Few have jumped up draft boards as rapidly as Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, who’s now teetering on being a top-10 selection.
The ACC is one of college basketball’s most competitive conferences. It’s jam-packed with All-Americans who attend Duke, North Carolina and Florida State among others, but one of its most impactful players wasn’t high on the list of those powerhouse schools. Louisville was lucky enough to have Donovan Mitchell sign with them, and the 20-year-old has turned a ton of heads in the last couple of weeks, mine included.
His rocket up mock drafts started after an incredible NBA Draft Combine. Mitchell had exceptional measurements and equally impressive results from the athletic testing. The first red flag surrounding Mitchell is his height. At 6-3, he’s an undersized shooting guard. And I can’t even say he’s a combo guard because he doesn’t have point guard skills. However, his 6-10 wingspan sweeps that under the rug, and he’s suddenly no longer a defensive liability at the next level. That length is a big reason why Mitchell was a thorn in his opponent’s sides.
In 34 games for the Cardinals, the sophomore came away with 70 steals, which worked out to an average of 2.1 a night. Both of those led the ACC. On top of that, he landed on the conference’s All-Defensive Team.
Mitchell knows where he has to be, and the length he brings coupled with his IQ offsets his lack of lateral quickness. He’s not totally immobile, but the lane agility time (11.53 seconds) he posted at the combine was underwhelming given the caliber of athlete that he is. Regardless, it’ll translate fine to the NBA, and the only keeping him from — dare I say it — being an elite defender is learning the schemes. That — along with adjusting to the speed of the game — is an issue with 99 percent of prospects. Mitchell can get mentioned alongside Josh Jackson as the two who have the most potential to be defensive game-changers.
On offense is where I’m most intrigued with him. There was a significant jump in production during conference play during his second season. Most players either drop a bit or stay the same, especially when playing in a league like the ACC. Mitchell was different. For the season overall, these were his averages:
- 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals with shooting percentages of 40.8/35.4/80.6 and a 21.7 PER
In 18 ACC games, he became more efficient and just a better player overall despite having a bigger workload:
- 18.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.1 steals, a slash line of 44.2/40.0/82.5 and a 24.4 PER
Even though defense is his strongest asset, Mitchell was even more impactful on offense if you go by some advanced metrics. His offensive box plus/minus was plus-6.8 which was fifth best in the conference, and that means that Mitchell is almost seven points per 100 possessions better than the average player. That’s outstanding for a guy who isn’t a star. Mitchell’s offense is predicated on shooting threes. Of his 444 attempts this year, 218 came from downtown, but a spot-up shooter is more of a commodity now than ever before. Of course, he hasn’t rocketed into the lottery on that alone.
His crazy athleticism means he’s able to finish in traffic despite not being lightening quick. With a 40.5-inch max vertical, Mitchell can elevate with almost anybody, and his first step is quick enough to create just enough space to rise.
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Additionally, if he develops an in-between game, a one dribble pull-up will be tough to guard because of how quickly he can stop and elevate. Working in that area would be most advantageous because Mitchell doesn’t switch gears as well as other guards, and that’s another thing that prevents me from labeling him a combo guard. He has issues beating quicker defenders off the dribble, and going downhill at one speed makes it easier to bottle him up in the pick-and-roll. I’m sure teams are noticing that. Louisville put Mitchell in those spots because he was their best player. In the NBA, that won’t be the case, and he’ll be a secondary option who likely camps out in the corner.
Teams are going to have to run him all over the court to try and get him open to get the most out of him. It may work or it may not. However, if he performs well defensively, any struggles on offense will be negated rapidly.
Outside of his size, Mitchell’s most glaring deficiency is decision-making. It’s clear that Rick Pitino didn’t care whether or not Mitchell created for others — after all, Quentin Snider was the primary point guard. He had 1.6 turnovers a night, giving him an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.66. That’s not okay. However, take it with a grain of salt. If Mitchell were logging a majority of his minutes at the point guard spot that would be cause for concern, but since he’s a score-first player whose main responsibility is to shoot, it’s not that big of a deal. Yes, teams should want to draft cerebral guys, but Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick (among others) have carved out great careers focusing on what they do best, and Mitchell is someone who’s going to have a similar role as them.
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His upside is far greater as a scorer because of his athleticism, but, during his first couple of seasons, I don’t see him being much more than a catch-and-shoot guy.
Since the combine, I’ve grown more fond of Donovan Mitchell. Every team needs a reliable three-and-D guy, and few in this draft do those as well as he does. Conversely, there are issues, and they might be too uncertain for a high lottery selection. The size isn’t too questionable anymore because of his ridiculous athleticism and length, but he’s almost a one-dimensional offensive player, and guys taken in the first 14 spots are expected to be dynamic from the start.
We have time until draft night, and Mitchell has the chance to get in a handful of private workouts before he hears his name called. It’s entirely possible he surprises during those, raises a lot of eyebrows and justifies such a remarkable rise in stock.
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