Rick Pitino may not have a coaching job anymore but his tenacity, toughness and edge are in the NBA playoffs by way of the two players he mentored, 24 year old Terry Rozier and 21 year old Donovan Mitchell. Rozier played for Pitino and Louisville for two years (2013-15) before declaring for the NBA draft. The Ohio native was selected 16th by the Celtics and was a frequent visitor in the D-League his rookie year. He played in 36 Celtic games in the 2015-16 season.
New Yorker Donovan Mitchell entered Louisville when Rozier exited and and like Rozier stayed two years (2015-17). It’s a story that has been repeteated many a time how Mitchell didn’t believe he was good enough for the NBA and had to be convinced to enter the draft and even then he didn’t think he’d be selected. He was. Denver drafted him in the late lottery then traded him to Utah. His rookie year has been more than even Mitchell anticipated. He’ll wind up as runner up or maybe co-Rookie of the Year. He played in 79 games, led all rookies in scoring (20.5) and is the first rookie to lead his team in scoring since Carmelo Anthony in 2003-04.
Rozier and Mitchell have opposite NBA stories. Rozier is a utility player who has gotten a lot of playing time with an injured Kyrie Irving in street clothes. Rozier played a career high 80 games in 2017-18, starting 16, playing nearly 26 minutes. Rozier is a rebounding guard who has always struggled with his shot. In the regular season he only made 39% of his field goals but his offensive rating has soared from his rookie year: 81 to 109. Rozier has had an outstanding year on the defensive side of the ball and in the playoffs he has dominated his position.
First, Rozier’s playoff minutes are through the roof, 36 minutes compared to last year’s 16 minutes, as he is taking advantage of Boston’s injuries. The more minutes he is playing the more efficient he has been. His offensive rating in the playoffs is a sick 128 and more important than the clutch shot he hit in game one against the Bucks, he is in Eric Bledsoe’s head, so much so, Bledsoe looked broken when he played in Boston.
|Not Playoff Scared||Points||FG%||3-Pt%||Offensive Rating|
|Terry Rozier, Celtics||18.3||43.6%||42.1%||128|
|Donovan Mitchell, Jazz||27.5||44.7%||21.4%||105|
In the Western Conference, Donovan Mitchell is going up against his idol, Russell Westbrook, and he’s carrying the Jazz. He is their best offensive player and when he is in attack mode it takes the defensive Jazz to an entirely different stratosphere. He is averaging 27.5 points in the playoffs but his three ball is in need of therapy, 21%. Still. He is getting to the line almost 6 times a game and is pulling down 8 boards (Westbrook is shooting 38% and scoring 24 points a game). The point guard matchup, which is usually a Thunder win, is a wash in the Thunder-Jazz series. Mitchell and Westbrook are cancelling each other out which forces Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to come up big. They did in game one, they couldn’t in game two, and the series is tied.
Mitchell is doing what all stars are supposed to do, make their team better. It doesn’t feel like he is a rookie in the playoffs for the first time. He is continuing his 2017-18 season and in this, his first year, he is graciously accepting the pressure and stress of the big moment. He likes this stage.
Rozier and Mitchell are the prototype of what the NCAA wants: stay in college for two years. A two year college apprenticeship allows players to mature so they can appropriately asborb the intensity and stress of the NBA.
Steph Curry, three years in college. Klay Thompson, three years in college. James Harden, two years in college, Chris Paul, two years in college. Damian Lillard, four years in college. C.J. McCollum, four years in college. Russell Westbrook, two years in college. Paul George, two years in college. More college means less of a NBA learning curve. You just know more.
Embroiled in a scandal, leaving Louisville in disgrace, is a black mark on the Pitino legacy that encompasses four decades of coaching. But preparing Rozier and Mitchell for the NBA, being the teacher they needed to allow them to thrive in a make or miss, be tough or be ridiculed league is a Pitino accomplishment.
Terry Rozier and Donovan Mitchell, both named after their fathers, are representing Pitino and the 502 pretty damn well.