Donovan Mitchell isn't just Rookie of the Year material — he's a future star

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SN Movie Session on Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (Getty Pictures/SN Illustration)

Just when it appeared as if Ben Simmons had the Rookie of the Year award on lock, Donovan Mitchell burst onto the scene.

In contrast to Simmons, it took Mitchell a while to seek out his footing in the NBA. He got here off the bench for eight of the first eleven video games of his profession and surpassed the 30-minute mark solely 3 times throughout that stretch. It wasn’t till the finish of November that he started to seek out his stride, and he’s been on hearth ever since.

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In the 20 video games following his 1-for-10 capturing efficiency towards the Bulls on Nov. 22, Mitchell has averaged 22.three factors per recreation on forty eight.eight % capturing from the area and 37.1 % capturing from the perimeter. He now leads all rookies in scoring on the season with 18.four factors per recreation.

The Jazz solely gained seven of these 20 video games, however they’ve been a utterly totally different staff with Mitchell in the lineup over the final seven weeks. In the 683 minutes he has been on the courtroom, the Jazz have been outscored by solely eight factors. In the 373 minutes Mitchell has spent on the bench, they’ve been outscored by a complete of 26 factors. It really works out to be a distinction of 2.5 factors per one hundred possessions, the similar margin that separates a staff like the Spurs from the Bucks.

So how has the thirteenth decide in the 2017 NBA Draft develop into one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year? To get a higher understanding of how dominant he has been, let’s take a nearer take a look at what Mitchell has displayed on each ends of the courtroom via 39 video games.

An explosive scorer with out and with out the ball

Mitchell is already snug scoring at three ranges. His most NBA-prepared offensive talent coming into the 2017 NBA Draft was his outdoors bounce shot, and he’s made forty two.2 % of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers up to now on a respectable pattern measurement of three.zero makes an attempt per recreation. Extra encouraging than the numbers is Mitchell appears the half of a shooter. He has a compact type, a clean launch and he will get his shot off shortly. He isn’t afraid of capturing from deep, both.

Mitchell has additionally confirmed the capacity to create environment friendly photographs for himself when defenders shut out on him on the three-level line. It’s helped him develop into one of the greatest spot-up scorers in the NBA this season with a mean of 1.22 factors per spot-up possession. Whereas he hasn’t made all of these in-between photographs at a excessive price — he’s transformed 36.three % of his 2-level pull-ups and 34.9 % of his floaters — he’s at the least showcased his potential in these areas.

It’s a comparable case together with his three-level pull-up. Mitchell has made solely 28.eight % of these alternatives, nevertheless it’s a shot he doesn’t draw back from, and one he’ll need to make at a excessive fee to enhance as an isolation (zero.88 factors per possession) and decide-and-roll scorer (zero.eighty three factors per possession). It’s an necessary shot for any guard in today’s NBA, notably ones who’re anticipated to deal with the ball as a lot as Mitchell does in the half courtroom.

If he can develop a constant three-level stroke off the dribble, it’ll be extremely troublesome for defenders to remain in entrance of Mitchell as a result of he’s an explosive scorer with the ball in his palms. He has a fast first step, and he can get his shot off in a selection of methods, starting from primary spin strikes to unorthodox finishes you’d anticipate to see from a veteran. Because of a 6-10 wingspan and forty-inch vertical — each spectacular measurements for a 6-three guard — Mitchell may even end over defenders, particularly when he’s given area to collect off of two ft.

With the ability to rating at three ranges provides Mitchell the instruments to create his personal shot towards the greatest defenders in the league. He doesn’t generate many of his factors in isolation, however 60.eight % of his made baskets to date have been unassisted. It’s why the Jazz have been snug placing the ball in his palms at the finish of shut video games.

In response to NBA.com, Mitchell has scored a complete of forty one factors in forty four clutch minutes this season on fifty one.6 % capturing from the flooring. The one rookies who’ve scored extra clutch factors are Simmons, Jayson Tatum and Lauri Markkanen, they usually have every performed in over eighty clutch minutes.

