Davion Mitchell relying on unmatched work ethic to make statement with Kings

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LAS VEGAS — It was the day the Sacramento Kings had their first practice session with their summer league squad in preparation for the Kings’ two-day California Classic followed by the games in Las Vegas.

It was also the day the franchise found out about rookie point guard Davion Mitchell, who they selected at No. 9 out of Baylor in last month’s NBA draft.

The practice was scheduled for late in the afternoon, and the latter portion would feature a scrimmage. Players, largely, were in great shape, including Mitchell, who won a national championship in college. He showed great poise, leadership qualities, phenomenal playmaking ability and his patented ball-hounding prowess.

Everything was going smoothly for the 22-year-old guard, and then came the scrimmage.

Mitchell began hobbling and grabbing the back of his left leg. He took some electrolytes and continued playing. The coaching and training staffs still noticed he was feeling discomfort, but the rookie was adamant that he’d be fine.

As more time dwindled away, summer league coach Bobby Jackson — the former Kings great who was recently appointed head coach of the team’s G League franchise in Stockton — went over to tend to his star player.

Mitchell informed him that he was experiencing cramps in his hamstring.

“I wanted to know why he was cramping,” Jackson told Yahoo Sports. “He was looking so good before then.”

This is when the Kings found out about the workaholic they’re dealing with.

Sacramento Kings guard Davion Mitchell is pressured by Charlotte Hornets guard James Bouknight during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Aug. 9, 2021. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Sacramento Kings guard Davion Mitchell is pressured by Charlotte Hornets guard James Bouknight during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Aug. 9, 2021. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Davion Mitchell's work ethic makes up for undersized stature

Mitchell divulged he had worked out at 8 a.m. for a few hours and then returned to the gym around noon for another hour or so workout before the 5 p.m. practice. The Kings then made the decision to pull him from practice.

“I just looked at him and said, ‘You really worked out twice before coming here? Bro, you can’t be doing that,’” Jackson said of his recollection. “He has an unbelievable work ethic. He’s a tough kid and competitive as they come. But we’ve definitely had to scale him back a little. He’s just wired differently.”

Mitchell said he’s heard that about himself.

“I just love the game of basketball,” Mitchell told Yahoo Sports. “I love competing. When you watch me out there, you can see I hate to lose. I play hard. What motivates me is this game.”

A few days later in his summer league debut against the Golden State Warriors, Mitchell dropped game-highs of 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting and three steals in 32 minutes. Toward the latter part of the contest, those cramps returned and he was removed from the game.

At 6-foot-1, he’s always been the smallest player on the court. With that reality, going above and beyond has been a staple of his upbringing. When the Kings made the pick, there were skeptics questioning why the team drafted another point guard with De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton already on the roster.

“I try not to pay attention to it,” Mitchell said. “Other people’s opinion doesn’t matter to me. I can’t really judge people on their opinions. I think the NBA is now going positionless. It can be three guards on the floor at the same time. It’s just about having people who can make plays on the court and compete, and that’s what I like to do.”

What Mitchell lacks in height, he makes up for with his 205-pound physical stature. And when it comes to defense, he gets low to the ground, puts his body on the opponent and proceeds to do what he calls “taking away space.”

That was on display on Monday against the No. 11 pick, James Bouknight of the Charlotte Hornets. Bouknight is a 6-foot-5 guard who averaged 18.7 points per game at UConn as a sophomore.

Mitchell smothered him, holding him to 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting, and the Hornets rookie committed five turnovers in an 80-70 Kings win.

James Bouknight loses the ball to Davion Mitchell, one of five turnovers the Hornets guard committed against Mitchell's Kings at the 2021 NBA Summer League. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
James Bouknight loses the ball to Davion Mitchell, one of five turnovers the Hornets guard committed against Mitchell's Kings at the 2021 NBA Summer League. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“Whoever I’m playing against and assigned to cover, I try to take away their space because a lot of players who like scoring the ball like playing in space," Mitchell said. "So if you take away their space, it’s hard for them to get a shot off and they get frustrated. … My job here is to take away space. Me being undersized, people look at us like we can’t fit in the league. They think we’re too small. I’m just trying to be that dog on the floor and use it to my advantage. I love the defensive end.”

Mitchell aiming to snap Kings' playoff drought

The top three picks in this year’s draft — Detroit’s Cade Cunningham, Houston’s Jalen Green and Cleveland’s Evan Mobley — are the names dominating the rookie class conversation in Las Vegas, but people are starting to take notice of Mitchell.

Being overlooked isn’t new to him. His response is to put his head down and go to work.

“Everyone is going to have their own opinion of [who is better],” Mitchell said of this rookie class. “Those guys are really good players. I’m not going to say that I’m better than them or they shouldn’t be talked about. They are really good players, and they have a great resume, too. For me, I’m just blessed to be here and blessed to be a part of Sacramento. I’m just going to go out there and do everything to win. I love playing the game of basketball.”

The Kings play the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, and Mitchell is still trying to find a way to get some extra work in.

“He called me this morning and asked if we can go to the gym and get some shots up, and I said, ‘Young fella, there isn’t a gym available,’” Jackson said. “He’s trying to get some real work in on gamedays, and it’s not for show. He just wants to be in the gym. We just have to teach him how to manage his body on gamedays because he can’t do that for 82 games. I’m never going to tell a player to not work hard, but there are ways of doing it smart.

“He gives our team a toughness we really haven’t had. And it’s no knock on our guys, but he’s different. When you’re a small guy, you’ve got to fight and scrap for everything, and so I get why he works so hard. This brother is special, and we’re lucky to have him.”

The feeling is mutual. When it’s all said and done, the Kings might have selected the steal of the draft.

“I really don’t have any goals this season aside from making the playoffs and winning,” Mitchell said. “I’m just glad to be with the Kings, and I’m ready to work.”

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