SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JANUARY 10: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz looks on during a game … [+]
It didn’t take long for people to start nitpicking Donovan Mitchell. It comes with the superstar trajectory.
Enter “Waiters Donovan Mitchell” or “Monta Donovan Mitchell” into Twitter’s search bar and you’ll find plenty who want to diminish what Mitchell has been to this point in his career (to be fair, some of the tweets are clearly jokes).
What the detractors who wish to brand Mitchell a “chucker” ignore is that Mitchell is doing this as the undeniable No. 1 option on a good team. He’s going to lead the Utah Jazz in scoring for the third straight season. And he’s going to the playoffs for the third straight season.
The same can’t be said for players like Dion Waiters or Monta Ellis. The comparisons to Dwyane Wade and Damian Lillard may be lofty, but they’re closer to reality than the former two.
Over the course of his career, Mitchell has averaged 24.5 points, 4.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per 75 possessions. Michael Jordan, Luka Doncic and LeBron James are the only players in NBA history who matched or exceeded those marks in their first three seasons. If that’s too specific for you, we can soften the qualifiers to 24, four and four and add Wade, Walter Davis, Mark Aguirre and Trae Young to the list.
And for those concerned with Mitchell’s slightly-below-average career true shooting percentage, bear in mind that Utah has scored 114.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to 106.1 with him off. The amount of attention that Mitchell commands from opposing defenses leaves his teammates with significantly more room to operate.
Ideally, Mitchell will eventually start scoring at that above-average efficiency (he’s dead even this season). But his offensive impact is already overwhelmingly positive.
The last big step for him is figuring out how to get tot he line more often. Among the 62 players averaging 20-plus points per 75 possessions over the course of Mitchell’s career, he’s 43rd in free-throw rate. As he learns to draw contact, his true shooting percentage will rise.
On the other end is where Mitchell really sets himself apart from chuckers of the past. Advanced numbers aren’t high on his defense. And his size, especially when playing the 2, puts him at a natural disadvantage. But he’s been a key cog in one of the league’s top defenses for three straight years now.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with how often he gets to share the floor with Rudy Gobert, but Mitchell deserves some credit for how he competes on that end. He doesn’t fall asleep off the ball much. And often, when he’s beat to one direction or the other, it sends the ball-handler to Gobert’s rim protection.
No, Mitchell is not a glorified Waiters or Ellis. He’s on track to be a legitimate superstar.
The combined numbers of Wade and Lillard over their three seasons were 22.7 points, 6.4 assists, 5.6 free throws, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 threes, 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks per 75 possessions, with a plus-2.8 relative true shooting percentage. Mitchell’s career numbers are 24.5 points, 4.4 assists, 4.0 free throws, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 threes, 1.5 steals and 0.4 blocks per 75 possessions, with a minus-1.5 relative true shooting percentage.
He has some work to do, but probably not as much as some would have you think.