That’s to not say there isn’t room for enchancment for Mitchell as a scorer. Along with turning into a extra constant three-level shooter off the dribble, these floaters are essential for his lengthy-time period improvement, contemplating he isn’t the tallest of guards. It’s encouraging that he appears snug pulling-up from midrange, however he appears to second-guess himself at occasions when there’s an imposing defender standing between him and the basket.

Not trusting himself in these conditions has performed in a position in Mitchell being blocked 34 occasions this season, a determine that places him close to the prime of the league alongside different quantity scorers similar to Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker. If Mitchell does turn into extra assured together with his floater, these are the performs that ought to occur much less ceaselessly:

Mitchell’s shot choice has been questionable at occasions as nicely, however it has extra to do with what he’s being requested to do than his basketball IQ. Mitchell has principally taken over Gordon Hayward’s position from final season as the main scorer for the Jazz, which is a tall process anybody, let alone a rookie chosen with the thirteenth decide in the NBA Draft.

Mitchell has adjusted to the position higher than anybody might’ve anticipated — the Jazz are a mean staff offensively with Mitchell on the courtroom and completely depressing with him on the bench — nevertheless it’s pressured him to tackle a greater load than he was in all probability ready for.

Enjoying alongside a higher level guard and extra succesful outdoors shooters would assist Mitchell in that regard. The previous would permit him to spend extra day without work-ball and the latter would give him extra room to function in the half courtroom. It’s one thing the Jazz may have to remember as they begin to construct the subsequent model of this group round Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

A greater passer than anticipated

One of the largest criticisms of Mitchell heading into the NBA Draft was that he was barely undersized to play capturing guard in the NBA and never expert sufficient with the ball in his arms to be a level guard. He gained’t possible ever be a cross-first guard, however he’s already made noticeable strides as a facilitator this season.

The Jazz don’t essentially want Mitchell to be a move-first guard anyway. What they do want him to do is about up his teammates with straightforward baskets when he’s in a position to attract the consideration of a number of defenders, which occurs regularly given his capability to create his personal shot off the dribble. It’s what separates Mitchell from somebody like Simmons. Whereas Simmons is consistently on the lookout for his teammates when he has the ball in his arms, Mitchell is a scorer first and a passer second.

It’s why a lot of Mitchell’s assists come from easy reads like this:

There’s nothing mistaken with these being easy assists as a result of they typically result in top quality shot makes an attempt. Based on NBA.com, eighty five.eight % of Mitchell’s assists up to now have both come immediately at the rim or from the three-level line. So if he’s not establishing one of his teammates with a extensive open three-pointer, odds are they’re being gifted with a layup or dunk.

These assists nonetheless require Mitchell to learn the protection like a level guard. It’s one factor to make the proper cross when the protection collapses. It’s one other to learn the protection and acknowledge when they’re dishonest in anticipation of him making the apparent move. It’s what he does on the following possession by maintaining a tally of Juan Hernangomez and launching a cross-courtroom cross to Ricky Rubio as quickly as the Nuggets ahead commits to closing out on Joe Ingles:

Right here’s one other instance of Mitchell’s courtroom imaginative and prescient:

The straightforward play would’ve been to move the ball to Ekpe Udoh beneath the basket, however Mitchell correctly waited for James Harden to make a choice. Had Harden stayed with Thabo Sefolosha in the nook, Mitchell would’ve dropped the ball off to Udoh for a dunk. As a result of Harden selected to take that choice away, Mitchell held onto the ball till Harden made contact with Udoh earlier than kicking it out to Sefolosha in the nook. It’s a sensible learn for a rookie, made all the extra spectacular by him delivering the cross on track together with his off-hand.

Then there are passes like this:

It’s all the things you could find out about Mitchell’s offensive potential in a single play. If he wasn’t a good three-level shooter on the catch, Ryan Anderson wouldn’t have closed out on him on the perimeter. If he wasn’t snug pulling-up from midrange, Harden wouldn’t have helped off his task. And if he wasn’t a menace to attain at the rim, Clint Capela wouldn’t have rotated over to guard the basket. Mitchell then does the proper factor by kicking the ball out to at least one of the greatest shooters in the NBA for a broad open three-pointer.

