Donovan Mitchell says historic rookie season for Jazz is only the beginning

Rookie of the Year candidate became a revelation helping Jazz return to postseason as the team’s leading scorer.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell speaks with the media during exit interviews at the team's practice facility in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, May 8, 2018, after losing to the Houston Rockets in game 5 of their Western Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

The sequel, they say, will be even better.

It’ll be difficult to top, too, because all hits are hits solely on the premise that they make an impact that lasts forever. No one will forget Donovan Mitchell, and no one will forget Donovan Mitchell Year 1. For good reason.

After a season that saw a late lottery pick evolve into an everyday talking point, an offensive dynamo who routinely waged war on rims in arenas around the NBA and enchanted a fan base always in search of its next darling, the Jazz rookie superstar has big plans for his first summer as a pro. Which should come as no surprise.

“He’s special because he has that look in him that he wants to be the best,” Utah point guard Ricky Rubio said. “You either have it or you don’t have it. He has something. We can enjoy it.”

Mitchell, his left foot still in a walking boot after Utah was eliminated in the second round at the hands of the Houston Rockets, said he’ll travel to Europe with teammate Ekpe Udoh to attend the EuroLeague final four in Belgrade, Serbia, this summer. After that? It’s coming back to Salt Lake, it’s adding to an offensive repertoire that carried the Jazz from a season-low 19-28 record all the way to the Western Conference semifinals.

“Nonstop work,” Mitchell said.

Nobody, he says, is a harsher critic of Mitchell than himself. So he’s managed to spin the second-round loss to the Rockets as a positive for the Jazz and his career moving forward. He had hoped to replicate his first-round performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but with Rubio out for the series, Mitchell was asked to quarterback the team as the point guard, lead facilitator and primary scorer. He wasn’t able to find the same scoring rhythm.

Mitchell averaged 24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists per outing during Utah’s postseason run.

“There’s so many things I could go down the list that I can work on,” he said.

Mitchell said he’s targeting improving making tougher shots that weren’t part of “his game” during the series, adding that his efficiency on defense must make a leap, too. The rookie sensation said he plans on re-watching all 97 of his games in 2017-18 before reporting back for training camp at the end of September.

“Just understanding what it is I can do to get better,” he said.

Forward Joe Ingles said about Mitchell’s rare ability to catch on to anything: “He watches something one time and learns pretty quickly.” Ingles echoed Mitchell’s self-criticisms, saying the guard could improve his defensive reads, but it’s just little things here or there at this point.

“But knowing him, being around him,” Ingles said, “he’s gonna come back bigger and better. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Mitchell’s special season is in the books. He’s now a name to remember, the priority of every opposing team’s game plan; he is the Jazz in NBA circles and to followers of the league. Rubio said he already is excited to see what Mitchell adds to his game, knowing that what he showed in his first season won’t be the peak — not even close.

“He just proved every day that he was better than the day before,” Rubio said.

And true to form, Mitchell voiced a guarantee himself.

“This,” he said, “isn’t a victory-lap summer.”