By Jack Drapkin
Does anyone know that Donovan Mitchell of Louisville, is leading the ACC in steals with 2.2 per game.
Or that in the six games without his backcourt mate Quentin Snider he averaged 19 points and three assists on insane shooting splits of FG(41-82)50 %/3P(16-37)43%/FT(18-19)95%.
It’s safe to say that anyone who can make that kind of impact on the game should be receiving far more buzz…and yet for whatever reason he cannot seem to find his way into mainstream media. The most attention he has received thus far this season is from his incident with Grayson Allen much to the delight of Duke haters around the nation.
He is currently viewed as a late first rounder by sites such as Draft Express and ESPN’s Chad Ford. In a draft stocked with elite guard options, Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr., De’Aaron Fox, and Frank Ntilikina. Mitchell is the sixth elite level, lead guard in this draft class that Edmond Sumner never turned into even before his season ending ACL tear.
For Donovan Mitchell it has to start with his elite athleticism. You cannot coach the things that Mitchell can do on a court but you can influence the effort and Mitchell has been much more locked in on the defensive end this year. Yes, he is leading the best Conference in the nation in steals but it is much more than that. He dogs his man, often guarding him the length of the court, and will effectively follow his man through screens.
He is still improving his on-ball defense but when he is locked in he has the ability to make the opposition’s best player struggle to find the basket. He is for the most part, one of the rare players who prides himself on the defensive end of the court. Mitchell is also a bit of a gambler on the defensive end but you’ll live with it because he clearly gets it right a fair percentage of the time.
The exciting part of his development, however is on the offensive end of the court. As a guy who last year needed his shot created for him, unless he cut via a backdoor cut for an allep oop, this year he is more than able to create for himself off the dribble and it shows. He has displayed a much improved and still improving, pull-up game. His three pointer is going in consistently (36%) and he is shooting them over six times per game demonstrating a newfound confidence
Shooting is great and it is very important and all but let’s talk passing. At 2.7 assists per game Mitchell is not blowing anyone away, but watch him play and you’ll notice the type of court vision that should result in greater assist numbers in the NBA.
Mitchell’s ball handling has improved vastly since a season ago and he can now be trusted with the ball in his hands late in games especially since he shoots 80% from the free throw line on the season.
Bottom line is I see Donovan Mitchell as Marcus Smart with a better handle and jumper coming out of college.
Mitchell should continue to move up draft boards especially if his recent rise in efficiency continues even with Quentin Snider’s return. Snider should only help by taking pressure off of Mitchell. I fully expect Louisville to let him try his hand as a playmaker more and more this season.
More importantly I see Mitchell as a an explosive guard who should be viewed closer to the elite five point guards than to the second round of the draft.