SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday, Los Angeles Rams star running back Todd Gurley had an interesting choice of outfit for his press conference. The All-Pro came sporting a new freshly out-of-the-package jersey — a new Donovan Mitchell jersey.
“I had to support my boy,” Gurley said. “Donovan Mitchell, the Spida.”
Gurley said he and Mitchell had recently become friends, so he logged onto the Nike website and got himself one of Mitchell's jerseys.
“Good dude, man, good dude,” Gurley said. “Like his game. Thought I’d support him and wear the jersey.”
Add Gurley to the list of ever-growing Mitchell fans — a list that also includes San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who named Mitchell as one of the captains of Team USA heading into the World Cup. The USA will begin World Cup play Sunday.
“He’s in demand and this phenomenon’s happened,” Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey about Mitchell at the conclusion of last season.
That about sums up Mitchell’s rise — a phenomenon.
Just when you think the Mitchell frenzy may be calming, his name pops up somewhere else. Just this summer, he released his signature shoe (which has apparently been selling very well), went on a world tour to promote said shoe, joined Team USA, has drawn rave reviews from USA teammates and coaches, was named captain, has kids on the other side of the world dressing up as Spider-Man at games, and now has one of the top running backs in the NFL sporting his jersey.
Oh, and throw in a little MVP buzz, too.
ESPN’s Royce Young identified Mitchell as a potential dark horse MVP candidate.
“The Jazz are going to be a premier Western Conference team this season, and with Mike Conley alongside to ease some of the ball-handling burden, Mitchell can settle more into a comfortable scoring role,” Young wrote. “If the Jazz finish second in the West, Mitchell is going to generate buzz. He was primed for a leap year last season and it didn't quite happen -- he was very good still, just not quite as good as some expected -- but in year three, there's a chance it all comes together for him. Those who have been around him this summer at USA camp have been extremely impressed and see big things for Mitchell this season.”
At least more big things.
After Jan. 1 last season, Mitchell averaged 26.5 points, good enough for 10th in the NBA, on 41.4% from 3-point range to go along with 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Those are All-Star and All-NBA type numbers. If another jump is in store, well, MVP talk might just follow.
Mitchell's projected leap, along with the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, have put some high expectations on the Jazz this year. Everyone from the fan base to national media to Las Vegas sees the Jazz as being one of the best teams in the league.
It isn’t the first time there’s been some preseason hype around a Jazz team and new players, though.
Remember how Al Jefferson was going to help Deron Williams contend for the West? Or how Morris Almond was going to give the Jazz the shooter they needed to get past the Lakers? Or the team was going to rebuild around the 2004 lottery picks? Or how Deshaun Stevenson was getting compared to Michael Jordan? Good times.
On this week’s Jazz Shorts podcast, KSL.com’s Ryan Miller and Sean Walker talk about the Mitchell phenomenon and draft their teams of most disappointing Jazz players.