazz practice facility Tuesday before boarding a noon flight to Houston for Game 5. He was wrong. Mitchell was there, alone, working away.
“He’s willing to do more,” Rubio said. “Sometimes he’s too nice and he has to say yes to everything. He will learn when to say no. I think the good thing about him is he’s hungry and humble. There’s nobody else in this team that I would be more proud of having success, because he deserves it.”
After the Jazz were eliminated, Dwyane Wade, one of Mitchell’s idols growing up, tweeted a message at him congratulating Mitchell on another fantastic year. The recently-retired Wade added: “We got more work to do i can’t wait to get into the lab with you this summer.”
Mitchell, as he’s still known to do even as his star still rises, seemed genuinely caught off guard by the well-wishes and invite from the future Hall of Fame.
“He’s right,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got work to do.”