Note: This piece is a two-part series where we take a look at former Louisville guard and current NBA Draft prospect Donovan Mitchell. In today’s piece, we take a look at Mitchell’s work on the defensive end. On Friday, we’re going to examine Mitchell’s work on the offensive end.
Late last week, we featured a piece on former Wake Forest forward and current NBA Draft prospect John Collins. Within that piece, we took an extensive look at how stood as arguably the best scorer in the ACC during the 2016-17 season.
Those claims were backed up by very impressive numbers as Collins averaged an ACC-best 19.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game with an impressive 65% True Shooting Percentage.Collins’ great play was due to a variety of different reasons from his impressive work inside the low-post to progression as a mid-range shooter. At the same time that Collins was flirting with double-doubles at Wake Forest, there was a certain sophomore at Louisville that was excelling in his own way.
That shining star at Louisville was sophomore shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. Despite standing at 6’3, making him nearly four inches shorter than your average shooting guard, Mitchell still stood out as the biggest star on an impressive Louisville squad. Mitchell was able to do that by shining as one of the finest players in college basketball from both an offensive and defensive perspective. His two-way nature is backed up by him averaging 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals on 41% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc.
Although Mitchell is impressive on both ends of the court, he probably did his best work on the defensive end. Despite standing as an undersized 6’3 shooting guard, Mitchell makes up for that lack of height with a solid work ethic and a 6’10 wingspan. That combination allowed Mitchell to be a versatile force on the defensive end where he showcased an ability to defend against point guards, shooting guards and even some small forwards. While wingspan definitely pushed Mitchell to be more versatile, he was truly able to excel through hard work and great defensive IQ.
Whenever the Louisville Cardinals line up to start their defensive possession, Mitchell usually stands as the first barrier that any opposing team has to battle their way through. That battle by the opposing squad was usually fierce as Mitchell just loves to get in the face of opposing ball-handler to the point where they’re unable to get any kind of breathing room.
Mitchell’s tenacity is evident whether opposing player tries to drive towards the paint, work around an off-ball screen or attempting to hit a mid-range or perimeter jumper. That last example is probably the most pertinent as Mitchell was regularly able to lock up opposing ball-handlers that were trying to shoot from inside or outside the arc.
Mitchell’s great body control on the defensive end has actually allowed him to stay out of foul trouble on a regular basis. Per 40 minutes, Mitchell only averaged 3.2 fouls which actually stands as one of the lowest averages among ACC shooting guards. A fantastic instance of that is seen in the play below as Mitchell just prevents potential lottery pick Dennis Smith from getting any opening.
That defensive work ethic also pushed Mitchell to be a fantastic ball-hawk. During his sophomore season, Mitchell averaged an ACC-best 2.6 steals per 40 minutes. Those impressive numbers were due to Mitchell’s great basketball IQ which allowed him to recognize when he should move away from his man and try to work in the passing lanes. More times than that, Mitchell’s approach turns into a huge success as he’s just able to swipe the ball away from the opposition in a blink of an eye.
With the help of Donovan Mitchell, the Louisville Cardinals were able to stand as one of the finest perimeter defenses in college hoops. According to KenPom, opposing teams shot only 32% from beyond the arc against Louisville. That’s a significant difference from the 35% that Division 1 teams shot from beyond the arc during the 2016-17 season. Although Louisville had a great roster, it would be safe to say that Mitchell had a lot to do with that inefficient average.
The astounding impact that Mitchell made on Louisville has allowed him to be one of the hottest prospects in this year’s NBA Draft class. As we currently stands, Mitchell seems to either get selected in the late lottery or in the late teens, at the latest. Although there may be flashier players in this year’s draft class, Mitchell might stand out as the best defensive option that an NBA team could pick in next year’s NBA Draft.