Hot Take Marathon: Donovan Mitchell Will Finish As A Top-5 MVP Candidate
“My mind’s telling me no, but my body, my body’s telling me yes.” – Robert Sylvester Kelly.
I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, it is not a great time to be quoting R. Kelly. But, this classic Bump n’ Grind lyric applies so well to what I am proposing. For those who saw the title of this piece but wanted reassurance that their eyes didn’t lie to them, I will state it once more: Donovan Mitchell is going to finish as a top-5 vote getter in next season’s MVP race, and maybe even higher.
How do I know this? Am I one of those Simpsons writers who can predict the future (totally false)? Have I visited a psychic in Newport, Rhode Island who informed me of this (partially true)? Did a medium tell me I have “the gift” and did I use said gift to make NBA predictions (again, partially true)? Or, did I pair some revealing late season stats with conjecture about the 2019-2020 season to come to this conclusion (completely true)?
Mitchell had one of the most impressive post All-Star break stretches in recent memory. In fact, for a player often compared to a certain Miami Heat legend, it was the most Wadian he has ever looked. Though he struggled significantly during the first part of his season, this renaissance was so spectacular it landed Spida a handful of All-NBA votes.
But what do the numbers say? They say, “expect big things next year.” Specifically, Mitchell posted 26.7 points per game during this stretch while hitting an absurd 45.1 percent of his 6.8 3-point attempts per game. His field goal percentage leveled out at 46.1 percent and looks even nicer when considering he jacked up over 20 attempts each night. Take a look at all the numbers below.
Admittedly, the sample size of this incredible run is small, and Mitchell did not carry this success over into his postseason matchup versus Houston. Is it irrational, however, to think that Mitchell could play close to this level next season? What would be his in-season narrative if he hit, perhaps, 90 percent of these numbers? The early offseason reports indicate that Mitchell could do just that.
The rumblings from Team USA camp have been overwhelmingly positive for the Louisville product. On Bill Simmons’ most recent podcast, Brian Windhorst remarked that Mitchell was “The guy who exploded off the court, the guy who’s made everybody’s eyes open and dominated the week.” Simmons, a somewhat provocative albeit undeniably plugged in pundit, added that reporters claimed Mitchell seemed “stronger” and more “explosive.” The two of them couldn’t refrain from comparing him to Wade either.
Maintaining his post All-Star numbers will be close to an impossibility. Yet, Mitchell can play near that level while hitting different percentages. Expect his 3-point percentage to be revert back between 36 and 38 percent. But, if his field goal percentage and free throw rate increases, which seems to be a likely given the way his career arc is trending, Mitchell can come close to mimicking this run for an entire season.
To finish in the top-5 for MVP voting, however, other help is needed. First things first he will need his Utah Jazz to be a top one, two, or three seed in the West. This is doable. After trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz now sport their most talented roster since Stockton and Malone. With Defensive Player of the Year winner Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense, it is feasible that Utah finishes the season an elite team on both sides of the court.
What about the other teams and MVP contenders? Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis figure to be in the mix. Yet, they could take votes from one another and either injury or rest may keep preclude one of these two from a top-5 finish. This exact same logic can be applied to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Clippers.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden are two past winners who could take another run at the award. This may be difficult to do while playing on the same team. Still, Harden seems the likeliest to finish in that top five. I like Steph Curry’s opportunity this year but will his team win enough games to appease voters?
Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are two candidates to watch. Their teams could both finish as the top seed in their conference and each player possesses the requisite talent (Embiid is my current favorite to win the award.) Embiid must stay healthy and in shape. Back out west, Jokic, who finished 4th in last year’s voting, seems to pose a threat to win MVP as well. Same goes for Damian Lillard and other dark horses Kyrie Irving and Victor Oladipo.
So, where does that leave Mitchell? He has a serious path to a top-5 MVP finish. The breakout talent seems to be there. The high finish in the Western Conference is possible and fortuitously for Mitchell, the recent pairings of superstars may have unintentionally placed a speed bump on their respective roads to the award. Perhaps you disagree. That’s cool. But if you wanted a hot take, you got it!