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Examining Donovan Mitchell’s Versatility On The Offensive End

Editor Dakota Schmidt finishes out his two-part series on Donovan Mitchell by looking at his work on the offensive end.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Michigan v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Note: This piece is the conclusion of a two part series where we take a look at NBA Draft prospect Donovan Mitchell. On Thursday, we examined Mitchell’s incredible versatility on the defensive end. Today we’re going to finish out the series by analyzing how Mitchell performs on the offensive end.

As we examined in Thursday’s piece, a lot of the intrigue regarding Mitchell rests with his great play on the defensive end. During his sophomore season, he stood as the bonafide leader of Louisville’s elite defensive unit as Mitchell helped push opponents to shoot only 32% from beyond the arc.

That success was due to the phenomenal instincts that Mitchell on that side of the ball as he was regularly able to stick to opponents from the perimeter to the paint like he was made out of velcro. When he wasn’t able to do that, Mitchell stood as a stellar ball-hawk who compiled 2.5 steals per 40 minutes.

Mitchell’s great play on the defensive end is undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons why he’s currently recognized as an elite back-court prospect. As we currently stand, Mitchell is placed 11th on Draft Express’ most recent mock draft. That’s a big difference from where Mitchell was positioned a year ago where he was looked at as a relative afterthought in the star-studded ACC. Of course, his phenomenal play on the defensive end was probably the biggest reason behind his ascension. However, that doesn’t mean that we should overlook his work on the other end of the court.

When you first take a glance at Mitchell’s offensive numbers during his sophomore, you see a player that had solid volume but wasn’t able to be that efficient . In 32 minutes per game, Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 13 field goal attempts per game on 41% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. Those shooting averages push Mitchell to maintain a mediocre 53% True Shooting Percentage (TS%).

To basically any basketball fan, those numbers aren’t something that would be that intriguing. Those base stats show Mitchell as a slightly above-average perimeter shooter that struggled to remain consistent when he was closer to the rim. Although those assumptions may have a slight bit of truth, Mitchell’s work on the offensive end becomes more impressive when you take a closer look.

As Mitchell progressed his way through his sophomore season, he started to grow as an all-around player. During the initial non-conference schedule, Mitchell just struggled as he averaged 12.6 points per game on an atrocious 39% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc. Those shooting averages pushed Mitchell to maintain a lackluster 51% TS%. However, those struggles immediately evaporated once Mitchell started to compete against high-level ACC competition.

That change came in a blink of an eye as Mitchell put up 18.9 points, 4.6 boards and 3.4 assists per game on 44% from he field and 46% from beyond the arc during the month of January. Mitchell’s terrific month of January had two of his best games of his sophomore season as he put up 29 points on 9-13 shooing on the 24th against Pittsburgh and 28 points on 9-17 shooting on the 29th vs. NC State.

Mitchell’s fantastic play persisted through the remainder of the regular season. During Louisville’s eighteen games against ACC competition, Mitchell averaged 18 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game on 44% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. That great play pushed Mitchell to maintain a stellar 58% TS% during ACC play, a huge evolution from the lackluster average that he maintained during their non-conference schedule.

That quick development as an offensive player was due to how Mitchell just became more comfortable with his role as the team’s top scoring weapon. As that confidence built, Mitchell truly solidified himself as an extremely versatility versatile offensive threat. Over the course of his sophomore season, Mitchell showcased himself to be able to contribute as a perimeter and mid-range shooter, offensive rebounder and on-ball cutter

Among those abilities, Mitchell showed the most potential as an outside shooter. A lot of that potential rests with how quickly he improved over the course of the season as being super inefficient (29% on 5.7 perimeter attempts per game) during their non-conference run to standing as a lights-out threat (40% on 7.2 perimeter attempts per game) against ACC competition.

