Rick Pitino says he tried to convince Knicks to draft Donovan Mitchell

Dan Feldman

Many criticized the Knicks for drafting Frank Ntilikina over Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Now that New York has Smith and Smith has failed to separate himself, that chatter has quieted.

But everyone still loves to pile on the Knicks. (They deserve most of it.)

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So, it’s time to second-guess New York passing on Donovan Mitchell, who was the No. 13 pick to the Jazz. Former Knicks coach Rick Pitino, who coached Mitchell at Louisville, is leading the charge.

SiriusXM NBA Radio:


Pitino:

I tried to get the Knicks to take him.

Nah, they can’t take him at that number.

Donovan, I knew would be a star in the league. I always felt he could play the 1. Can he run a pick-and-roll? Without question. Can he get other people shots? Without question. So, I always knew he could play two positions. He’s just a unique personality.

A lot of people – 7, 8, 9 – they passed on him, because they, A, they didn’t think he could play point guard, B, they questioned certain things.

Donovan is a worker. He’ll get in the gym, and he’ll perfect it. He doesn’t have a big ego, but he has an ability mentally. He wants to be the best. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder. He has a boulder on his shoulder, because he wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. He was ranked 55th in high school instead of top 10, top 15. And he’s always out to prove that he’s one of the better players. So, it’s a good chip. He wants to be the best, and he’s willing to pay the price to be the best.

This is the same Pitino who, when Mitchell declared for the draft, said:

I think (Mitchell) will go out there and try out. And if he can move into the post-lottery area, anywhere from 13-20, it’s something we’ll talk about, but if it’s not there he’ll come back.

Pitino’s optimistic outlook was Mitchell getting drafted in the middle of the first round. Yet, we’re supposed to take seriously Pitino knew Mitchell would be an NBA star? That’s hard to jibe.

To be fair to the Knicks, many – myself included – didn’t have Mitchell ranked that high. He just didn’t look that exceptional at Louisville. But Utah watched him dominate a private pre-draft workout then traded up to get him.

I don’t blame the Knicks for not taking Pitino’s advice (if he truly gave it that way). They can’t listen to every college coach who raves about his own player. Mitchell is likable, and that gets people around him to vouch for him. But drafting teams must assess a player’s basketball ability, not just his likability.

Mitchell had the goods, and in hindsight, New York should have drafted him. The Knicks should self-assess and learn from that mistake.

But I doubt the applicable lesson is listening more to Rick Pitino.

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