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When he worked out for the Jazz in late May, Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell stopped short of comparing himself to the some of the NBA's elite guards. He just hoped to show he was capable of stopping them.
"I want to be quick enough to guard guys like Russell Westbrook," Mitchell said, "and big enough to guard guys like Klay Thompson."
If he can do that in a Jazz uniform, I don't care if he ever makes a shot. And that's coming from someone who loves offense, always defaulting to shooting ability.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey labeled Mitchell "much more ready defensively than he is offensively."
Known for his wingspan, the 6-foot-3 Mitchell is the kind of athlete the Jazz need to defend the perimeter. His workout quotes illustrate the attitude this team needs to compete with Westbrook and Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division and Thompson and Golden State in the Western Conference.
I love this guy's personality, which emerged throughout his series of draft-night interviews. Getting to know him will be fun for everybody in Salt Lake City "a city I want to be living in," he said. The question is how soon he can help the Jazz on the court.
Mitchell had better defend well and improve his shot to justify the weird formula that brought him to Utah. Do the math: The No. 13 pick in Thursday night's draft is worth more than the No. 12 pick in 2015 (Trey Lyles) plus this year's No. 24 pick?
That equation works, in Lindsey's mind. It reflects the value of No. 13 in a loaded draft, while acknowledging a mistake in the choice of Lyles two years ago, although Lindsey didn't say so. Lyles was out of the Jazz's rotation by late last season, including the playoffs. Would the Jazz have made this move if they'd taken Devin Booker instead of Lyles in 2015? Of course not.
Any endorsement of this year's draft depth also makes No. 24 more valuable. Denver drafted Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon, a proven shooter. So Lindsey must hope that sending Lyles to Denver and grabbing Mitchell turns out like the last time he made a draft-night deal with the Nuggets and took Rudy Gobert and not like his other trade in June 2013, moving up to get Trey Burke.
Otherwise, Lindsey will have lost the '17 draft to Scott Layden. The former Jazz executive and assistant coach, now Minnesota's general manager, landed Jimmy Butler from Chicago in a trade that was widely viewed as a win for the Timberwolves.
Mitchell provides some insurance for the potential loss of George Hill in free agency, although he's unlikely to immediately become the team's 12th starting point guard since the 2011 trade of Deron Williams. He's not a true point guard and he's not a good shooter. The last part is correctable, though. University of Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak says he can turn a good defender into an adequate offensive player, more easily than the other way around. Mitchell's 3-point accuracy improved to 35 percent as a Louisville sophomore and I have confidence that Jazz coach Quin Snyder and his staff can develop Mitchell into a decent shooter.
The bonus is that Mitchell has a healthy impression of the Jazz, as shown by his willingness to work out for a team that held only the Nos. 24 and 30 picks in the first round. "Man, I love that organization," he told ESPN at draft headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I love everything about them."
They must love him too. Mitchell clearly was a player the Jazz targeted along with another, unnamed prospect, Lindsey said once he slipped to a range they could reach with a reasonable offer.
"A lot of guys can score 30 points," Mitchell said, "but can you stop the best player on the other team?"
Mitchell helped keep Kentucky guards De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk from going off against Louisville in the annual rivalry game. Mitchell shot only 3 of 12, but the Cardinals won the game. That's what the Jazz need from him, against Oklahoma City and Golden State.
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