LOS ANGELES — This is going to be hard for some Knicks fans to hear.
Donovan Mitchell no longer thinks about being a Knick, or no long thinks about it in that dreamy, wistful way that he did while growing up in Westchester County.
Mitchell, the front-runner for rookie of the year, said on Friday that he’s quite happy with the way things are going for him in Utah this season. And can you blame him? Mitchell, who is averaging 19.6 points and 3.5 assists, led the Jazz to an 11-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break.
Before playing in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge at the Staple Center, Mitchell was asked if he still dreamed of playing at Madison Square Garden.
“Not in that way,” Mitchell said. “It’s not ‘Man, what if I had 40 in the Garden?’ During the draft process, I thought it would be great to play in the Garden and New York. Now, I don’t look back and think about what could have been.”
He might be one of the few in New York who doesn’t. The Knicks had a chance to take the super athletic guard with the No. 8 pick in the draft, but instead then team President Phil Jackson took Frank Ntilikina, who also participated in Friday night’s game, which features the league’s best young talent.
Mitchell, widely considered the steal of the draft, fell to No. 13 where he was taken by Utah. His shockingly huge rookie year has left Knicks fans salivating and craving the kind of entertaining moves he showed early in Friday’s game. Mitchell — who also is participating in Saturday night’s dunk contest — threw a ball at the backboard, caught it with one hand and slammed it in.
Mitchell, who is friends with Ntilikina, believes that the Knicks drafted a solid point guard. Though Ntilikina is respected around the league for his defensive play, he is averaging just 5.2 points and 35.3 percent from the field in 20 minutes per game.
“Being back home would’ve been cool, playing in front of friends and family,” Mitchell said Friday. “But in the same light, I’m happy where I’m at. They got a great rookie in Frank. He’s going to be a star. He’s figuring it out offensively. Defensively, he’s already there.”
Mitchell never expected to have the year he is having.
“I’m one hundred percent [surprised],” he said. “This wasn’t part of my Donovan Mitchell book on coming to the NBA.”
As much as it’s been a dream season, Mitchell said winning the Rookie of the Year award is not his goal.
“I’d rather make the playoffs than win the award,” he said. “The award lasts one season. The playoffs have that memory and bond for years in trying to win the title. I’d rather have that memory with my teammates.”