Chris Paul watched him play at a spring camp and told Mitchell, who was leaning toward returning to Louisville for his junior season, to declare for the NBA draft. Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey threatened to fire anyone who revealed how good Mitchell looked in a pre-draft workout then traded up to pick the guard No. 13. After Gordon Hayward left Utah for the Celtics in free agency and early injuries set in, Jazz coach Quin Snyder made the rookie his go-to player. Fans flocked to Mitchell for his high-flying dunks, bold pull-up 3-pointers and monster scoring games.
Between his athleticism, smooth shooting stroke and 6-foot-10 wingspan on a 6-foot-3 body, Mitchell oozed promise. His future was undeniably bright.
But, in a distinction too few made, his present was underwhelming. Mitchell’s high-scoring nights were celebrated, but his too-frequent duds were ignored. He posted big point totals out of volume far more than efficiency. At Thanksgiving, his true shooting percentage was a dreadful 46.8, well below league average of 55.6.
Mitchell didn’t step back, though. In fact, he increased his offensive load. And he’s growing up right before our eyes. His true shooting percentage since Thanksgiving is 59.0, a sparkling mark considering his high usage.
“At the end of the day, I’m a rookie,” Mitchell said. “If I miss shots, it’s to be expected. None of this was supposed to happen.”
Not based on Mitchell’s reluctance to leave Louisville. Not based on his projection – mid-to-late first round – once he finally turned pro. Not based on where he actually got picked, No. 13.
But, by now, Mitchell has already established himself as a hyped player.
Most rookies who averaged 18 points per game won Rookie of the Year. Mitchell is averaging 19.1. He might not catch the 76ers’ Ben Simmons, who appeared to be running away with the award earlier in the season, but Mitchell’s candidacy should be taken seriously.
Not that Mitchell is giving it much thought.
“We’re trying to make the playoffs, make a playoff push,” Mitchell said. “I think if I focus on that one award, it’s kind of selfish on my part to be like, ‘Alright, this is why I’m playing.’ We have bigger things in mind.”
And that’s the rub.
Teams rarely win while relying so much on rookies. Sometimes, that’s because the only way to get a rookie worth giving the ball to so much is tankingg for a high pick. Regardless of that rookie’s talent, it can take years to build back up after stripping the roster to tank.
Utah sure didn’t do that, winning 51 games and a playoff series last season. The Jazz are still a veteran team, the NBA’s eighth-oldest weighted by playing time despite the 21-year-old Mitchell nearly leading them in minutes. They were built to win now with Hayward, and his departure threw the entire franchise for a loop.
Those are big shoes for Mitchell to fill, and he’s doing an admirable job – in context.
Mitchell shoots 16.1 times per game. The only team in the last 20 years to make the playoffs with a rookie taking at least 15 shots per game: Carmelo Anthony‘s Nuggets in 2004. Even at just 20-28, Utah has the best record of any team since with a 15-shot-per-game rookie:
It’s especially hard to win when that go-to rookie is a guard. Putting the ball in a young player’s hands that often is just asking for trouble. The last team to make the playoffs with a guard shooting 15 times per game was Mitch Richmond’s Warriors in 1989. Restrict it to point guards, and the last team was Ernie DiGregorio’s Buffalo Braves in 1974.
Mitchell’s position is hazy.
He starts with Ricky Rubio, a clear point guard. But Mitchell spends so much time as the lead ball-handler, as he can use a variety of moves to create his own shot. The Jazz also try to get him going plenty off the ball by running him off screens. He’s dangerous as a spot-up shooter.
Mitchell is nearly peerless in the breadth and depth of his scoring.
If you notice, the only player on both lists is LeBron.
Like LeBron and many other players, Mitchell chose his jersey number to honor Michael Jordan. But Mitchell chose No. 45, not Jordan’s more famous No. 23. Jordan wore No. 45 during his stint in baseball, Mitchell’s favorite sport growing up, then briefly during his first comeback with the Bulls, which happened before Mitchell was even born. Why not pick No. 23 like everybody else honoring Jordan wears?
“Because that’s what everybody else does,” Mitchell said. “I try to be different. I’m not like everybody else.”
Mitchell isn’t blazing a completely new trail, though. His combination of usage percentage (28.7) and true shooting percentage (54.6) is amazing for a rookie, but one other first-year player already did it:
By putting himself in that elite company, Mitchell isn’t having his role reduced – no matter what growing pains the Jazz must endure.
“He’s our best offensive player,” Snyder said. “So, he’s going to get responsibility. From my standpoint, there’s not a timeline.”
