Utah’s Donovan Mitchell drops Summer League high 37 points, shows promise

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LAS VEGAS — Donovan Mitchell found his stroke on Tuesday.

Throughout the Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, the combo guard the Jazz traded for on draft night was showing off his athleticism, but his shot was not falling. Through his first four games, he shot 26-of-66 (39.4 percent).

Tuesday against Memphis he dropped a Summer League high 37 points on Memphis in 24 shots. It wasn’t enough for the win — his attempt at a game-winner hit the back of the rim — but it was enough to turn heads.

Mitchell was taken near the end of the lottery (13th), but the Jazz thought his game was better suited for the next level than he showed in college.

“He’s able to show more here than he was at Louisville, maybe because of the NBA-style spacing and pick-and-roll game rather than the tighter confines, the hand-checking in college,” said Jazz Summer League coach Zach Guthrie. “So we felt if the floor opened up for him, his skill and athleticism would really shine.”

It has. Like with all guards stepping up a level, it’s been an adjustment for Mitchell — his shooting shows that — but it’s the mental aspects he has to master going into the fall. His decision-making has to get better.

“To me, the thing he’s grown the most in is sort of the processing of the game, the mental attributes,” Guthrie said. “When to slow it down, ‘hey, I got a two-for-one I gotta get here,’ what are we doing on defense… the offensive skills are there, but what’s going to get him on the floor is defense.”

Utah is a team built around its defense, and that is not changing no matter where Gordon Hayward wants to play. This team starts with Rudy Gobert protecting the rim and builds out.

“Defense is the name of the game, and he’s got to defend at an elite level, which he is capable of doing he has the skills to do it on the ball, can he put all those things together and process it within the schemes that we run, and defend at a high level without making mistakes and fouling?” Guthrie asked.

What gives Mitchell defensive potential is his 6’10” wingspan on a 6’3″ guard — he blows up passing lanes with his length. That is something the Jazz could use.

“This past year we were a good defensive team, but we were a containment defensive team,” said Guthrie, who is an assistant on the Jazz bench during the season. “We weren’t a team that generated a lot of turnovers. So for us to infuse Donovan Mitchell into that with his length and his skills is really something interesting…

“He gets (steals) in a variety of ways. One of the big things he does that a lot of the guys don’t do in this league is as you cut through on defense to the weak side, he maintains vision of the ball. So may guys are man dependent and they go like a lost puppy following their man. But he turns, has vision and is able to make plays off it. So that is a big deal.”

Utah has real depth at guard with Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks. Mitchell is going to have to impress on both ends to get much run with the Jazz this season.

But in Las Vegas, he’s showing the potential to do just that.