Let me be clear: I believe Ben Simmons was the best rookie (yes, he was a rookie; this is not up for debate) and deserved to win the Rookie of the Year award. However, Donovan Mitchell came out of nowhere and made it a much tighter race than anyone anticipated heading into the season. The Utah Jazz had been written off by many following Gordon Hayward's departure for the Boston Celtics, but as the year progressed, Mitchell began to show flashes of greatness; those flashes turned into stretches and those stretches turned into wins, playoff wins in fact. And while the return of eventual Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert helped the Jazz's case, it is indisputable that he carried the team offensively and they would have been lottery-bound without him.
During July, I spend much of my time watching the NBA Summer League. In 2017, rookies like Lonzo Ball (Summer League MVP), Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma (Championship Game MVP), and Dennis Smith Jr. stole the show. However, I always noticed Donovan Mitchell's play. Coming into the league, I had seen him labelled as a staunch defender with offensive potential, but no one had him pegged to be an immediate contributor. Mitchell proved the doubters wrong, absolutely killing the Summer League competition. He averaged 15.3 PPG and 3.3 SPG in the Utah Summer League and upped those averages to 28.0 PPG and 6.0 SPG in the Las Vegas tournament. And while it was a small sample size – and only Summer League competition – I knew Donovan was going to be one hell of a player.
Donovan Mitchell: Slam Dunk Contest Champ 2018
While he began his rookie year slowly, it did not take long for Mitchell to make his impact felt. We all know how his season went: multiple 40-point games, Dunk Contest Champion, and leading the Jazz's offensive charge to a 48-34 record and the 5th seed in the Western Conference. Matched up against the 4th seed Oklahoma City Thunder, many did not give the inexperienced Jazz to win. Once again, Donovan carried the offense, seemingly outplaying the Thunder's "Big 3" on his own, averaging 28.5 PPG in the series, including 38 points in the series-clinching Game 6. While the Jazz were ultimately defeated by the Rockets in five games, the rookie averaged nearly 20 PPG and helped the Jazz steal Game 2 in Houston.
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
A supposed write-off season ended up being extremely fruitful; the Jazz reached the second round, Rudy Gobert won DPOY, and both Donovan Mitchell and coach Quinn Snyder were runner-ups for their respective awards. And though the Western Conference playoff race has gotten tighter with the addition of LeBron James, the Jazz should firmly be poised to make the postseason, barring injuries to Gobert and Mitchell.
Likely of equal significance, Donovan received high praise after seemingly each game he played. From Chris Paul to Dwyane Wade (who many liken Mitchell to) to LeBron James – who dubbed Mitchell a "Young King" – so many of the games greatest stars had encouragement and advice for the young man. He has a humble, yet confident attitude, making him a respected competitor. He wants the challenge of leading his team, especially in the fourth quarter. These are all signs of a future superstar, something I expect Mitchell to be sooner rather than later. For this season, I look for him to improve his efficiency, particularly beyond the three-point line, and increase his playmaking. Aside from that, I'm just excited to see him go to work.
Predicted Stats: 23.7 PPG, 5.1 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 45.6% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 85.2% FT
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P.S. I've received a lot of input as to what readers want to see. I've done three articles now on 2017 Rookies, so I think I'll do a couple more as many are interested in seeing my thoughts on some players in the 2018 Rookie Class. Let me know who you want me to talk about on my social.