Mitchell plays and talks like someone whose self-confidence matches the belief everyone else has in him. So, why was he leaning toward returning to Louisville for his junior – not even sophomore – season until Paul told him otherwise? As Mitchell explains, he was too shocked by the idea of competing against players like LeBron and Durant for his confidence even to set in.
So, when did shock wear off?
“It really hasn’t, to be honest,” Mitchell said. “It’s game by game. It’s kind of crazy to me, the entire thing.”
Spencer Dinwiddie, after facing threat of being forgotten by NBA, flourishing with Nets
Major ACL injury at Colorado? He declared for the 2014 draft while still recovering.
Slipping to the second round? He drew confidence in being the Pistons’ first pick that year and the initial selection of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit.
Barely playing with the Pistons in two seasons? He engineered a trade to the Bulls, who needed a backup point guard and had roster room then played well for Chicago’s summer-league team.
But the Bulls traded for Michael Carter-Williams just before the season and waived Dinwiddie, who signed in the D-League. For the first time in years, the player who believed since he was 4 years old he’d make the NBA was neither in the league nor on track to reach it.
Then, the Nets called.
They weren’t offering much – $100,000 guaranteed in exchange for Dinwiddie signing a three-year minimum contract in December 2017. If he lasted a month, the rest of his salary that season ($726,672) would become guaranteed. But the remaining two seasons would remain up to Brooklyn. If Dinwiddie flopped, he’d get waived with a small payout. If he exceeded expectations, he’d be stuck on a cheap contract for years.
“A lot of people don’t make it out of the D-League,” Dinwiddie said. “Or, if I don’t sign it, then what if nobody picks me up? Am I still down there? Am I overseas right now?
“It’s very easy to be forgotten about in this league. There’s a lot of good players all over the world that, whatever reason, didn’t hit off right off the bat, and their careers paid the price for it.
“I was told that there was no other opportunity. There was no other option. So, obviously I wanted to be in the NBA. So, I signed.”
Much to Brooklyn’s benefit. And maybe Dinwiddie’s.
Dinwiddie played relatively well in a narrow role last season, doing enough to show he belonged in the NBA. This year, he’s making his case as an NBA starter.
After injuries to Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell, Dinwiddie became the Nets’ starting point guard. Tasked with greater responsibility, Dinwiddie is playing his best basketball. He averages 13.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, but those marks don’t quite show how he has steadied an erratic team.
He ranks third in real plus-minus among players on minimum salaries, behind only Nikola Jokic and Tyus Jones:
This makes Dinwiddie an intriguing trade candidate in advance of next month’s deadline.
How helpful would it be to have a credible starting-caliber point guard making just the minimum this year and next? That’d free so much money – below the salary cap and/or luxury-tax line – to spend on other positions.
The Nets aren’t positioned to take advantage. They’re still below the cap and, still recovering from years of lost draft picks, not ready to build a competitive roster. They also might want to tank next season, as they’ll finally keep their own first-rounder in 2019. Plus, Russell is acclimating back into the rotation, and Lin should return next season.
If Dinwiddie no longer fits in Brooklyn, in a sudden reversal, numerous teams should covet him. He’s not sweating whether he gets moved, but whatever happens, it won’t change how he views the Nets.
“I’m forever indebted to Brooklyn for giving me this opportunity,” Dinwiddie said.
Of course, the Nets could keep him. They’re trying to build a culture, and continuity matters for that. They’d also be positioned to extend his contract next December, two years from when he initially signed (as would a team that trades for him).
Dinwiddie’s max extension would follow the same format as Josh Richardson‘s with the Heat and Norman Powell‘s with the Raptors – which were each worth $42 million over four years – though a rising salary cap will lift Dinwiddie’s max slightly. Perhaps, Dinwiddie could get more in unrestricted free agency in 2019. But for someone set to earn around the minimum his first four seasons, an extension would provide nice security.
Dinwiddie isn’t holding his breath for a payday in December, though.
“You know how long a year is?” Dinwiddie said. “A year in the NBA is an eternity. Anything can happen.”
Just look at Dinwiddie’s last year.
“When we first got him, he was really not a confident player,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Very timid to make plays.”
Now, he’s hitting game–winners, including one at Detroit on Sunday:
Did that one mean more to him?
“I’ve kind of tip-toed around it. Let’s just be real here,” Dinwiddie said. “I start my career off here. For lack of a better word, I was essentially cut. So how would y’all feel?”
This wasn’t the caretaking point guard the Pistons and Bulls gave up on. Dinwiddie was holding court in the visiting locker room, assured he belonged.
