In a more prominent role this season, Donovan Mitchell disappointed through the non-conference part of Louisville’s schedule, shooting just 36.4% in the first 12 games. But he’s done better over the last three, averaging 24 points per 40 minutes on 42% shooting – including 44% from three-point range.
That sort of volume scoring on acceptable efficiency is what’s expected of the 20-year-old (who only turns 21 in September), an undersized off guard who is probably viewed by the NBA as a prototype sixth man – with Eric Gordon as a reasonable goal for him to try becoming as a finished product, given the similarities in their physical profiles.
Mitchell offers more potential if he were to develop as a more passable point guard. His athletic ability and thick build for someone his size (six-foot-three, 210-pound frame) would rate as elite traits for that position. But that’s not his role at Louisville, where Quentin Snider is the one responsible for feeding the high post, igniting their drive-and-kick sequences and creating late in the shot clock.
Mitchell does most of his work spotting up, cutting backdoor or sprinting to the ball coming off the weak-side and attacking on catch-and-go’s or off a live dribble. His shot selection is very suspect, though, so he’s posted a 24.3% usage rate even within a role where he doesn’t get full control over the frequency of his touches.
50.8% of his shots have been three-pointers but he’s nailed just 32.7% of them so far. Mitchell has proven to be a better shooter than that, though. His release is quick and the ball gets off easy when he catches it in rhythm on catch-and-shoot opportunities off spot-ups or dribble-handoffs and he’s proven himself able to shoot coming off pindown screens as well, setting his feet very quickly and elevating off the hop in great balance. The issue really seems to be the quality of the shots he opts to take.
Mitchell has even flashed some ability as a pull-up three-point shooter off the pick-and-roll but that’s only potential for now, as he’s been assisted on 29 of his 32 makes this season – according to hoop-math.
Mitchell is very fluid attacking off the catch. He does a nice job losing his man on dribble-handoffs and side pick-and-rolls by leading him into the screen and has strength to maintain his balance through contact when his defender does manage to stay attached to his hip.
Mitchell has shown to be a good passer on the move, making the proper kick-outs to spot-up shooters on the strong side when the defense sucks in to his dribble penetration, assisting on 15.6% of Louisville’s scores when he’s been on the floor – according to basketball-reference. But his decision making in terms of attacking a crowded lane can be erratic, leading to a very unimpressive 1.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Where he truly excels on offense at this point of his development is playing above the rim as a target for lobs cutting to the basket or filling the lanes in transition. Mitchell is a very explosive leaper elevating out of two feet and Louisville runs a nice play to take advantage of it where he gives up the ball at the top of the key, then runs a semi-circle route around an elbow screen and gets a lob.
Mitchell does get quite a few opportunities to create in middle high pick-and-roll and in isolation from time to time.
He hasn’t shown much in terms of passing across his body to the opposite end of the floor, making a pocket pass or playing with pace in slower developing pick-and-rolls.
But his handle and dribble moves to get into the lane and create a scoring opportunity for himself are fairly impressive, as he’s able to split double teams at the point of attack to get downhill or turn the corner, go to either hand to weave his way through traffic, in-and-out or crossover dribble to shake his defender off balance and roll into a well-coordinated spin move in a pinch to get by him.
At the basket, Mitchell isn’t as explosive elevating out of one foot in a crowd but he can hang in the air and adjust his body. Yet, he hasn’t finished well, converting just 55.3% of his shots at the rim after doing so at a 67.3% clip last season – though more than a third of his makes were assisted last year.
Mitchell is also yet to develop craft drawing contact. Someone with his frame and ability to get into the lane should be able to earn more than just four foul shots per 40 minutes.
His pull-up jumper still needs to improve as well, so opponents won’t feel as comfortable going under screens and sagging off him as they right now, as he’s missed 70.8% of his 48 mid-range shots this season.
Mitchell is not a consistently great defender at this point of his development, as most 20-year-olds tend not to be, but his combination of athletic ability and physical profile suggests he could end up becoming a very impactful player on this end.
Louisville switches very aggressively and we’ve been able to see Mitchell guard smaller and bigger players regularly.
He can get low on a stance, navigate over ball-screens, shuffle his feet to stay in front and contain dribble penetration through contact against smaller players. Mitchell has some reach to pick their pockets and contest shots or deflect passes tracking them from behind.
Defending big men, Mitchell has proven himself tough enough to get physical with them fronting the post and boxing them out. He’s also shown some awareness of his responsibilities as the last line of defense, making rotations coming off the weak-side to protect the rim and using his explosiveness elevating out of two feet to block some shots. 11 blocks in 16 appearances is a very good contribution for a guard.
Guarding his position, Mitchell doesn’t run spot-up shooters off the three-point line as much as you’d prefer for someone with his quickness and probably lacks the standing reach to make enough of a difference contesting shots. But he’s been great making plays in the passing lanes, averaging almost three steals per 40 minutes, and helping on the defensive glass, collecting 13.1% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor – which is an impressive figure when you consider Louisville always plays with two true big men.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara