Donovan Mitchell hears the Rookie of the Year buzz. He knows that he has become a legitimate challenger to unseat Ben Simmons’ once-irreversible claim to the award. He thinks it cool. He’s honored.
He also doesn’t really care.
As the Utah Jazz’s newbie told SLAM‘s Max Resetar, while he appreciates the Rookie of the Year love, he’s more concerned with making the playoffs than earning what amounts to an individual honor:
SLAM: Are you hearing all the buzz you’ve generated in the Rookie of the Year race?
Donovan Mitchell: It’s hard not to, to be honest. As much as I try not to. It’s kind of crazy to think about all these guys saying that about me. It’s definitely an honor. The one thing people don’t understand is I wouldn’t even be in this position if it wasn’t for the organizaition and my teammates. I’m a rookie coming in and some teams, the guys wouldn’t allow that. But my teammates have been accepting. Even times where maybe I am shooting too much, they encourage me to keep shooting, even if I keep missing. I’m not really too worried about the Rookie of the Year race. I’d rather make the playoffs.
If you didn’t already love this kid, you should now. And fortunately for him, not to mention Jazz fans, this isn’t a one-or-the-other proposition. Mitchell can do both. He might do both.
His Rookie of the Year case will explode through the roof if the Jazz make the playoffs. And as of right now, it looks like they’ll reach the postseason. Sure, they’re 10th in the Western Conference. But they’re only 1.5 games back of the No. 8 seed and within two games of the sixth-place spot. After winning 10 in a row, they have the fourth-easiest schedule in the Western Conference to close the year.
Assuming both Rudy Gobert and Mitchell remain healthy, the Jazz should sniff the postseason. They’re 18-13 in games both Mitchell and Gobert play—the equivalent of a 48-win pace. Even in the Wild, Wild West, playing at that rate gets you into the playoffs.
And, in this case, it might be enough to win Mitchell Rookie of the Year.