The 6-foot-6 point guard plays with an even keel, steadily using his size advantage offensively and defensively. He’s not flashy, and this doesn’t appear fluky. A sudden jump in 3-point shooting is the easiest way a prolonged hot stretch can be mistaken for a meaningful breakthrough, but Dinwiddie is shooting just 34% from beyond the arc – below his mark last year (38%) and below league average. A high 3-point attempt rate makes his outside shooting helpful, and that’s something he can more easily control than whether the ball goes in.
A more aggressive shot hunter, Dinwiddie can develop as a passer next. Among 284 players who qualify for the assist-per-game lead, Dinwiddie ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio, behind only Tomas Satoransky and Shelvin Mack. The leaderboard, with assists and turnovers per game noted:
While that’s helpful in some ways, especially on the young and up-tempo Nets, Dinwiddie doesn’t often enough create quality looks through his passing. He takes what the defense gives him and nothing more.
“He’s not a high-risk guy,” Atkinson said. “It’s just not his personality.”
It’s the same mindset that contributed to Dinwiddie accepting Brooklyn’s team-friendly offer last season.
The Nets couldn’t be happier with the results. Dinwiddie is aware he lost a potential opportunity to prove himself then hit free agency sooner, but he chalks up any thoughts of regret to looking through the lens of 20-20 hindsight.
And no matter what happens through the rest of his minimum contract, he’ll always have Sunday, when he got revenge against the Pistons.
“No hard feelings,” Dinwiddie said before breaking into a slight grin, “especially after a win.”
Report: Lakers have “given up” on trading Deng, won’t include picks, young star
When Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss signed Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to oversized deals a couple of summers ago, part of their logic was they could include them in trades to bring an elite player to Los Angeles — these were big contracts but for useful players who could be moved. It was a terrible misreading of those players and the market. For the Lakers to move Mozgov last summer they had to attach former No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell (a guy the Lakers were ready to move on from after drafting Lonzo Ball, but still this is a high pick they had to throw in to make it work).
The Lakers aren’t adding enough to the mix to move Luol Deng and are likely not going to be able to trade him, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on their Full Court Press show (transcription via Lakers Outsiders).
“You talk to teams around the league, no one is bailing the Lakers out with Deng’s contract. They’re not. Teams have asked for multiple first-round picks. They’ve asked for Brandon Ingram. They’ll ask for Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers have essentially given up on the idea that they can trade Deng.”
The Lakers shouldn’t move their future picks (they can’t deal anything to 2020), they need to keep building their foundation.
The Lakers likely will try to trade for Cousins or George at the deadline, but right now the Pelicans and Thunder are not moving those guys. The Lakers will have to wait to land them this summer.
Los Angeles also could sign just one max contract player this summer, then re-sign Randle or bring back Caldwell-Pope (or another non-max free agent) and count on growth. That likely does not make the Lakers instant contenders, but then again would adding Geroge and Cousins do that?
Reports: Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas traded to Brooklyn for Trevor Booker
Jahlil Okafor is going to get his chance to prove he can contribute in the NBA.
For their trouble, Philadelphia is going to get some veteran depth up front.
The Sixers are sending Okafor and shooting guard Nik Stauskas, plus a second-round pick, to Brooklyn for veteran power forward — and impressive dunker — Trevor Booker, a story broken by Zach Lowe of ESPN.
The Sixers are nearing a deal to send Jahlil Okafor to Brooklyn, league sources tell ESPN.
Okafor has been on the trade block for more than a year, the Sixers finally found a deal they like. This was a good deal for both teams.
It’s good that Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft (one spot ahead of Kristaps Porzingis) who has battled injuries and an NBA game that has moved away from his skill set. Okafor is a project, he doesn’t have much shooting range nor can he defend very well (in space or at the rim). He plays below the rim. He may not be the star that he was projected to be, but in Brooklyn Okafor will get a chance to show he can get buckets around the rim and out of the post, and that he has a role in the league. There is potential for him in an Al Jefferson/Zach Randolph kind of role (likely off the bench).
Brooklyn also gets a shooter in Stauskas who was out of the rotation in Philly (with J.J Redick and Timothe Luwawu getting run ahead of him). The Nets are rebuilding, and taking a flier on a couple of former first-round pick is the kind of gamble they should be taking. The Nets now have two of the top three picks from the 2015 draft, they got D'Angelo Russell from the Lakers last summer.
Philadelphia is eyeing the playoffs, and Booker gives them a solid big man off the bench that they can pair with Amir Johnson and/or Richaun Holmes. Booker is a glue guy who plays with energy every night — exactly the kind of veteran the Sixers have tried to surround their young core with. The Sixers get better in the short term with this move.