Let’s say, hypothetically, we rerun the 2017 draft. Jayson Tatum probably goes first. After that, is anyone ahead of Donovan Mitchell? The Utah Jazz may have the steal of the draft on their hands. That’s because Mitchell is a getter of buckets.
I don’t just mean he can score. I mean he can get buckets, creating them out of thin air with an array of moves and polish you just don’t see in rookies.
His numbers are solid for a frosh (17.2 points and 49.6 effective field goal percentage), but they’re not mind-blowing. He’s shooting 37.7 percent from 3, which is solid.
What those numbers don’t reflect are how quickly he’s improving or how much panache, polish and power he has going to the rim and finishing.
Ben Simmons is the only rookie in the league who has more points off drives than Mitchell, and the Jazz rook has a better points percentage on his drives (50.2) than Simmons (43.3).
Three things are striking about Donovan’s drives. First, there’s an economy of movement. He doesn’t waste any energy, taking the most direct route to the rim. Even when he throws a move at someone, he goes straight to the bucket:
The next thing that you notice is how strong he is. He absorbs contact with his upper body and powers into the contact, rather than shying away from it:
The third thing that jumps out at you is how much control he has. Even on occasions when he is going away from the bucket, he’s able to hang in the air and scoop it in with precision:
It’s not like he’s just a layup guy with no range, either. His jumper is butter with a quick release and fluid, consistent motion. He’s making a lot of them, too. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he’s on pace to break the rookie record with 2.4 per game.
What is interesting is how well he fits into the Jazz’s offensive schemes. They move the ball around a lot. According to NBA.com, they are second in the NBA with 334.7 passes per game and tied for 28th in assist-to-pass percentage.
That’s because a lot of their passes are swinging the ball around a lot, looking to disrupt defenses and ultimately set up a 3-point shot. They run a slower pace than most teams, but they’re tied for third in 3-pointers made per 100 possessions.
Obviously, as a shooter, Mitchell is a big part of that. He’s second on the team in 3-point attempts per game with 6.5, and he’s shooting 44.9 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s. When he’s taking such shots, he’s taking virtually all of them from deep (78 of 79 attempts).
When he’s not taking those, his tendency is to take the ball to the hole with the aforementioned drives, which are opened up because of all the 3-point shooting and passing by his teammates; 238 of his 376 shots have been either layups or 3s.
Those tendencies are creating an increasingly efficient player. His numbers improved when he transitioned to the starting lineup, and they’ve been even better over the last half-dozen games. In the last six games, he averaged 26.2 points on 52.9 percent shooting and 49.1 percent from deep, good for an effective field goal percentage of 65.9 and true shooting percentage of 68.0.
The tape on him is going to get out. Teams are going to start defending him more. But it’s apparent the Jazz have the steal of the draft on their hands.
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