Los Angeles • After all those postgame moments that Donovan Mitchell has enjoyed with LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, fans wondered: What exactly were they saying to the Jazz rookie?
Maybe there was never all that much mystery behind it. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan said he told Mitchell to keep at it after the Raptors and Jazz played in November.
“Look at the things he’s doing,” DeRozan said Saturday, ahead of his fourth All-Star Game appearance. “I remember I went up to him after the game to tell him he’s a hell of a player and keep going before anybody in the league starts noticing him.”
It’s February, and the league is noticing.
While Mitchell played down his Rookie of the Year candidacy, Oklahoma City’s Paul George, Portland’s Damian Lillard and DeRozan are building the case for him.
“To see what he’s doing now, winning 11 games straight carrying his team over, and the way he plays, being aggressive, you gotta love that,” DeRozan said. “His compete level is off the charts, like he’s a veteran play. I love watching him play.”
While the All-Stars simply preached from their podiums, other admirers took a more physical approach. Two-time dunk champ Nate Robinson cut through a throng of reporters to get to Mitchell on Saturday morning, calling him one of his favorite players to watch.
Mitchell has said he’s been star-struck at various points this weekend. He recently went to the CAA party to mingle with his agency’s other superstar clients, such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and George. But Mitchell is trying to keep his attention on keeping that success going as the Jazz are cruising on an 11-game winning streak.
“My biggest thing I’ve said is I’d rather make the playoffs than worry about an award,” Mitchell said. “This award, as great as it is to win the award — and it would be a great honor — it’s not the end-all of my career. I think making the playoffs and winning a title would be more impactful on my career. I just really focus on trying to help my team day to day. If you’re out there focused on winning the Rookie of the Year award, it means you’re focused on yourself.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t have his supporters. Lillard said he’d like to see Mitchell win the award that he got in 2012.
“If Ben Simmons won, I wouldn’t be mad,” Lillard said. “I would respect it because he deserves it as well. You got guys who have been in the league a lot longer who don’t have the balls to do what [Mitchell has] been doing. So you know, he’s just my personal pick.”
Dr. Dunkenstein tribute on the table
Mitchell made a statement Saturday with his fashion choices: a half-white, half-purple hoodie that serves as a tribute to Darrell Griffith.
Griffith is the only Jazzman to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, in 1981. Like Mitchell, he’s also a Louisville product, and the two have had a relationship since Mitchell played for the Cardinals. It only made sense to pay homage to the two-time dunk contest participant as he prepares for his own contest debut.
“I had to do a little something,” Mitchell said. “I actually got this customized with his name on the back.”
The hoodie features textured “python print” over the numbers and letters — up close, they look like snakeskin. Mitchell said he received the hoodie before coming out to the podium Saturday morning.
That left an open question: Does he plan on paying tribute to Griffith in the dunk contest Saturday night?
“Maybe,” he said. “We’ll see.”