Sunday marked the first anniversary of the pre-draft workout that altered the outlook of the Jazz franchise. Thanks to Donovan Mitchell’s phenomenal rookie season, the session remains memorable for everyone involved.
Mitchell’s memory makes the whole thing even more remarkable.
The performance on the Jazz’s practice court apparently was stunning, considering how general manager Dennis Lindsey threatened to fire anyone who said a word about it. Yet nothing Mitchell did that day could have impressed me more than his recounting of it, as the annual observance of May 27 in Jazzland approached. That’s because although I never could run, jump, shoot or defend like Mitchell, I can remember stuff.
Not to this degree, though.
When I asked Mitchell during the Jazz’s exit interviews what he recalled about his first visit to the building, such as any of the other players in the workout, he rattled off the five names as if those guys were standing in front of him: “Frank Mason, Josh Hart, Amile Jefferson, Devin Robinson, London Perrantes.”
Think about it: Mitchell worked out for nearly half of the NBA’s 30 teams last spring, traveling around the country and competing against varying groups of players. Even so, he clearly remembered everything about that day, starting with breakfast — and I probably should have asked him about the menu.
That snapshot of Mitchell’s mind has more to do with his improvement as a rookie than you might believe. His ability to absorb and information undoubtedly plays into how he learns and adapts to the NBA.
It helps that he can apply that knowledge with the kind of skills he displayed last May, when he was the primary attraction in a group of players from big-time programs: Louisville (Mitchell), Kansas (Mason), Duke (Jefferson), Florida (Robinson) and Virginia (Perrantes). The Tribune’s Tony Jones correctly judged Mitchell as the only top-20 pick among them. As we know, the Jazz traded up to No. 13 to draft him, sending Trey Lyles and the No. 24 pick (Tyler Lydon) to Denver.
“Everybody was wondering why I worked out for the Jazz, because they weren’t in my range,” Mitchell said this month. “My thing was you never leave any stone unturned.”
Mitchell recently tweeted the video of his post-workout media session and said May 27 “changed my life forever.” He also posted The Tribune’s scouting report: “Mitchell, like many 6-foot-3 shooting guards in college basketball, has to prove himself at the NBA level.”
Well, it was true at the time.
Jazz fans joke about Denver dreading Lindsey’s phone calls, after the Jazz traded into the Nuggets’ slots and drafted Rudy Gobert and Mitchell in the last five years. The truth is, a bunch of other teams overlooked them, long before that stage. The angst is strong in Detroit, where it could be said that team president/coach Stan Van Gundy lost his job because the Pistons took Duke guard Luke Kennard instead of Mitchell at No. 12.
Kennard is a serviceable player. He averaged 7.6 points as a rookie, so this is not quite like Washington’s 1985 pick of Kenny Green at No. 12, one spot ahead of Karl Malone (Green played in 60 games in his NBA career). Yet in March, when the Pistons visited the Jazz, the Detroit Free Press observed that Mitchell would keep “torturing basketball fans … with what might have been.”
Mitchell looked good in his workout for the Pistons, but general manager Jeff Bower said later that watching players in “five-on-five settings with college teams” is just as important.
The Jazz don’t overvalue workouts, either, but Mitchell must have been overwhelming. “It was a very impressive workout. As you look back at it, you say, OK, you had an inkling of what he can do,” said Walt Perrin, the Jazz’s vice president of player personnel. “But I think we’re all surprised at what he did” as a rookie.
That day, Perrin spoke only in generalities about the six players, saying, “They all came here in great shape. It’s a tribute to the programs they played at. You can tell they were all well coached. Everyone played hard.”
Those words suggest Perrin also was well coached. Actually, he was just playing his usual role; Lindsey’s no-raving edict had not reached him yet. Asked if he subsequently had any trouble keeping quiet about Mitchell, Perrin said, “No. Your job’s on the line.”
Perrin remains happily employed, credited with doing his part in the discoveries of Mitchell and Gobert, who also amazed the Jazz in his workout.
Mitchell, meanwhile, has heard the story about Lindsey and labels it “pretty funny.” As for his self-evaluation of the workout, he said, “I didn’t think I did that great. I thought I did pretty well.”
Reviewing a rookie season when he averaged 20.5 points and then thrived in two playoff series, Mitchell concluded, “You couldn’t tell me last year that this was going to happen, for me to believe any of it. I’m just thankful that they took a chance on me.”
Yeah. He’s not the only one feeling that way.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Here’s what became of the other five players involved in Donovan Mitchell’s May 2017 workout with the Jazz:
Frank Mason III • Drafted by Sacramento in the second round (No. 34); averaged 7.9 points in 52 games.
Josh Hart • Drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 30 in the first round; averaged 7.9 points in 63 games.
Amile Jefferson • Signed a two-way contract with Minnesota; averaged 17.8 points and 12.8 rebounds for Iowa of the G League.
Devin Robinson • Signed a two-way contract with Washington; appeared in one game for the Wizards.
London Perrantes • Signed a two-way contract with Cleveland; appeared in 14 games for the Cavaliers.