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All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell acting as mentor for the Utah Jazz’s young bench

He’s only 24, but leadership was something instilled in him at an early age

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) gives directions to his team mates during a time out, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Arena, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

Donovan Mitchell is 24 years old. He’s certainly not done learning as an NBA player or as an adult. But he hasn’t forgotten one lesson his mother, Nicole, passed on to him as a young boy:

“My mom being a teacher, she always told me — ‘When you teach someone, when you verbally speak something, you’re also helping yourself develop too.’”

So perhaps it’s for that reason Mitchell has taken pride in working with the young depths of the Jazz roster, despite not being at the age when it’d be considered normal to take on the role of a mentor. Or maybe it’s for another reason: Mitchell remembers the tips he got as a rookie in the NBA, and wants to pass those on.

“I’m just doing what was what was done with me. Give huge credit to Rodney, you know, Rodney Hood, who did that for me throughout my whole entire rookie season,” Mitchell said, of the Jazz’s former first-round pick. “I’m just trying to continue to show that I’m here for these guys if they need anything as far as advice throughout the game.”

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In particular, Mitchell says he’s been talking most to Trent Forrest, the undrafted rookie guard from Florida State who earned a spot with the Jazz on a two-way contract. Forrest has somewhat unexpectedly become the Jazz’s third point guard, though with how many ballhandlers the Jazz have, he’s yet to earn consequential minutes. Still, he played a whopping 20 minutes in the Jazz’s blowout of the Magic on Saturday night.

Mitchell is in Forrest’s ear frequently, both say. Mitchell tells Forrest to stay aggressive on the court, to find ways to break the paint. He tells Forrest to use his pace of play to make an impact on the game. And he’s shared some finishes with Forrest, tips used to get shots off among the interior trees of the NBA.

“It’s great learning from Don,” Forrest said. “Actually, just coming from where I come from, just in general, back home to now, like, it’s just crazy being able to learn from guys that are basically the best players in the league. I mean, I can learn from Don, Mike [Conley], Joe [Ingles], all those guys.”

The result has been a version of Forrest that hasn’t looked totally out of place on an NBA floor. Sure, he hasn’t made a 3-point shot yet during his limited playing time, but he’s showing off impressive floor vision and defensive ability. He’s certainly not rotation-ready, but there’s the makings of an NBA player there.

Forrest isn’t alone among the Jazz’s youthful end of the roster. Certainly, the most important to the Jazz’s on-court success has been Miye Oni, who has impressed with his defense, decision making, and understanding of how to play as the fifth man on some of the Jazz’s best lineups. When Oni’s on the floor with Rudy Gobert in those opposing bench minutes, the Jazz outscore opponents by 34 points per 100 possessions in a limited sample size.

Elijah Hughes, Jarrell Brantley, and Juwan Morgan also seek lessons at the end of the Jazz’s roster, while first-round pick Udoka Azubuike continues to recover from the severe ankle injury he suffered in his first G League game. Mitchell helps them too, though frequently, they’ll go to players at their respective positions for advice first.

“We have a group of guys that want to learn,” Mitchell said. “I think that makes it easier, so when we get to situations, they see things and they ask questions. It makes it easier for us to to teach and explain what’s going on.”

And Mitchell’s been impressed with what he’s seen on the court in the garbage time minutes the end of the bench has received.

“Now they’re getting to the point where the guys are coming in and they’re like, ‘look, you go here, I know what to get here out of this look,” Mitchell said. How do we get Jarrell a layup? Handoff to a slip. How do we get Ersan (Ilyasova) a pick-and-pop three? Those are the reads that they’re starting to make.”

“They are out there executing. Continue to keep the lead, continue to defend, play the right way,” he continued.

In no small part due to the mentorship of Mitchell.

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