Las Vegas • Donovan Mitchell can’t help but find himself in the starting lineup of every team he joins, it seems.
You may remember Mitchell’s rookie season with the Utah Jazz, in which he started Game No. 1 due to a last minute bathroom break needed by Rodney Hood. He’d find himself there permanently by early November.
And in his first game — okay, just a intrasquad scrimmage, but the public’s first chance to see this version of Team USA — he got the start as well, next to Kemba Walker in the backcourt. Yes, it required the likes of James Harden, Bradley Beal and others dropping out before camp began, but still, Mitchell had the spot. He even led all guards on the Blue team in minutes under head coach Gregg Popovich, playing 16:51 overall.
And it was the guards who were most dangerous for Team USA on the night. Mitchell, Walker, De’Aaron Fox and a shooting burst from Celtics wing Jayson Tatum pushed the Blue team, primarily comprised of the players who will head to China come late August, to a 97-78 win over the White team on Friday night.
But that starting Walker-Mitchell backcourt had real chemistry. On one of the first plays of the game, Mitchell drove in transition before kicking it to Walker in the corner, with Walker then attacking the paint himself. Mitchell took advantage of the space left behind, spotted up in the corner, and received the assist for a successful spot-up three.
Popovich noted after the game that it wasn’t a sure thing that his starting five would remain steady throughout the warmup games, but Walker and Mitchell look like a good bet to continue to start when the tournament comes around.
“I love playing with that kid,” Walker told NBA.com. “He’s such a competitor. He’s so intense. He reminds me of myself a lot. I love it. It’s going to be fun playing with him.”
“I think we mesh really well,” Mitchell said. “(Walker) is a guy (Jazz coach Quin Snyder) has really challenged me to watch.”
In the middle of the second quarter, and again to start the third, Mitchell slid over to the point guard position, giving Walker and Fox a breather. If Kyle Lowry returns to the team in time for tournament play — and he’s slated to — it may not be a look the team goes to often when the games really matter, but they certainly can.
Whether he was the point guard or not, Mitchell frequently looked to pass the ball, with Walker a consistent target. He only picked up four assists, but that total co-led Team USA along with Walker. Mitchell was finding open shooters with flashy passes, including multiple appearances of his signature baseball-style form.
“That kid can play any position. He’s so talented, he can play with the best of them,” Walker told The Tribune. “He does whatever someone needs him to do. He’s more than capable of playing that (point guard) position.”
When Mitchell did look to score, he shot 3 for 7 for a total of eight points. There were a couple of forced layup attempts that didn’t go down, but Mitchell’s outside shot looked good.
And then there were Mitchell’s contributions on defense, a stifling Blue unit that limited the White select team to just 27-83, or 32.5% from the field for the game.
“The biggest thing is doing good things on the defensive end,” Mitchell said. "Offensively, things will come and get figured out. Defensively, I think that’s where I can take another step forward. "
The start wasn’t the only selection Mitchell received. He was also selected to give a pregame address to the 7,656 fans in attendance at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, thanking them for their support for USA Basketball.
Next, the team gets the weekend off before heading to Los Angeles for three more days of training camp next week, culminating in another exhibition game, this time against Spain in Los Angeles.
“We’re still in those early stages to learn about how we want to play and how to play together,” Popovich said. “Tonight was another step.”