Monson: Led by Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz are different, rare and ... weird

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) during the game at Vivint Smart Home Arena Friday, December 1, 2017. Utah Jazz defeated New Orleans Pelicans 114-108.

Joe Ingles called it “different” and “rare.”

Actually, it’s kind of weird, in the word’s best sense.

After Donovan Mitchell scored 41 points on Friday, leading the Jazz to their fifth straight win, a mass of media members crowded around his locker to hear what the rookie had to say. Notepads and microphones and cameras and elbows and knees and butts spilled over into space in front of other players’ lockers.

Ricky Rubio was blocked out with more force than at any other time during the night. He could barely reach his comb and his deodorant, squeezing into a narrow spot to get dressed.

Derrick Favors looked over and just smiled.

Ingles said: “Donovan can have it. He can get 40 points every night and have 40 media guys talking to him. That’s good with me.”

It appears to be good with darn-near everyone.

“Quin [Snyder] preached it from the beginning,” Ingles said. “There’s no egos here. Sharing the ball — and the credit — makes it a lot more fun. Just playing to win. We rely on each other. It’s good to play that way, not worrying about the other stuff.”

A matter of days ago, there seemed to be a lot of other stuff to worry about.

The Jazz were in a world of hurt. Their world was hurt.

Their best player — Rudy Gobert — had his knee bent. Their best finisher — Joe Johnson — was out. Their best scorer — Rodney Hood — twisted an ankle. Their best hope that a fifth overall draft pick wouldn’t be a bust — Dante Exum — had long ago been sidelined.

And nobody was quite sure where all of that adversity would take a team that was losing more than it was winning.

As it turned out, the adversity pressed the team together instead of blowing it apart. Snyder’s version of Euro-ball, passing and screening and flowing, was always in place. But now, with Favors at the 5 and Jonas Jerebko at the 4, and Mitchell and Alec Burks coming on strong, the spacing on the floor cleared, the ball popped, and not only did the open man get the shot, he made it.

And the Jazz started playing happy hoops.

“The golden rule in basketball is the open man gets the ball,” Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey said. Selfish basketball “makes you want to throw up.”

All sorts of infirmities have struck the Jazz, but projectile vomiting isn’t one of them.

They are pleased to move the ball and reward whoever launches it.

On Friday, it was the youngster, the kid known as DonovaMitch, a moniker that works better when you say it out loud.

“All of us, we enjoy playing together,” Favors said. “We don’t just like each other, we love each other. We trust each other to make the right play. If AB gets going, he gets the ball. If Donovan gets going, he gets the ball. It I get going, I get the ball. It doesn’t matter who it is. We just want to see each other succeed.”

In the modern NBA, that’s … different, rare and weird.

And it’s the Jazz’s best hope to make the playoffs. They are embarking on a December schedule with a wicked degree of difficulty, a challenge that will require a lot of hands hauling the load.

In the midst of the unselfishness, it is Mitchell leading out, as the coaches and veterans acquiesce — within their communal concept. That’s unusual for a rook, but he gets it. Even on a night when he sensed that his teammates’ legs were spent in their third game in four nights and he carried them, Mitchell was humble about what had transpired.

Snyder noticed: “Donovan knows he has to continue to work.”

Said Mitchell: “When you have adversity, you can either fall or you can rise up. We’ve withstood the injuries. … We just try to go out there and move the ball. We talk to each other about pushing through and persevering. We pushed through and played our butts off. We’re going to continue to build on this. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’ve noticed progress. My job is to go out there and help my team, play the way I know I can, try to make the right play.”

And then, the rookie added something significant: “I’m a happy person. I like to keep everybody up, keep their spirits up. It’s a long season, so … Just got to keep the energy up.”

It’s not simply Mitchell’s talent that’s lifting the Jazz, it’s his enthusiasm for the game, for team ball. Not elevating the kid to the level of an all-time great, but there was another youngster who did that in an unbelievable manner in 1980. A Lakers rookie by the name of Magic Johnson.

It’s an echo, not an identical reflection here.

What the Jazz will do when the injured players return, how Snyder will handle not just so many bodies to play with so few minutes to give, but also the combinations of players on the floor simultaneously, such as how he blends Favors and Gobert, is yet to be determined.

“The geometry of the court changes,” Lindsey conceded.

But the good feel and vibe already existing among those players will help.

“Even the guys who are out are happy for the guys who are playing,” Snyder said. “We’ve got a selfless group even when everyone’s healthy.”

Favors, who, as much as any Jazz player, has faced down trade rumors and speculation about his future, waxed philosophical about the positive things happening for him and his team, things he hopes continue:

“It’s like the universe,” he said, stroking his chin. “You send good things out into it, you get good things back. I believe in that. You give and you get.”

You give and you win.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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