As Jazz head coach Quin Snyder lately advised ESPN, calling Mitchell a capturing guard does him a disservice as a result of there’s a lot extra to his recreation. Whereas he can area the flooring like a conventional capturing guard, he additionally has the expertise of a level guard given how simply he can create for himself and others off the dribble.

Even when he by no means develop into a Harden-sort passer, there’s sufficient variety in his recreation to alternate between enjoying level guard and capturing guard relying on what the Jazz want. It opens up a world of prospects for them in the future on the subject of who they pair Mitchell with in the backcourt.

A excessive upside defender

The wingspan and explosiveness talked about earlier? They make Mitchell as pest on protection.

Mitchell already has fifty seven steals and 18 blocks this season. It places him on tempo to complete the season with round one hundred twenty steals and 30 blocks, that are totals solely three different rookies his peak have ever reached. It’s not essentially the biggest of accomplishments in the massive scheme of issues, however it speaks to how disruptive of a defender Mitchell could be, each in a single-on-one conditions and as a helper.

Mitchell was projected as a three-and-D wing getting into the 2017 NBA Draft. Not solely does he have the athleticism and size to excel on protection in the NBA, he’s already a strong 209 kilos. It provides him the measurement and power to comfortably match up with at the least two positions.

For instance, take a look at Mitchell’s protection on Harden right here:

Now watch him defend Westbrook:

Lastly, watch how he matches up with Kyrie Irving:

Every of these assignments requires a totally different strategy. In the case of Harden, Mitchell has to maintain his arms up excessive to stop him from passing the ball to Tarik Black on the roll. Mitchell then makes use of his robust higher physique to maintain Harden in entrance of him, all whereas preserving his arms to himself to keep away from choosing up a foul.

With Westbrook, Mitchell has to maneuver his ft faster in order that the Thunder guard doesn’t explode previous him off the dribble. And to include Irving, Mitchell must depend on his lateral quickness to maintain up together with his crossovers. Irving will get the higher of Mitchell in the instance above — he was doomed when he let Irving get to the center of the flooring on the preliminary decide-and-roll — however he recovers properly and forces him into a robust shot with out fouling. There wasn’t rather more he might’ve carried out.

The superior numbers don’t paint Mitchell as an impression defender but. ESPN’s Actual Plus-Minus says he’s a unfavorable defender, and the Jazz’s protection has been barely higher with him on the bench. That, nevertheless, is to be anticipated from a rookie, particularly one who’s carrying as massive of a load as Mitchell is offensively.

What’s necessary is Mitchell has the potential to develop into a distinction-maker on protection. He has the bodily instruments to take action, in addition to the mindset and tenacity to defend some of the greatest perimeter gamers in the league.

What to observe for subsequent

As is the case with any rookie, it’ll be fascinating to see how a lot of that is sustainable. Mitchell is coming off of a powerful month by which he averaged 23.1 factors and three.eight assists per recreation on 50.7 % capturing from the area and 35.eight % capturing from the perimeter.

He’s unlikely to place up these numbers for the the rest of the season — Mitchell can be in a class of his personal if he did — however is he already a 20-level-per-recreation scorer in the NBA? Can he proceed to attain effectively? Will he make a greater proportion of his three-level pull-ups in the second half of the season?

Past the scoring, any enhancements Mitchell makes as a passer and defender between now and the finish of the season shall be a step in the proper path. He is proven he could make the proper reads and lock up elite offensive gamers, however doing each of these persistently is what is going to separate him from being a quantity scorer and the sort of weapon a staff can construct its complete system round. It provides Mitchell a ceiling you’d anticipate from a prime three decide in the NBA Draft, not somebody drafted thirteenth general.

Even when he does not finish the season as the Rookie of the Year, there isn’t any doubt he has all the instruments to turn into a star.