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Kings rookie living up to nickname at NBA Summer League

Updated August 15, 2021 - 4:58 pm

Davion Mitchell hasn’t played his first NBA game yet and already the rookie has a killer nickname.

He was known as “Off Night” at Baylor — as in, whoever he’s guarding is about to have an off night.

Mitchell, the ninth overall pick in the 2021 draft, is living up to the billing so far at NBA Summer League. The Sacramento Kings guard has brought the same tenacious ball pressure and off-ball activity that’s led him to have so much success in his career.

Mitchell, when asked where his intensity on that end of the court comes from in his post-draft news conference, simply said, “I know defense wins championships.”

He has the trophy case to prove it.

He won a state title in high school in Georgia, a national championship in college and helped the Kings improve to 4-0 in Las Vegas on Sunday with an 86-70 win against the Dallas Mavericks.

“I think I’ve always been a pretty good defender,” Mitchell said. “I’m a really competitive guy. I love to play the game. I think that’s why I love the defensive end so much. I think starting my freshman year of high school that’s been my identity, my calling card. Playing defense and getting my teammates involved.”

Mitchell’s commitment and work ethic on defense is the reason he’s in the position to have a starring role at Summer League. He didn’t spend one year in college and declare for the draft like many of the selections in front of him.

Instead, the 22-year-old redshirted a year at Baylor after transferring from Auburn and continued to work on his game. That’s where some of the team’s graduate assistants gave him his nickname.

He was one of 10 finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore. He won the award as a junior, was named a third-team All-American and helped the Bears win their first national championship.

It’s no shock to his college coach that he carried over that strong play to the NBA Summer League.

“Well, he’s done what he’s done at every level he’s been,” Baylor’s Scott Drew said in a midgame interview on ESPN2. “Davion wins wherever he goes. He’s a joy to watch.”

Mitchell’s been the engine for one of the four remaining undefeated teams in Las Vegas.

His scoring numbers aren’t huge — he’s averaging 11.25 points per game — but he’s still making an impact on offense with his passing and dribble penetration. His contributions on the other end is where he’s shining.

True to his nickname, opposing players aren’t having great games against Mitchell. Starting guards against the Kings are 34 of 82 from the field (41.4 percent). Dallas’ starting backcourt Sunday combined for seven turnovers and five assists.

“Davion is the leader,” Sacramento Summer League coach Bobby Jackson said. “He didn’t have a huge scoring night but defensively he set the tone, picking the guards up, getting over screens, not allowing himself to get screened. His on-ball pressure kind of galvanizes our defense. It allows us to be super aggressive, play in passing lanes, be in tagging lanes, have a lot of deflections.”

His special abilities on defense are why he could still carve out a role quickly on a Sacramento team featuring talented guards De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton. Any of those players is capable of a huge scoring night. But Mitchel has a unique talent for preventing one.

“I always tell him before the game starts, it starts with you,” Kings forward Emanuel Terry said. “He’s the head of the snake. Pressuring the ball, doing the dirty work, really helping us get going.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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