Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell's eyes lit up as he talked about his old teammates. He credited players like Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson — two guys he still keeps in regular contact with — as helping him grow, not only on the court but off it, too.
They encouraged him to take the tough shots, and helped him find his voice when using his growing platform.
So when his first game in Salt Lake City ended and he was right in front of the Jazz bench, the first person he went to was … Walker Kessler.
Um … OK, then?
The two were never teammates — unless you're counting the two months after the Rudy Gobert trade when it was already pretty clear Mitchell wasn't going to return — and they didn't have a past connection at all.
So what was that all about?
Turns out, Mitchell was giving the Jazz rookie some tips.
"Obviously, stopping Donovan was kind of our main focus because he can shoot so well off the dribble in the pick-and-roll scenario," Kessler said.
That meant it was up to Kessler to get high enough to take away Mitchell's 3-point shot but also be prepared to fall back to take away the lane. But Kessler had a tell on what he was going to do, and a pretty obvious one at that.
"Oh, yeah, he calls out what coverage he is going to be doing before he's in it," Mitchell said. "So I knew what he was going to do before he did it. ... I said, 'Don't tell them the answer to the exam before before it comes.'"
When Kessler planned to fall back to the rim, he called "drop." That was for the benefit of his teammates, but it also let Mitchell know just how to attack him.
"I'm like, 'Cool, I'm gonna shoot a 3,'" a smiling Mitchell said. "The one time he didn't call it out is when I missed it at the end of the game. He had to be up and I rushed into a shot."
Mitchell was 7-of-18 from the 3-point line on his way to a 46-point night. With Kessler's tell, the Jazz might have caught a break that he didn't hit more.
"I was like, 'Well, I wish you would have told me that halfway through the game, man; it would have been really helpful,'" Kessler said.
As it was, the Jazz got the victory and Kessler got some tips for next time he faces a pick-and-roll player like Mitchell.
"He's an unbelievable guy, man," Kessler said of Mitchell. "I mean, obviously, I haven't known him too long, but even (when we played) at Cleveland, he came up to me and was super, super encouraging. It was really cool to see the Utah fan base get so excited for him. Great player, great guy."
And Mitchell thinks Kessler has a pretty bright future, too.
"He's gonna be really good," Mitchell said.
Especially when he stops letting opposing players know what he's doing first.