Louisville’s Mitchell was hearing second round – now he might not make it to Pistons pick at 12

Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell got some encouraging words from NBA stars Chris Paul and Paul George as he pondered entering the draft
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Bower and the rest of the dads in the Pistons front office probably didn’t get breakfast in bed Sunday – unless their families were up especially early.

With the draft four days away, Sunday was another work day for Van Gundy and his cabinet, and perhaps an especially pivotal one. They held another draft workout, this one hosting perhaps the highest-ranked player of the 40 who’ve visited Auburn Hills over the past month, Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell.

The Pistons hold the 12th pick and Mitchell is ranked 11th by DraftExpress.com and projected as the 11th pick to Charlotte by ESPN.com in its latest mock draft. Based on Mitchell’s workout schedule, it’s clear teams picking ahead of the Pistons are doing a lot of kicking of the tires.

Mitchell has worked out for the two teams picking directly ahead of the Pistons – Sacramento at 10, Charlotte at 11 – and he still has workouts scheduled with New York, picking eighth, and Dallas, picking ninth.

Not bad for a guy who was uncertain he’d stay in the draft after Louisville’s season ended with him hearing second-round projections. Then came a workout shortly before the NBA draft combine with two pretty fair players in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t really see myself in this spot at all until I worked out with Chris Paul and Paul George and I was holding my own,” Mitchell said. “They had a conversation with me about the positives and the negatives and the positives definitely outweighed the negatives.”

Then Mitchell lit up the combine athletic testing, finishing with the fastest time in the three-quarter court sprint and the best standing vertical leap. If he’s a tad undersized for a shooting guard at 6-foot-3, Mitchell’s athleticism and extraordinary reach – a 6-foot-10 wing span – allay any concerns he’d be overpowered at the defensive end.

And then there’s the wild card: Though Mitchell played predominantly as a shooting guard, NBA teams are envisioning the possibilities of him playing at the point. And if he can successfully pull that off, his value explodes.

“Pretty much every NBA team has said I can do both and that’s pretty much what I thought I would be able to do,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a matter of defensive ability as opposed to the offensive, because offensively, it will come.”

Mitchell will leave an overwhelmingly positive impression upon teams for his personality and coachability as one of the brightest and most self-aware draft candidates. His father, Donovan Sr., played minor league baseball and works in the Mets front office. Mitchell has grown up around professional athletes and seen why some have thrived and others have failed to realize their potential.

“I grew up around a lot of the major leaguers, guys like David Wright, Pedro Martinez, Jose Reyes, and I think that’s what really helped me,” he said. “You see the routine they get, the humility they have. I’ve seen it on both sides. I’ve seen guys who had the craziest amount of talent growing up and let that hype and whatnot and the money go to their head. Now I don’t even know where they are. I think that’s really helped me the most.”

Mitchell will be in the green room on draft night, another indication of his elevated draft stock. Nobody would have guessed that as recently as the end of Mitchell’s sophomore season, Mitchell included.

“It’s crazy to me to even think about that,” he said. “Realistically, five months ago I didn’t see myself in this spot at all. I thought I’d be back in college ready to play my junior season and it just all happened so fast.”