Utah Jazz rookie round-up 11/29: Steals and surprises in the draft

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - October 20: Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell steps to the line. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - October 20: Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell steps to the line. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell continues to out-perform his draft position, but he’s not the only first-year player that’s surprised.

The Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum is having a historically good shooting year among all-time rookies and is a heavy contributor on the NBA’s best-ranked defense. In the era of the 3-point revolution, he could well be on his way to “3-and-D greatness”.

While we knew he had some polish as a 19-year-old in his offensive variety and could shoot the ball, this has been a pleasant surprise.  And while the high level he’s been playing is surprising, it also shouldn’t surprise anyone that a top three pick is doing well.

Tatum is certainly in the running for “best of this draft class.” (Best rookie goes to Ben Simmons, no contest, but we can still play for best in draft class).

And what really needs to be said about Ben Simmons? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. He’s a generational talent and is having one of the five best rookie campaigns of all-time. But again, we knew he was good and his dominance shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

There are, however, two rookies are turning heads around the league after coming into the NBA with very little recognition: LA Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.

But which one is the steal of the draft?

Let’s talk about the surprises

Kyle Kuzma

Kyle Kuzma came into the draft as a little-known prospect from the University of Utah (okay, I know most of you fans in Utah probably had heard of him, but Utah is a bigger bubble than BitCoin).

Some claim it was the spacing and pace of the college game. Some claim he made leaps and strides in the offseason. Nobody can really say, but there are some who recognized.

In a preseason article, fellow Pac-12 player and now fellow Laker said the following of Kuzma —

"“In college he wasn’t that good, to be honest. I don’t even remember him when we played him,” Ball said in September. “Now I’m happy he’s on my team.”"

Alright. So nobody believed in him, except himself. Now we’re in a world where through roughly a quarter-season of play, Kuzma is the only rookie with a 30-point game. He’s a brilliant fit in the positionless world of modern basketball where a stretch four has become almost a necessity (see the Jazz’s recent offensive success with an average stretch four in the lineup if you don’t believe me).

He would have also perfectly filled the need at power forward for the Utah Jazz… But I digress.

I’ll let you look at his Per 36 minutes numbers for some validation, but he’s good. Really good. He’s looking like the best Laker rookie and he was a steal as the 27th pick in the first round.

Pop quiz: Do you know who the other big steal was at the 27th pick in a different year?

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell was drafted as the 13th pick. He came out of Louisville after two seasons, but really only one impactful year in which he broke out. As a late bloomer (he also focused on baseball in high school), he wasn’t touted as a lottery pick despite leading Louisville to the Final Four.

After he was drafted, we started to learn that he would be a great lockdown defender with a lot of lateral quickness and athleticism. He was also capable of some pretty dunks and, potentially, a good shooter who was streaky.

I’m not sure any of us could have predicted his leadership, ability to learn on the fly, and his determination to succeed.

itchell’s  ceiling is something like a Damian Lillard, who can play defense. His most recent Per 36 minutes numbers are also looking eerily similar to Dame’s SOPHOMORE season.

This week, he gave us highlights such as this:

Or this, which didn’t count but was still incredible.


Zach Lowe also expressed some of this best in his article this week:

So.. who was the bigger steal?

This really is a toss-up between Kuzma and Mitchell. And I hesitate to say Mitchell because I’m going to be accused of being a Jazz homer (I’m only the biggest), but I have to take Mitchell.

Kuzma is looking to have a stellar NBA career. He can score at-will in a variety of ways. It remains to be seen if he can be a leader on the court, however, and for that reason I have to say Donovan.

More from The J-Notes

Donovan has some of the stuff you can’t teach, and that’s really hard to predict prior to a draft. The Jazz literally struck gold. We’re wearing those gold jerseys the rest of the season, right?