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Can Donovan Mitchell Become an Elite Defender?

As Team USA prepares for the upcoming FIBA World Cup, a young player has a huge responsibility. Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz will serve as a team captain during USA’s run. He joins veteran guard Kemba Walker and Walker’s new Celtics teammate Marcus Smart as the three players will lead Team USA with their roles.

Mitchell is one of the league’s best (young) players. The 22-year old guard has made a name for himself in his first two years. He was nearly Rookie of the Year in 2018, after being a finalist alongside Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Sixers guard/forward Ben Simmons. He lost the award to Simmons, however, Mitchell still made the NBA All-Rookie First Team. He made the team after averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.5 steals.

Mitchell’s second season was even better as he averaged 23.8 points, 4.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals. The Jazz guard has played well in his first two seasons and has the league anticipating his next season.

As he approaches the World Cup, and his third season, Mitchell has a new goal. He wants to become an elite defender.

While Team USA is in Sydney, Australia, Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune spoke to Mitchell about his goal.

“For me, the biggest thing is just to get back to my roots. The biggest thing is to elevate my defense, to get back to what got me drafted,” Mitchell said.

He also credited USA head coach Gregg Popovich for getting him back into defense.

“I think that’s one thing I’ve prided myself on, and I think (USA head coach Gregg Popovich) has really put that in my head as well.”

According to Larsen, when Mitchell first came into the league, scouts believed that Mitchell’s defense would be the skill that helped him early in his career. They felt that his quickness, mentality, as well as physical tools, would make him a skilled defender. The scouts did not expect much on the offensive end.

In his first two seasons, Mitchell was Utah’s go-to scorer. This year, the Jazz have pieces around Mitchell that can help of the offensive end. The Jazz have pieces such as Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, who they acquired in the offseason. Both players play well on the offensive end, and Mitchell does not have to take on as much scoring as before. With Bogdanovic’s shooting and Conley’s facilitating/scoring, Mitchell has the chance to become an elite defender.

As Mitchell plays for Team USA, he is working on his defense. In a recent game against Australia, he took on the task of guarding Patty Mills and did a solid job. So, he is off to a great start.

Mitchell possesses both the drive and ability to become an elite defender. If Conley and Bogdanovic help out of the offensive end, Mitchell can accomplish his goal.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

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