ORLANDO - There may not have been a more interesting Pistons rookie in Orlando last week than second rounder Tony Mitchell.
Maybe that’s because most of us don’t know a ton about him. He went to the University of North Texas — not your traditional college hoops powerhouse — and he’s a big, athletic guy who has proven to be able to dunk, rebound and swat his fair share of shots into the stands.
The lanky forward showed flashes this week — most notably, his put-back jam with 1.7 seconds to go on Thursday gave the Pistons a victory over Miami— but that talent is why he was considered a probable first-round pick in 2012.
He’s a big-time athlete from a small-time situation at North Texas. Now, he’s learning first-hand that, even in summer league, the NBA game is bigger, faster and stronger.
“Yeah, it’s different, it’s so different,” Mitchell said on Tuesday. “Especially the physicality, everybody’s athletic out here, everybody’s strong, fast; so it’s different. Something to get used to, I’m just trying to play hard and get used to it.”
That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, either. The speed of the game is something that catches all young players, most recently Andre Drummond last summer.
There are times when Mitchell is all over the court, though in a good way. There was a stretch against the Thunder where he stole the ball at half court, drawing a clear-path foul and then just a few plays later, pinned an opposing layup clean on the backboard.
The dude’s a freak athletically, that’s why he’s such an appealing prospect. But there are also concerns about his motor and effort on the court — something that did seemed to come and go at times during the week.
From just talking to him on the sidelines during the Utah-Houston game, I think he knows what his biggest criticism was coming out — he mentioned playing hard and effort multiple times during our conversation.
“It’s just go out there and play your game. Do what you can now,” he said. “Everything else is going to come at the end of the day and you’ve just got to work hard, give a full effort, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do since I’ve been out here.”
He averaged a modest six points and seven rebounds along with a block and steal this week, and he probably wasn’t even the best guy named Tony Mitchell playing at the Orlando Summer League.
Defense and rebounding are going to be the reason he’ll earn playing time this season because there’s still work to be done on his offensive game. He gets cute and tries to handle the ball — but hey, so does Drummond — and he is a little too fond of the long two-point jumper and his pump and stampede toward the basket move can use some refining.
But when he’s got the effort cranked to 11, he’s the kind of pest that can affect the opposing offense in short doses. He and Drummond had similar reputations coming out in that they both had their effort questioned.
Well, so far that’s proven to be quite the opposite for Drummond, and Mitchell chuckled, agreeing when I mentioned that he and Drummond are the team’s two bouncy, energy guys.
“(Drummond’s) experienced and I’m just now coming in to it,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn from those guys — in practice, shootaround, whatever we do — so it’s been helpful and they’ve been helping me, so it’s been real well.”