Donovan Mitchell doesn’t mind being the underdog. And he isn’t interested in joining a super team. He’s focused on forging his own path. It’s that mindset that made him one of the most electrifying rookies in the league last season. He’s an elite talent that’s been overlooked his whole life. But not anymore. Mitchell put the whole league on notice last season, and now that he’s gotten everybody’s attention, he’s ready to take things to the next level in his second season. Donovan Mitchell is just getting started, so get to know the man who is about to take the basketball world by storm.
We sat down with him to discuss his journey and the road ahead.
What’s the coolest thing you got to do in year one in the NBA?
Mitchell: “The coolest thing that I did this year was probably Game 6 of the playoffs. Just going against a guy that I looked up to a lot of my life, Russell Westbrook, and being able to win that series with a team effort that we kind of lacked in game 5, to coming back in Game 6 was pretty special.”
What’s the best thing about being an NBA player that you didn’t know came with being an NBA player?
Mitchell: “The best thing about being an NBA player that I didn’t realize is the amount of connections you make with people off the court whether it’s music, business, video games, other sports. That’s pretty cool.”
Let’s flash back to last season – you came in as a rookie and had such a great first season with Utah. Most of the season you looked like a veteran out there. Was there anything in particular that surprised or challenged you during your rookie season? If so, what was it and how are you working this off-season to make sure you’re more prepared for that this year?
Mitchell: “A lot of this kind of took me by surprise. I was doing well, but I was wondering when the opponents would make adjustments – I didn’t take into account the adjustments I was making with my coaches and teammates to make me better.”
Despite the great start to your career, you recently said you’re looking to take your game to a whole new level in year two. What types of goals are you setting for your sophomore season?
Mitchell: “Going into year two, there’s a lot more attention to detail with the little things. Forgetting what happened last year because it won’t be relevant to the rest of my career. I think I’m coming into this year with the same mindset, but different expectations, and if I continue to work I think I’ll be in good shape. Some of my goals for this year are to become a better defender, make better reads throughout the game, and slow the game down for myself.”
It takes a certain level of confidence and swagger to join the upper echelon group in the league. Talk about the mindset that you bring when you step on the court, whether that’s in games or during your workouts.
Mitchell: “Just try to be the best player on the floor. There are a lot of things that took me by surprise last year, but now it’s no longer a surprise. Now it’s the expected. If I continue to build and build and build, I’ll be in good shape.”
One of the things great players always talk about is consistency. It’s one thing to be great for a year or two, but quite another to be great for 10. What are you doing right now in terms of training and preparation to ensure you’re really good for a long time?
Mitchell: “To maintain that longevity, I just like to watch film. You can’t really kill yourself by working out all season, so watching film of all those guys like Kobe, DWade, Westbrook, Chris Paul, Dame Lillard, seeing how they get to the basket, how they get off shots, that’s key to my longevity. I want to keep my body up by not tearing it down, so I focus on the mental aspect and watching film.”
The NBA is so much different now than it was in the ’80s and ’90s when there were intense rivalries between players. Today, a lot of you guys are friends and have grown up playing against each other for years. You seem to have some of that old-school mentality where you want to beat the best and not necessarily just join them. Can you talk about that mentality a little and what you love about going toe-to-toe with the best players in the league?
Mitchell: “I have a lot of friends in this league. We can be friends, but when it comes down to it I’m here to win. There are a lot guys joining forces, and right now the best team in the league has 5 all-stars. I understand the move, but I’d rather beat them than join them.”