SALT LAKE CITY — With the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Denver Nuggets selected Donovan Mitchell. Roughly an hour later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that a trade had been completed between the Utah Jazz and the Nuggets that would send Mitchell to the Jazz in exchange for Trey Lyles and the 24th overall pick.
With this one transaction, the full identity of the Jazz, under the tutelage of general manager Dennis Lindsey, became realized. Mitchell is the new face of the Jazz team building theory, despite the fact that he has yet to wear a Jazz uniform.
Lindsey doesn’t hesitate to mention "Jazz DNA" when he’s analyzing new players, referencing the makeup of a player he sees as a fit for the culture he’s trying to build for his roster. If you’ve wondered what Lindsey means by the term, simply withdraw the blood of Mitchell, send it to the analysis lab, and here’s what you’ll find in its makeup:
First, the defense. By Lindsey’s own account, “Right now, he’s much more ready defensively than he is offensively.” Mitchell will step onto the floor at the Utah Jazz Summer League in early July and flash his defensive talents. Playing for Louisville, Mitchell sharpened his teeth defensively against Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Duke’s Luke Kennard, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. and Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon. All four guards were selected in last week’s draft, with Fox, Kennard and Smith picked in the lottery.
Mitchell learned the value of defense from coach Rick Pitino, admitting that, "At Louisville you can take 25 shots as long as you play great defense.” While Mitchell knows he won’t see 25 shots in the NBA, playing defense will find him time on the floor for the Jazz. It benefited Rudy Gobert and it will benefit Mitchell.
Second, speaking of Gobert, he and Mitchell share some similarities. Beyond being drafted by the Nuggets before being traded to the Jazz on draft night, both players sport elite wingspans for their positions. According to draftexpress.com, Gobert’s 7-foot-8.5 wingspan is tied for the fifth longest ever measured at the NBA Draft Combine, making him a nightmare for opposing offenses.
Similarly, Mitchell, coming in with a height of 6-foot-1.25, his 6-foot-10 wingspan places him in a three-way tie for longest wingspan in draft history from a player standing his height or shorter. While his height leaves a lot to be desired for the modern NBA combo guard, his length will allow him to compete with most backcourt players.
Third, he wants to be in Utah. From Derek Harper to Rony Seikaly, it’s no secret the Jazz have struggled to attract top talent to the team. It’s a battle the Jazz need to balance delicately, not passing on obvious talent even if Utah may not be the ideal cultural fit, while not setting the team up for failure by bringing in a player who is counting down the days until he can leave the state. There’s no better fit than Mitchell.
Hailing from New York, Mitchell likes what Utah has to offer. At his pre-draft workout, Mitchell said of Utah, “I love it. It's quiet and nice, everything is clean for starters. I'm from New York, where it's loud and dirty." Coming from a big city, willing to settle in a quieter part of the world, Lindsey can bet on Mitchell not wondering if the grass is greener in a more prominent NBA city. It’s a battle the Jazz faced and lost with Deron Williams, and may be facing again with Gordon Hayward.
While those strands of basketball DNA make up Mitchell, how and why he landed in Utah are distinctly Lindsey traits.
First, the Jazz traded for Mitchell on draft night. While Lindsey has been relatively quiet making roster moves in the season, he’s never hesitated to wheel-and-deal on draft night. Starting in 2013, his first draft with the Jazz, up to last week’s draft, the Jazz have made a trade in each draft.
Whether it was trading two first-round picks to draft Trey Burke in 2013, or moving a lottery pick in 2016 to acquire George Hill, Lindsey likes to alter his roster in late June. Mitchell, along with first-round draft pick Tony Bradley, joined the Jazz on Thursday night via a trade.
Second, Lindsey believes his staff can develop Mitchell. Highlighting development on draft night, Lindsey said of Mitchell, “We’ve got to help him with his skill level, teach him the how and why to maximize his ability offensively.” Once again, like Gobert, Lindsey is gambling on a body, hoping the skills will catch up. It’s a gamble the Jazz made last year when drafting Joel Bolomboy in the second round, and early returns have been promising.
Third, Mitchell passes the character test. Lindsey pointed out that in addition to the draft being about talent, it’s about a player’s personal makeup.
"It’s a talent evaluation first. It’s a fit," Lindsey said. "You guys know how we feel about character here as well.”
Mitchell gets his name from his father, Donovan Mitchell Sr., the director of player relations for the New York Mets. Growing up around professional athletes, with a father who played Triple-A baseball, there won’t be much concern for how the younger MItchell handles the spotlight. Like Lindsey, Mitchell appears to be more substance than flash.
As an undersized defense first wing, Mitchell might not blow Jazz fans away with his summer league play. Defense doesn't often translate to the box score, and matters even less in the more self-serving summer league environment. However, regardless of how Mitchell plays, fans should recognize that Mitchell represents everything Lindsey is trying to build with the Jazz. Whether he becomes a star, a starter or something less, Mitchell is the modern-day Jazzman.