Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell says it’s a ‘huge honor’ to be selected for Skills Challenge

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) picks up a loose ball and dribbles around Indiana Pacers guard Darren Collison (2) and goes coast-to-coast to score for the Jazz, in NBA action Utah Jazz vs Indiana Pacers, in Salt Lake City, Monday, January 15, 2018.

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell smiled profusely when asked about his inclusion in the All-Star Weekend Skills Challenge.

He said participating in the event would be special for him. He’s grown up wanting to be a part of All-Star Saturday Night, which has always been one of the overall highlights of the weekend.

Mitchell was added to the skills challenge on Saturday, which means he will be participating in two of the three major events. He’s also a part of the Rising Stars Challenge as one of the main cogs of a USA team that features former Utah Utes star Kyle Kuzma, among many others.

“It’s a huge honor,” Mitchell said. “It’s a special event. It shows that you are doing something right. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and playing on Sunday [in the All-Star Game] is the main goal. But being in the skills challenge, it just means being able to go out there and have fun and play the game I’ve always loved.”

Mitchell’s rookie season, for as well as he has played, still means being wide-eyed when encountering people he’s watched and idolized for years. He was disappointed to not receive an invite to the slam dunk contest. But, being in the skills challenge makes up for that to a degree.

It’s shaping up as a fun weekend for Mitchell. The rookie-sophomore game will be a reunion of sorts for his peers. He and Kuzma, two of the leading candidates for rookie of the year, will be on the same team in an official capacity for the first time.

They are also friends, having struck a relationship during the pre-draft process last spring. They became closer during summer league, and Kuzma is one of the first people who showed Mitchell around Salt Lake City when the Jazz traded for him on draft night.

So, for Mitchell, being able to play with Kuzma is something he’s looked forward to.

“That’s definitely going to be pretty cool,” Mitchell said. “But I know he’s going to take every shot. We’re going to be in his city [Los Angeles]. I can’t wait to play with him.”

Getting close?

Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood went through portions of Sunday’s practice and could be nearing a return from the lower leg contusion that’s kept him out of the last four games.

After practice, Hood went through a yoga session. Then, he did agility drills, before getting on the treadmill and doing some jogging. The Jazz are 3-1 in the four games Hood has missed, with Alec Burks and Royce O’Neale taking up much of the scoring off the bench that he’s vacated.

There’s still no status update on Hood, who is averaging a career-best 17 points per game this season. But his participation in practice is an encouraging sign, regardless.

High praise

Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Ricky Rubio has improved dramatically over the past few weeks, and said he would’ve thought so even if Rubio’s game-winning 3-pointer against the Toronto Raptors last Friday night had missed.

Snyder said Rubio’s starting to play more sound defensively, and not gamble as much for steals. He’s taking care of the ball more and he’s figuring out how to make an impact without scoring.

“He was with his [Spanish] national team all summer, so he hadn’t had a lot of experience with his teammates,” Snyder said. “These things take time. He’s had to adjust to some things, but he certainly looks like he’s getting more comfortable.”