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SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 87-74 summer league win over the San Antonio Spurs from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell wildly impresses in his first game
Donovan Mitchell was a little bit nervous for his first NBA action. He had been watching the previous summer league game on the television, and all of a sudden felt some butterflies, knowing he'd be on NBATV next.
So what did he do? He sang through it, rapping along to "HUMBLE." by Kendrick Lamar as he warmed up. And he dunked through it, getting off moves like this in "layup" lines.
Donovan Mitchell is already a crowd favorite. pic.twitter.com/rYECffuyNe — Aaron Falk (@aaronfalk) July 4, 2017
"That's just how I warm up, just to get my legs going," Mitchell said. "It adds a little excitement for me as well, to try new things."
After the dunk party, he came out and had one of the best first summer league games of any player I've seen. Mitchell scored 23 points on 10-17 shooting, including 3-6 from that longer NBA 3-point line. He added five assists, and impressively for a rookie in the chaos of summer league, had no turnovers. He added two highlight-reel rebounds over the trees inside. It was an impressive offensive performance, and Mitchell looked like the best player on the floor, like he'll be ready for real NBA minutes from day one.
.@spidadmitchell poured in 23 points and dished 5 assists in 25 minutes. 🎥#UtahJazzSLpic.twitter.com/IXTQGx53RZ — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) July 4, 2017
But because he's wired the way he is, he was still disappointed in himself. "I really was not pleased with my defense, to be honest with you," Mitchell stated. "To be honest, I think I did terribly. There were a bunch of times when I was getting hit on screens, not helping, not talking. I don't think I said a word today all game on defense, and I think I have to pick it up. I was pretty gassed."
Then Mitchell knew what he needed to do to correct himself.
"I'll watch film to see where my mistakes were, but a lot of times I was getting hit on the screens. Chasing a shooter around like that in your first NBA game was tough," Mitchell said. "Screens were much stronger, and you can't really dip your way through them. And rebounding was much tougher. I only had two today, and usually I pride myself on getting four or five."
This is a player who just scored 23 points in his first NBA action in efficient and highlight-reel fashion, talking about how he needed to contribute more on defense and rebounding. Coaches dream about players like that. So do Jazz fans.
2. Dante Exum also steps up
As a fourth-year player, Jazz coaches told us that they were looking for Dante Exum to take over these three games of summer league play. While Exum tapered off and was eventually surpassed by Mitchell, his first half fit that description.
Exum started by making his first three shots: a contested pull-up three pointer after he couldn't get anything going off the dribble, an and-one opportunity when he got to the rim, and then another catch-and-shoot three to get nine points in very quick succession.
Then, Exum showed off other improved parts of his game. For example, he took and made a mid-range pull-up that he's really never had the confidence to take consistently: Exum only took eight all of last season in over 1000 minutes. And he made a very nice cross-court pass to Donovan Mitchell in transition, showing the kind of open court vision at a time when he may have previously put his head down and tried to get to the rim.
Exum finished the first half with 16 points, but only added two more in the second half to get to 18 total on 7-12 shooting, including 2-5 from the 3-point line.
.@Daanteee had 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 27 minutes of action against the Spurs. 📽#UtahJazzSLpic.twitter.com/irOZHZfrEk — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) July 4, 2017
What's still missing? A degree of ball control. Exum struggles when opponents pressure him, and he can't always get to spots on the floor where he needs to get to. And Monday night, he had four turnovers thanks to getting to the rim and making the wrong decision. When Exum should be taking a floater or a very short pullup, he instead tries to force passes inside.
Exum knows this and after the game, he blamed a lack of focus for those turnovers and wants to work on them. But overall, seeing new things out of Exum was promising, and it will be interesting to see how he compares to elite rookie guard prospects like Markelle Fultz of the Sixers.
3. Rudy and Ricky make an appearance
It seemed like Raul Neto and Alec Burks were going to be the only Jazz players in attendance for the game, but at the very end, Rudy Gobert and new point guard Ricky Rubio came for the final three minutes of the contest. That was enough time to say hi to everyone, and of course, pose for photos.
Rubio and Gobert were coming from San Diego, attending the Jazz's free agent pitch to Gordon Hayward. They didn't speak to media, so there's no indication how the meeting went from their point of view. Exum, after the game, was excited to call up Gobert and fellow Australian Joe Ingles, who also attended the meeting with Hayward, to see how they thought it went.