• Donovan Mitchell has burst onto the NBA scene, dropping 41 points and generally looking like a stud early into his basketball career.
By Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver
December 08, 2017

In the latest Open Floor Podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver focus on Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell and reckon with his recent breakout, whether Derrick Favors should stay in Utah and much, much more. 

Ben Golliver: It seemed like to start the season maybe Donovan Mitchell was still getting up to NBA speed like you’d expect from a rookie and recently he’s really kind of found his grove much more, obviously. He had the huge 40-plus points. I don’t know if you saw the postgame interview, I thought it was great. He clearly shocked himself. I love when guys are so good so young that they can’t believe it and they have no idea what to say to the postgame commentator. It’s hilarious.

His length definitely stands out, but one thing I wanted to ask you about in terms of Mitchell kind of coming on here over the last couple of weeks is something we talked about with the Jazz before the season in terms of the Derrick Favors/Rudy Gobert pairing. Because Gobert goes out so it forces them to change styles, basically, right? Going ultra big at any point really wasn’t an option, and all of a sudden all this space opens up and all of a sudden a player like Donovan Mitchell, who’s not even a top 5 pick last year, looks like an absolute stud because he has more room to work. Is he going to be able to sustain at that same level with Gobert back? Does Utah really have to contemplate their stylistic identity here going forward in terms of what’s the best way for them to play?

It’s fascinating, and again that goes back to the question: Do you want to have both Gobert and Favors playing big roles, big minutes or do you try to move off of Favors? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, but it really played out here by accident just because Gobert was injured, and it’s great that he’s sort of the beneficiary of that, that he was there to step up and take that slack because they needed it. In past seasons, they really didn’t have people to do that. So I think Mitchell gets a lot of credit for stabilizing their season, but kind of ironically in a twist he’s now almost created an identity—I wouldn’t call it a crisis—but an identity moment, a reckoning for them.  

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Andrew Sharp: I wouldn’t say he created it. They had this identity crisis regardless, whether Gobert went down or not. It’s not Donovan Mitchell that’s the problem.

Golliver: Don’t get me wrong—I’m just saying if he never breaks out it’s so much easier to keep talking yourself into thinking you’ll be good with Gobert and Favors.

Sharp: That’s true, they would’ve just been quietly mediocre regardless.

Golliver: Bingo. And now it’s like, ‘Hey, we have a better tomorrow. What is this? Where did this guy from?’

Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Sharp: And I think you’re right to highlight that because even if you back to that Pelicans game the one thing that was crazy to me was Donovan Mitchell was just getting to the rim basically whenever he wanted, and that is a byproduct of shitty Pelicans defense and it’s a byproduct of Donovan Mitchell’s explosiveness, but it’s also spacing. And that’s one thing Quin Snyder is going to have to find that out, and I think everyone in Utah knew they were going to have to figure that out in October and now it’s become clearer than ever that they sort of need to tweak things. And Derrick Favors deserves credit. He’s a longtime Golliver All-Star, and he was awesome in the three or four weeks that Gobert missed. He started to get his legs back and really sort of came into his own over the last month, but I don’t think he should be anything more than your backup center at this point, particularly given some of the other talent that they have on the perimeter.

Golliver: For me, he seems overqualified for that role. That’s why I’m saying trade. When we get to February this should be a name we kind of circle because he should want more from his career than that in my eyes. There’s a team that could use him in a greater role than that, don’t you think?

Sharp: That’s true, but I just don’t know how much you’re going to get back from Favors. I think keeping a really good, overqualified backup is more valuable than trading him for a second-round draft pick. I don’t know if someone’s even going to give up a first for half a season of Derrick Favors at this point.

Golliver: I guess we’ll see. That was kind of a boring take but very logical. I appreciate that.

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Sharp: The question that I had regarding Donovan Mitchell was: Has there ever been a bigger win for Internet draft nerds? Every year draft nerds fall in love with various prospects. Donovan Mitchell was squarely in that zone for me this year. I was out in L.A. in May and I went over to see my friend and we spent a long time catching up about life, family, friends, whatever, but then we talked for a solid 20 minutes about how much we loved Donovan Mitchell. And this was like three weeks before the draft, and I think that happened among a lot of us, a lot of blogger, writer, nerds, but the rest of the league didn’t really catch on. I also talked to some NBA players during that trip, and those guys absolutely loved Josh Jackson. The old school set among the NBA and players themselves, they all loved Josh Jackson and thought he was going to contribute immediately, loved his motor and nobody was even really talking about Donovan Mitchell beside like NBA Twitter and we’ve all been proved so right. It’s kind of funny because even the people that believed in him did not think he was going to be this, but he is just awesome and sort of changes Utah’s whole future.

Golliver: You’re shouting plugs out left and right, patting yourself on the back. I love it. Let me underscore that very quickly by saying this is why we go to Summer League. You see a guy like this breakout at that level and you think, ‘Oh, something big could happen here for him early in his career.’ It validates 9 years of my life spending one month a year in the pit, dessert of Las Vegas.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Sharp: I don’t know, though, because I’ve seen a lot of guys breakout at Summer League who never really translate to the NBA, so even Summer League I was like let’s slow down, he’s not going to drop 40 per game. He did in Summer League, I think he dropped 40 on the Grizzlies and everyone thought he was a superstar and that almost made me more skeptical of what he was going to be in the NBA. It turns out that that was pretty accurate. He looks like he’s on an All-Star track.

Speaking of which, I have one more question for you regarding Donovan Mitchell. Henry wrote in and asked: Given everything we know now, if offered the chance, do you think the Sixers would swap Markelle Fultz for Donovan Mitchell? Wouldn’t he both be a safer bet for being awesome the next 10 years than Fultz would be? And wouldn’t he be a better fit next to Simmons and Embiid? What do you think?

Golliver: I think the idea makes a lot more sense in theory than in practice. I mean, if you’re the Sixers you have to go down with the Fultz ship. I mean, whatever happens to his shoulder or his brand, at this point that’s your guy. When you make that kind of a homerun swing type of trade to land a Fultz, you have to ride that one all the way out. In terms of if they could go back to use the No. 1 pick on him, I guess maybe in an ideal world in this scenario they just wouldn’t have traded up, they would have taken Mitchell at three. Would you have preferred that to what they did? I think when you look at the asset they had to part with in that trade with Boston, the future pick, that would look better to me. I’d rather have Mitchell and next year’s pick than Fultz.

Sharp: No question. I think anybody who says that the Sixers wouldn’t go back and undo it and just take Donovan Mitchell is just lying to themselves. I think you’re right that now we’ve come far enough that the Sixers are pot committed on Markelle Fultz, but the telling answer to that question is that Utah would not do it. Utah, I don’t think, would trade Donovan Mitchell for Markelle Fultz straight up. Which says a lot about how far he’s come through the first couple months.  

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