How Mitchell impressed Walton in Kings' loss to Jazz

Davion defending Donovan

One look at Davion Mitchell's stat line in the Kings' 110-101 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday night would indicate that the rookie had a bad game.

But Mitchell's impact goes beyond the stat sheet.

In his first regular-season game in front of Kings fans at Golden 1 Center, Mitchell put on a defensive clinic against the Jazz, and specially, against star guard Donovan Mitchell.

At one point early in the second quarter, the Kings' rookie played lockdown defense on the two-time NBA All-Star, ripped the ball from his hands and started a fast break the other way that resulted in a lob pass to Terence Davis for a layup.

In 32 minutes off the bench against the Jazz, Mitchell went 1-of-8 from the field and 0-of-4 from 3-point range. He split his two free throws and finished with three points, four assists, three steals and two rebounds. He was a minus-11 in the nine-point loss.

Despite Mitchell's lackluster night on offense, coach Luke Walton liked what he saw from the 2021 No. 9 overall draft pick.

"The guys he's guarding, it's nearly impossible to guard any of these top talented players, especially your first time in the league," Walton told reporters after the game. "He did a great job tonight. I know offensively he was only 1-of-8, but those are good shots for him. He's proven by the way he's worked and some of the games he's already had for us, he's going to be a really good offensive player too. I love that he's continuing to take those shots, even down the stretch, the last [3-pointer] he missed, I want him taking those. So I thought Davion was really impressive tonight in the way that he just always seems to be in the right place and help make a play for our team when we need it."


With under two minutes left in regulation and the Kings trailing by six points, Davion latched onto Donovan again. The defense was so tight that the Jazz star was forced to heave a prayer 3-pointer that missed everything, resulting in a shot-clock violation.

Tyrese Haliburton knows Mitchell well from their days battling in the Big 12, and is a large reason the rookie's nickname is "Off Night." So seeing Mitchell play that kind of defense is exactly what Haliburton expected.

"It's not surprising at all, knowing him for so long, knowing exactly what he brings to the table," Haliburton told reporters after the game. "You've seen it. This isn't something new. He's done this his whole career, college, Summer League and now, so that's just who he is. He's one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA already. And when he's on an island with somebody, I'm picking him every time."

Mitchell defended Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard in his NBA debut Wednesday, faced Jordan Clarkson and Donovan Mitchell in his second game and will be tasked with chasing Warriors superstar Steph Curry around on Sunday. He's up for the task, but knows it will be a challenge.

"It's going to be a great preparation for us as a team because Steph is not a guy that ISO balls," Mitchell told reporters after the game. "He's always off the ball and that's things I need to work on, is off-the-ball defense. I'm going to be chasing him all night. I just can't fall asleep on him."

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While Mitchell's defense is top-notch early in his NBA career, Walton knows the 23-year-old has the work ethic to get better on the offensive side of the ball, and he will continue to play with an all-out style.

"One thing I've learned with NBA players is I always believe in what they're doing," Walton said. "We've seen it in Summer League, I see it every day in practice, every bit of film we watched on him in college, every game in college, he played the same way. So, will it be more challenging? Absolutely. College seasons are 30 games. These are 82. He's playing against bigger, stronger people, going through screens. But that's the only way he knows how to play. So yeah, I totally expect him to play like that every time we're on the court."

The Kings have high hopes for Mitchell, Haliburton and De'Aaron Fox as a three-headed monster that can eventually snap their NBA playoff drought. The rookie guard has work to do, but he's already impressing his coaches and teammates with his tenacity on defense. The offense will come soon enough.