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Donovan Mitchell Is the Cure for Gordon Hayward Withdrawal

The Utah rookie is blowing minds at summer league

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Gordon who? If Donovan Mitchell plays in the regular season like he has been playing in Las Vegas summer league, the Jazz are going to be just fine. Of course, Pat Connaughton is not exactly Klay Thompson, but after watching Mitchell treat the former like a speed bag over the weekend, the Louisville rookie looked more than ready to play against the latter.

In some ways, Mitchell is too good for summer league, but if the Celtics are going to trot out Jaylen Brown and let him put up Kobe usage numbers, who really cares how the Jazz deploy their rookie? Mitchell was drafted 13th by Utah in June’s draft. The Jazz moved Trey Lyles to Denver in order to take Mitchell, and he is making the Jazz front office look like a bunch of Rhodes scholars right now.

Whenever a franchise player leaves a team, there’s an identity vacuum. The guy whose face was on the billboards is gone, so what does the team look like now?

Like an extremely pissed off direwolf, apparently.

A pissed off direwolf that can dunk.

As you can see from the giant "U" on the court, Mitchell got a leg up on his competition by playing in front of an extremely friendly Utah crowd for his first few summer league games. He put up 23 points, dropped five assists, and notched three steals in his debut, and was at one point treated to "M-V-P" chants. Mitchell has been playing with a ferocity that rewards the outsized faith fans are showing in him, even if it can’t possibly justify it. Summer league games are a weird mix of second- and last-chance players looking to catch on and first- and second-year pros looking to avoid embarrassment or injury. So there’s an open lane for guys like Mitchell to do stuff like this.

That’s Mitchell ripping the ball away from Jayson "Danny Ainge Would Have Drafted Him First Anyway" Tatum. The steal is good, the staredown is what should make you excited. Mitchell is already on his "why didn’t you draft me?" revenge tour, and it’s not even August. In that same Celtics game, he would hit the flux capacitor on Tatum, much to the delight of Basketball Twitter.

It’s been more of the same in Vegas. I watched him against Portland on Saturday, and he was easily the best player on the court (hold your head, Spencer Butterfield). The Jazz would lose to the Blazers, and Mitchell’s 19 points came on a Westbrookian 26 shots, but that had more to do with the talent level around him than with his selfishness. What you don’t see in the box score is that this dude is an absolute dog who hounded his man all game, and was looking to attack, attack, attack in the smaller Thomas & Mack Center gym. He was the name on everyone’s lips in Vegas — have you seen Mitchell? That kid is a freak. Mitchell looks incredible. The Jazz might have really found something.

They are going to need more finds. Utah is now in that tricky position where its own competence is going to hinder its ability to restock after its two best perimeter players — Hayward and George Hill — left town. They likely won’t repeat their 51-win 2016–17 triumph, but they won’t be bad. So they will need to strike gold with picks in the teens. And it looks like they’re on to something with Mitchell. I can report that Jazz coach Quin Snyder was sitting courtside for much of the game (next to a pink-polo-wearing Roy Williams, no less) and he looked like he was rebooting John From Cincinnati (translation for people who missed that canceled 2007 HBO show: He looked chill). And why not? The Jazz are playing with house money. High potential and low expectations is one of the most comfortable places to be in the NBA. And if you saw your prized rookie pulling stuff like this …

… you’d be chill, too.

Here’s my favorite thing about Mitchell: He definitely thinks he’s the best player on the court, and he seems addicted to disrupting the opposing team’s stuff. He is the wrench in the works — an irritant. Toward the end of last season, as more and more people got to watch the Jazz play, we saw a bit of that in the team. I’m thinking specifically of Rudy Gobert getting into it with Kevin Durant during the Jazz’s second-round matchup with the eventual champions.

This is the Jazz I like — atonal and screeching and up-in-your-face. With Mitchell, they have the perfect guy for this music.