After the first day of training camp practice, Tony Harvey asked newcomer Kevin Huerter who he thought “the ultimate gym rat” was. The swingman was quick to say Harrison Barnes—a predictable and apt response—but he also threw Davion Mitchell and Terence Davis out there as well.
As Huerter observed, Mitchell’s diligence is right up there with a season vet and a previously undrafted work horse. That’s no surprise.
You hear it often: Mitchell’s work ethic is exceptional.
Time and time again, the fact is engrained deeper into the psyches of observers, with stories, anecdotes, and on the floor results.
Despite that being exactly what anyone would want to see and hear, some may view it as a storyline that’s been belabored. But even with the risk of redundancy in mind, the point should be made that by combining such a commitment to putting in the work with the springboard of an NBA player’s second year, the results for Mitchell’s upcoming season could exceed expectations.
That means being more than just a back up point guard, or a defensive ace up Mike Brown’s sleeve. It means being an integral difference-maker both on and off the court, being a leader.
It probably wouldn’t be achieved in the duration of training camp alone and would likely have to develop as the season wears on, but Mitchell is in the position to make some serious strides throughout the 82-game season and help this team achieve a little success.
In a player’s second season, they have their clear opportunity, as Monte McNair described, to “take that jump” because “they’re used to the rigors of the season a little more.”
Mitchell observed that he’s more familiar with “the grind,” with “the things you got to go through to win in this league because it’s hard to win.” Things like balancing work and sleep, which for the ever dedicated and competitive Davion Mitchell means knowing he “can’t really be in the gym” all of the time because humans, in fact, require adequate sleep.
His new coach—who along with Ron Adams was the defensive architect for the Warriors since 2016—said it’s precisely that kind of “competitive spirit” that is the largest factor for a good defense. So it’s no wonder that his competitive edge goes hand in hand with his revered defensive skill.
Obviously, his abilities on that end are no joke.
“He’s a special talent, especially on the ball defensively,” Brown said of his player. “He’s got great feet, he’s strong as the dickens, he’s got a great nose for the ball, he’s not afraid, and he’s got some dog in him.”
Speaking of that inner “dog,” despite his size, Mitchell offers plenty of versatility, famously giving the much taller Khris Middleton fits in the second half of a game last March. It comes from effort and the awareness to know that offensive players “are uncomfortable when you’re touching them” and “close to them.”
The results of his defensive chops alone can provide a punch of energy to the team in the form of inspiration.
“Seeing how hard I guard kind of turns the team up,” Mitchell remarked.
But while it’s clear as day to anyone paying attention that Davion Mitchell is a tremendous individual defender and that he is a real weapon on that floor, there’s room for that next step that accompanies year two.
In terms of that next step, one of the things his new head coach has underscored for this group is “communication” and “connectivity.”
Both Mitchell and his coaches know he has to be more vocal in order to boost the overall team defense. For the second year guard, he’s walked the walk, but now he’s got to talk the talk, so to speak, in order to help facilitate the necessary communication needed for a cohesive defensive unit.
During the Summer League in Vegas, Mitchell was asked about what he’d been focusing on for the upcoming season and noted, along with shooting consistency, the importance of stepping up as a communicator on defense. It was evident he wanted to build off of the close to the season prior, when he began to find his voice alongside Donte DiVincenzo.
Regarding that point, Mitchell said this week that as “one of the best defenders on the team,” he’s “got to be able to talk those actions out, be that vocal leader.” On a broader note, he added that “players got your back, so you have to have their back, too.”
The final tidbit there might sound somewhat familiar to another former vocal leader.
If fans recall last season, in the midst of the complete collapse in connectivity just before the firing of Luke Walton, then-Kings big man Tristan Thompson delivered probably the most memorable remarks of the year after a loss in Minnesota:
“I know (Karl-Anthony) Towns is a good player, but we had a game plan for him and, yes, you wanna force him left, but if he goes right, your teammate’s gotta have your back… If I get beat and I want my teammate to get there, I gotta be there for him. That’s part of being on the string and that’s how you build a defensive mentality. And the league is f*cking hard — it’s hard to win. … We gotta win collectively.”
Like Thompson, Mitchell recognizes the difficulty of this league and the collective effort required to overcome the ceaseless adversity. Furthermore, he probably learned from his former teammate that vocal leadership is vital, and that you can’t wait for someone else to speak up.
Considering the change between a year ago, when he was “a quiet little rookie” as Alvin Gentry put it, and the present moment, it seems Mitchell has a clear understanding of why that’s a must have for a team.
After all, he’s a second year player and one of the younger players at camp, and despite that, he appears more than open to assuming a significant portion of the vocal leadership that seems to be a requirement in Mike Brown’s system and any system that wants to make a serious run at winning.
And he’s intent on spreading the word, too.
In regards to one of the less vocal guys on the team, rookie Keegan Murray, Mitchell said he’s got a plan to encourage the more inexperienced player. On Monday, he commented that he’s “going to say something to (Murray) abut just talking more” since he too was quiet as a rookie and that he “kind of grew into that” as the year progressed.
With defensive-minded coach Mike Brown putting an emphasis on communication and connectivity, Davion Mitchell is in a prime position to ascend as one of this team’s indispensable vocal leaders.