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.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

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Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.