A Review of Donovan Mitchell’s Rookie Season and What to Expect Next Season
Last year Donovan Mitchell burst onto the scene with a spectacular rookie season for the Utah Jazz. Mitchell was second in Rookie of the Year voting and made several teams regret passing on him in the draft. It didn't take long for Mitchell to become Utah's number one option on offense as he delivered by averaging 20.5 points and 3.7 assists per game.
His teammates and head coach Quin Snyder trusted him to be the focus of the offense as a rookie even though his efficiency wasn't always great. They knew he was their best scoring option and were willing to work through the growing pains.
Mitchell helped the Jazz turn their season around at the midpoint and get to the second round of the playoffs where he was even better, averaging 24.4 points and 4.2 assists per game. It was an all-time rookie season, so what can we expect from Mitchell this season?
Mitchell spent most of last season with the ball in his hands but also played off the ball a fair amount next to Ricky Rubio. While he was an above average pick and roll ball handler, he struggled with the nuances that plague a lot of players in their rookie seasons.
The good news is, considering his high usage rate, Mitchell didn’t turn the ball over much last season. His turnover percentage was in the 60th percentile. Mitchell was a good, but not great, passer last year, and sometimes took some bad shots.
His assist percentage was in the 47th percentile, which is about the average, but Mitchell also showed flashes of being an outstanding playmaker. He is a capable playmaker; it is just a matter of getting more reps in that role.
Mitchell can make the reads required of any good playmaking guard. For example, he has the drive; draw help and kick to the opposite three pass down. Watch this one.
Mitchell starts in the right corner. When he gets the ball, he pumps fakes and with two dribbles, drives with his left. Once he is in the paint and draws the help, he throws a wrap around one armed laser to the opposite corner to Joe Ingles for the corner three.
Mitchell has already demonstrated an elite skillset as a spot-up player. He was only an average three-point shooter at 34%, but he used spot-up opportunities to unleash his lethal pump and drive game. Mitchell ranked in the 96th percentile on spot ups according to Synergy Sports. That's because he can score from anywhere on the floor. He shot 62% at the rim (very impressive for a rookie), was in the 60th percentile on midrange jumpers and drew shooting fouls at an above average rate.
Spot-ups gave Mitchell an opportunity to demonstrate his strength, athleticism and versatile offensive game. Watch this play.
Mitchell runs the baseline and then pops up to receive the pass on the right side of the court past the three-point line. He uses a quick pump fake and then takes two dribbles with his right to get into the paint. He splits two defenders and finishes with a scoop layup in traffic. Impressive take.
Mitchell had a true shooting percentage of 54.9%. He shot 43% from the field, 34% from three and 80% from the line, all solid numbers, but they should be better this year. It will be up to Mitchell to hone his craft and learn from his mistakes, but the Jazz must maximize his success.
Mitchell was at this best, with lots of shooting around him. One particular lineup that was effective as Rubio, Mitchell, Royce O'Neale, Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert. This puts three other solid shooters around Mitchell, plus an elite rim protector/rim runner and Rudy Gobert. This line-up had an absurd +33 net rating in 40 minutes; expect to see it more this season. When Mitchell is with Rubio, it is best to add two other shooters, even though the Jazz made it work with Derrick Favors and Rubio.
Defensively, Mitchell was impressive as a rookie. He got steals at an elite rate and was a good shot blocking guard. The problem was he fouled a little too much (common for rookies) and is a poor defensive rebounder. Not a huge issue playing with Favors and Gobert, but something to work on.
Mitchell ranked in the 69th percentile defending pick and rolls and 81st percentile defending spot ups. He has the strength to fight through screens and off the ball, the quickness to close out and recover. Watch this play.
Shane Larkin has the ball, but watch cross-court where Mitchell is on Kyrie Irving. Irving gets open and gets the ball, but Mitchell is all over him. Kyrie pump fakes and hits Mitchell with two hard dribbles, but can't get any separation. He is forced to take a tough turnaround fadeaway jumper that Mitchell contests and makes Irving miss. This is big-time individual defense from Mitchell.
Mitchell was good as a team defender and an individual defender. He was fifth among all shooting guards in RPM and posted a positive offensive and defensive RPM. Mitchell is scary close to being a complete player; he just needs to iron out some kinks.
No doubt an all-time rookie season for Mitchell. He showed he could play on or off the ball, score from anywhere, make plays and defend. You know how many rookies can do all of those things? Very few. Now it's about perfecting his craft.
Mitchell has the tools, is in the right system and has the work ethic. Expect big things from him this season as he is capable of averaging 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists on good efficiency while being a great defender.
With a jump from Mitchell, Utah is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. I currently have them third behind Houston and Golden State. The West is loaded with talent, so it will be extremely tough to make the all-star team, but I wouldn't be surprised if he does. Mitchell is in line for a monster season next year, and beyond that, the sky is the limit.