Stressing defense, Donovan Mitchell gets first look at Sacramento, Kings
Donovan Mitchell is listed at 6-foot-3, but if you see him on an airplane he’d gladly give up some leg room for a cramped window seat.
That’s because Mitchell does not like to fly and when he’s on a plane, he likes to be next to the window to see exactly what is going on outside. So if there’s a downside to the NBA draft for Mitchell, it’s getting to his predraft workouts.
“I hate flying, that’s the bad part of it,” Mitchell said. “I’m terrified of flying.”
The sophomore guard was the latest first-round prospect to visit the Kings as part of a six-player workout Wednesday. After spending most of the last two years being spurned by top prospects, the Kings have had multiple first-round prospects in town, including three probable first rounders this week.
The anxiety that had been aimed at the Kings by prospects recently is slowly lessening. That has to be true for Mitchell to board a plane for Sacramento, a city he’d never been to, to show off his abilities.
“I just pray and stare out the window,” Mitchell said. “I’ll pay extra to sit in a window seat. That’s just my thing. I’ll take the no leg room to a window seat just so I can see where I’m going and why I’m going down and whatnot. Landing is cool because I know why we’re going down, but turbulence kind of freaks me out.”
Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals for the Louisville Cardinals last season.
He’s is an option for the Kings with their second first-round pick (10th overall) if they do not select a point guard with the fifth pick. Even if they do, Mitchell’s athleticism and defensive abilities make him worthy of being taken at 10.
Mitchell compared himself to Boston guard Avery Bradley, a top-notch defender with a similar build, who guards different types of guards, but can also score.
Mitchell said he can play point guard in the NBA and is ready to help a team primarily because of his defense.
“A lot of guys can shoot it, a lot of guys can score it, a lot of guys have passing ability,” Mitchell said. “I think I may be one of the top defenders in this draft and I take that to heart and I think that’s a big reason I came out.”
Mitchell’s defensive prowess would help in an area that has long been problematic for Sacramento. The Kings hired coach Dave Joerger to help shore up the defense, but schemes alone will not fix those problems. Players who can execute those schemes at a high level are needed.
Mitchell said playing for Rick Pitino at Louisville has prepared him for the rigors of NBA defense.
“I know nobody’s a better defensive coach than Coach P,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the leading scorer or not. The only way you play is if you play defense and I took that to heart. It’s one of the reasons I chose Louisville and I take that everywhere I go, being a perfectionist on the defensive end. If I give up a point, you’re not scoring the next possession, that’s just my mentality. I just try my hardest to be the best defender on the floor.”
Wednesday’s workout also included Nevada’s Cameron Oliver, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, Cal’s Jabari Bird, Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins and Louisiana Tech’s Erik McCree.
Oliver (6-8, 225) is from Oakland but played at Grant High School. Though he still considers Oakland home, Oliver would love to play for the Kings. He’s considered a second-round prospect after averaging 16 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Wolf Pack.
“I’ve actually been to more Sacramento Kings games than Warrior games, so it’s a home for me so it would be a dream come true,” Oliver said.
Swanigan (6-9, 250) is a physical post player who can score with either hand. He averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds as a sophomore. Some pundits consider Swanigan a first-round prospect while others predict he will be selected in the second round.
He believes there’s still a place in the NBA for an interior player who thrives on dominating on the inside.
“A lot of people say I’m a time machine player because I don’t play like this era of basketball,” Swanigan said. “But basketball is basketball. You rebound, put it in the hoop, defend, pass it, take care of it. It’s been that way forever. I know I do those things, I proved it at that level but I just don’t fit the natural mold so that’s why I get looked at differently.