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Curry-Mitchell matchup one to watch in Warriors vs. Kings

NBC Sports
Davion Mitchell

Once every few drafts comes a player who enters the NBA having earned a reputation as a savage on-ball defender. They are rare because few teenagers choose to accentuate defense, much less take the time to study and make the effort to polish it.

Kings rookie Davion Mitchell is such a player. He got the rep at Baylor, carried it through NBA draft workouts and introduced himself to the league spending considerable portions of his first two games stapled to Portland’s Damian Lillard and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, two of the most dangerous guards on earth.

Young Davion’s third game comes Sunday against the Warriors, which means a chance to confront Steph Curry.

Yeah, from the edge to the inside of the volcano. 

Lillard and Mitchell are marvelous scorers, each with multiple All-Star Game appearances. But no guard does it better than Curry, which is why the Steph-Davion matchup is the most fascinating element of the Warriors-Kings duel tipping off at 6 p.m. PT at Golden 1 Center.

Mitchell was among the several dozen draft-eligible players to work out for the Warriors. Even those Golden State staffers that didn’t fall in love with him, they raved about his defense.

“He had a lot of fans in our building,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr recalled. “Just his competitive desire, his on-ball defense. He just seems like a winner.”

Though he is playing behind Kings guards De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, Mitchell is getting plenty of run. He played 24 minutes against the Blazers, 32 against the Jazz. He was chiefly responsible for Lillard’s 33.3-percent (8-of-24) shooting and Mitchell’s 36.0 percent (9-of-25) performance.

 

Curry’s last game saw him cope with three different defenders, including linebacker-like Eric Bledsoe -- who was twice voted to All-Defensive teams -- and rangy Terance Mann. Their efforts were met with a first quarter in which Curry scored 25 points on perfect shooting, and a final tally of 45 points.

Curry responded to two different types of defenders with two different plans of attack. Both worked. Perhaps because he has faced every defense known to man or woman, whether drawn up on a whiteboard or improvised in real time.

More to the point, Curry has seen the best defensive guards of his era, from Jrue Holiday to Avery Bradley to Patrick Beverley to Victor Oladipo to Marcus Smart and, the latest, a very frisky Dillon Brooks. And Curry generally finds a weakness.

If it’s not by using ball-handling to disrupt balance, it’s resorting to footwork and a change of speeds to create a lane to the hoop or simply pulling up from 30 feet -- the most devastating retort of all because it’s the one teams fear most.

And it’s the one Mitchell will try to restrict. It must be noted that Lillard, the closest deep-shooting comp to Curry, wore Mitchell like a sweater in missing all nine of his 3-point attempts against the Kings.

So, now, the tyro gets his first meeting with the master. The rook vs. the vet. Mitchell and his 56 NBA minutes against Curry and his two MVP awards. 

RELATED: How Mitchell impressed Walton in Kings' loss to Jazz

From the moment Mitchell enters the game, you’ll know where he’s going and following along is a must.  If Mitchell has an edge, it is this: Kings coach Luke Walton got to know Curry well during his two seasons as a Warriors assistant and surely will provide a few tips. And maybe a prayer.

The best thing Luke can tell his rookie is this: Once you’ve faced Steph, the NBA gets easier. 

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