Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell’s rise to NBA All-Star has been sudden, but it’s finally sinking in

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) rebounds as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trail Blazers, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.

Chicago • Donovan Mitchell and his mother had very differing ideas about how getting a scholarship to play basketball for Louisville could potentially shape his future.

“She was big on me using basketball for my education — not that I wasn’t, but I was more like, ‘I wanna make the NBA!’ She wasn’t really thinking about the NBA at all,” Mitchell recalled. “It was kinda my thing that I could hold over her, like, ‘I was right!’ You know — mom’s always right, but I was right this time. That was just a little joke we had.”

Yeah, becoming a lottery pick, a focal point of a franchise, and an NBA All-Star within three years secured a rare debate victory for the progeny.

Of course, winning an argument with his mom feels just as surreal to him as as having come this far this quickly.

In the final days leading up to the All-Star break, the Jazz guard claimed it still hadn’t fully sunk in yet that he’d been selected as an All-Star Game reserve, and would be suiting up for a team captained by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpoalongside Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert.

“To be honest, it kinda takes people telling me that I’m an All-Star to remind me that I’m an All-Star,” Mitchell said. “After that night in Denver [when the reserves were announced], you kind of just breathe and you exhale, and you can just worry about the games coming up. … I hate to say it, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I really forget.”


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Still, while it’s taking some getting used to for him, it apparently feels like the most obvious thing in the world to many others.

Gobert, for one, said he saw potential brilliance from his just-drafted teammate in some of Mitchell’s first on-court NBA action.

“I think when I started watching Summer League [his rookie year]. I could tell he was very competitive,” Gobert said. “I didn’t know nothing about him when we drafted him. First time I saw him was in Summer League, and I really liked his mindset. He was trying to prove to everyone that he should have been drafted higher — it was pretty fun to watch.”

Coach Quin Snyder, meanwhile, added that there wasn’t any singular moment that convinced him of Mitchell’s All-Star potential.

Rather, it was the accumulation of quiet, behind-the-scenes work put in.

“It’s not like the curtain drops and all of a sudden, ‘Oh!’ It’s more of a process. And what Donovan’s had — and Rudy as well — is an All-Star mentality. When I say that, I mean a real desire, a hunger. And when you couple that with talent, you just continue to get better,” Snyder said. “That’s what those guys have done. It’s not magic, it’s not a gift — it’s something you have to earn. That hasn’t been the ultimate goal; the ultimate goal has been to become a better player and win games — this is a byproduct of that.”

Conversely, Mitchell can, in fact, pinpoint one specific moment that helped him get to an All-Star level.

The Jazz’s Game 5 loss and corresponding first-round playoff elimination at the hands of the Houston Rockets this past April 23 remains a low point for him; he famously sat stoically at his locker postgame, searching for answers that weren’t there, until Snyder came in and offered him some private words of encouragement.

(Eric Walden | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell shares a laugh with some volunteers at the NBA Cares Day of Service while boxing up produce at the Greater Chicago Food Depository on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

That provided an additional source of fuel for him to take his game to the next level.

“Obviously, we didn’t finish out the season the way we wanted to — I still have the same box score from 04/23 in Houston in Game 5. I don’t forget that,” Mitchell said. “… We all have our little motivations. For me, it was like … I’m gonna do everything I can to help my team win and become the best player that I can be, and hopefully that equates to me being an All-Star. And it did.”

Mitchell, meanwhile, acknowledged at the NBA’s All-Star Day of Service event at the Greater Chicago Food Dispensary that actually being in town has finally, at last, made it all real for him.

“It finally has [sunk in]. When I flew out here [Thursday], it kind of really hit me when I landed: ‘I’m an All-Star,’” Mitchell said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s just one of those things you just never … I’m never gonna get over it, I don’t think. I don’t think this is something I will ever get used to. I’m just blessed to be here.”