Flashbacks of missed shots still creep into his mind. But the morning after his second season had ended, Donovan Mitchell was thinking about one that went in.
Two nights earlier in Portland, Damian Lillard had pulled up from 35 feet, draining an audacious 3-pointer as time expired to carry the Blazers into the next round of the playoffs.
“It may seem like a crazy shot,” Mitchell said. “But to him that’s a regular shot. That’s all about being in shape. You’re dead tired, playing most of the game, you shoot it from damn near half court for the win.”
Mitchell would prefer heroics to heartbreak. So as he had cleaned out his locker and packed his bags for the offseason, he promised to return next fall better than ever.
“For me, that’s how you want to go out there and perform,” he said. “I didn’t do that to the best of my ability this year. I have to take pride in that. I have to take pride in getting out there and working harder. It’s a longer summer this year than last year. I have to be ready to step forward and take that challenge.”
Mitchell followed up his sensational rookie campaign with a strong sophomore season. The Utah Jazz’s young star averaged 23.8 points and 4.2 assists per game, helping lead the Jazz to a 50-win season. Mitchell, though, downplayed his personal success.
“I only had a few good months,” he said. “There’s a lot I can improve on. It’s one thing to make it to the NBA. It’s one thing to make the playoffs your first year. It’s one thing to make the playoffs your second year. But if you want to be great, you’ve got to continue to work. I’m really excited to get to work and do what I’ve got to do.”
Mitchell’s second NBA offseason will be quieter in many ways. It’s unlikely that you’ll see the guard publicly recruiting free agents to Salt Lake City.
“I think a lot of that will be more private,” he said. “Last year, you saw me campaigning for Paul George. That was a friendly thing. This will be a lot more private. We trust the front office with whatever moves they make. I don’t know what to expect. But I know God has a plan. I know the front office has a plan. The biggest thing is just trusting it.”
There will be fewer headlines and public appearances, too. Last summer, Mitchell’s time on a basketball court was limited by a foot injury and so he spent much of the offseason crisscrossing the globe, enjoying his newfound fame.
“I don’t think I handled it great,” he said. “There are things I would love to do better. It’s all part of the learning experience. I have a better idea of what I want to do and how I want to accomplish that.”
This summer, Mitchell said, will be different.
“The difference between last summer and this summer is I have my schedule already mapped out,” he said. “I won’t share it. But I could tell you what I’m doing each month between now and the start of the regular season. That’s where it starts, having a plan.”
Mitchell’s plan does include spending time with NBA legends Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. Wade reached out to the Jazz guard via Twitter with an invitation to an offseason workout as soon as Utah had been eliminated from the postseason. And after sparring as opponents in the first round of the playoffs, Paul and Mitchell promised to work together this summer, too.
“Chris and I, we didn’t say a word to each other until he finished his press conference [after Game 5 in Houston],” Mitchell said. “He’s gotten the better of me twice. It’s just trying to find a way to beat him. He and D-Wade, they’re both fantastic at what they do. For me to get better, I have to pick and learn from the best. It starts with that.”
Mitchell will visit Europe to support the release of his signature sneaker, the adidas D.O.N. Issue #1. Aside from that, the healthy and hungry guard wants to focus on his game.
“It’s not going to be like last summer,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got a lot to work on this summer, man. I’ve got a lot to work on.