As a perimeter threat, Mitchell is able to get off his shots whether he’s working off-the-dribble or through catch-and-shoot situations. Although he doesn’t necessarily have a particular preference, Mitchell probably does his best when he’s working in the catch-and-shoot. That’s largely due to his blazing quick stroke that allows him to release a jumper just mere milliseconds after receiving the pass. A prime example of that is seen in the clip below as Mitchell quickly launches a perimeter jumper from the corner.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mitchell also shines when he’s trying to produce as an off-the-dribble shooter whether he’s working on the perimeter or mid-range. As a perimeter shooter, Mitchell mainly seems comfortable with utilizing an off-ball screen to slow the opposition and find an open spot to shoot. Once he finds that positioning, Mitchell does a great job of quickly getting into the area and launch up a jumper.

That same method is evident when Mitchell tries to play as a mid-range shooter. Similar to his work on the perimeter, he likes to utilize an off-ball screen before maneuvers towards the free-throw line and releases a jumper. However, there are some instances where Mitchell decides to go ISO. While he’ll never get compared to Kyrie Irving, Mitchell is definitely capable of shaking off an opposing defender. Mitchell’s handles are play below where he uses a beautiful pull back crossover to shake a poor Virginia Tech defender out of his sneakers before hitting the pretty jumper.

Coinciding with his work as a shooter, Mitchell has also showcased a real knack as an on-ball cutter. Rather than trying to defeat a defender through ISOs, Mitchell decided to spend his sophomore season by really mastering the art of a pick-and-roll. Mitchell actually seems to map how he’s going to utilize an off-ball screen and attack the pain before the off-ball screener even comes to set the pick. That mentality allows Mitchell to quickly work around the screen and leave his opponents in a cloud of dust.

An amazing example of Mitchell’s pick-and-roll mastery is seen in the play below. After working around an Anas Mahmoud screen, Mitchell quickly works past two Indiana defenders like an NFL running back. Mitchell’s awe-inspiring nature continues as he slides to the right side of the court where he finishes with a beautiful layup past OG Anunoby.

During that same game against Indiana, Mitchell seems to be able to trick the entire defense with some quick dribbles. In the dribbles before he moves around the screen, he seems to motion that he’s planning on driving towards the right baseline. However, that plan became a mirage as he switched the dribble to his right hand and drove right to the paint after manuevering around the screen. That change of pace left freshman De’Ron Davis from a possible help defender to one of the thousands of people that could just watch Mitchell make the smooth drive to the rim.

The last method of Mitchell’s offensive game comes through his work as a facilitator. Despite spending most of his time as a shooting guard, he really displayed great court vision. Whether he’s working on the perimeter or through drive-and-kick situations, Mitchell is regularly able to find an open teammate that he can distribute it to.

During drive-and-dish situations, Mitchell is able to utilize a quick first step to cut his way through the teeth of the defense and make his way towards the paint. Following that, Mitchell is able to quickly make a smooth pass to an open teammate whether they’re a rolling screener or perimeter player.

Mitchell’s quick decision making skills is also apparent when he’s working on the perimeter. At a moment’s notice, Mitchell is able to recognize a teammate getting open and throw a quick and precise pass to them. An example of that is seen below where he throws a precise pass to a Louisville big just moments after receiving a hand-off.

Those facilitating skills actually allowed Mitchell to be a pretty efficient distributor. Despite averaging only 2.7 assists per game, Mitchell still maintained a respectable 1.7 Ast/TO ratio. That actually speaks volume to the type of player that Mitchell is, since its rare to see such a low turnover average (1.6 turnovers per game) from a player that was such a huge part of a team’s offense.

As Donovan Mitchell embarks on an NBA career, he definitely has the opportunity to become that 3-and-D guard that NBA teams spend ten’s of millions in the off-season trying to bring to their franchise. Standing at 6’3 and 210 pounds with a 6’10 wingspan, Mitchell has shown that he’s more than willing to defend multiple positions and do it well. Coinciding with that, Mitchell has evolved into being a pretty versatile offensive player that can shine as a perimeter shooter or on-ball cutter.

Is there room for him to grow in either of those areas? Absolutely. But there’s still a good chance that an NBA team will be overjoyed when they snag him in next month’s NBA Draft.