Jazz newbies Sefolosha and Mitchell bond despite age gap

Thabo Sefolosha and Donovan Mitchell were both new to the Jazz at the start of the season, and formed a bond despite their 13-year age gap. Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Several hours before the Utah Jazz took to the court against the Houston Rockets in game five of their Western Conference semi-finals, veteran guard Thabo Sefolosha sat on one of the plush courtside seats and intently watched a few young players engage in a one-on-one game.

Hours later, the Jazz would be on the losing end of both the game and the series, as an impressive Donovan Mitchell-inspired season came to an end. From 34-year-old Sefolosha's perspective, from both the sidelines and on court, watching the 21-year-old rookie shine was invigorating.

The Swiss-South African, who had been out since January after knee surgery, told KweséESPN that the team's relatively surprising season was a clear indication of future gains: "I think with the talent level that we have... we have Donovan who is super young and he's going to keep improving.

"We have Rudy [Gobert} who still has a lot to learn in the game but has already made a huge impact. You go down the line and you see guys that can still improve and are already giving a lot, so I think we definitely have a big margin to improve and it's an exciting time for sure."

Earlier this year, Mitchell had told the Salt Lake Tribune that Sefolosha had been a great help to him during his rookie year: "I look to him like, 'What do you see in the game?' When you have a guy you can go up to like that, it shows how much he knows and his presence."

Sefolosha, who arrived from the Atlanta Hawks ahead of the season, expanded on the relationship between himself and Mitchell: "I just try to talk to him about different aspects of the game, whether it's in between the lines or whether it's outside of the court.

"I think, with my experience and the way to approach the game, it's where sometimes it makes a difference, especially as a rookie you come in, you don't really know what to expect. So I've kind of been giving him the perspective that I've learned after 12 years in this league."

Both players, despite their age difference, were in the same boat in being new to Utah though. Despite playing over a decade in the NBA prior to last summer, for the Bulls, Thunder, and Hawks, Salt Lake City was an unknown quantity to Sefolosha and his family.

"I didn't really know what to expect coming into Salt Lake, but it's a great place. Great fans, great team. I think we probably did better than a lot of people expected. On the basketball side it was a great season overall and we're going to try to build on this."

How does Utah compare to the other cities he has played for? "Probably [most like] OKC. I think it's just like a smaller city, smaller market where there's not a whole lot of other sports teams or entertainment, so people are very focused on the team."

Sefolosha, who got into trouble with the league recently after failing a marijuana test, is nearly four months into his injury rehab, and is confident of taking to the court next season, after serving his five-game suspension.

He added: "It's a slow process but I'm feeling pretty good right now. Three and a half months in and I'm making progress and I'm happy with the way it's going."

NBA fans could be forgiven for sleeping on the Jazz after last summer's loss of star guard Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics, but come next season, the expectations on the Jazz will be increased as Mitchell and Gobert elevate their games.

But count on Sefolosha to return to doing the little things on the court, while providing the leadership and stability off it, for the Jazz to continue toward greater playoff success.