In advance of the 2017 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down a wide variety of players that could be available for the Atlanta Hawks at either No. 19 or No. 31. The series will stretch throughout the month of June and today’s installment centers on Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell.
Donovan Mitchell is moving up some of the big boards as draft day approaches. The Louisville sophomore opened eyes with his measurables at the recent NBA draft combine and as pre-draft critique of Kentucky guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk starts to change the back-court outlook in this draft, Mitchell seems like a prospect that might become increasingly attractive to teams. He offers potential two-way play that some of the other top-rated guards seem very unlikely to match.
The most encouraging aspect of Mitchell’s offensive play can be seen in his impressive improvement in his shooting from 3-point range. He made 35.4% of his attempts during his sophomore season on 226 attempts after making just 25% of 72 attempts during his freshman campaign. He also flashes explosive play in space including an impressive cross-over dribble that he likes to use when matched up on slower defenders.
He has incredibly elite speed; he ran the fastest 3⁄4 court sprint since the 2008 NBA draft combine. But these raw athletic skills have yet to show up in his transition game. He is much more comfortable when he can set up a defender to get past him with dribble penetration. But he has not shown the ability to finish well at the rim. And his decision making appears to regress as the pace of a play increases. He prefers to avoid contact near the rim and thus misses opportunities to get to the free throw line.
As a result, he will likely be limited to offering offensive value as a floor spacer in his first couple of seasons in the league. Given his elite level of athleticism, he will need to improve his general effectiveness and decision making in transition as to be able to contribute more at the pro level offensively.
Parts of his physical profile might indicate that he will need to be able to handle minutes at the point guard position as to consistently get time in the rotation. However, as the league likely progresses toward back-courts that can share responsibility for offensive creation, he could grow to become a valuable part of a guard rotation if he is paired with players that possess the right complementary skills.
Mitchell’s 6’10 wingspan allows him to take unique advantage of his impressive speed and lateral quickness to get into passing lanes that few of his peers can replicate. He produced an impressive 2.6 steals per 40 minutes last season. His length, quickness and competitiveness should set him up to be a very effective defender even when matching up with bigger wing players.
He flash rare rim protection for a guard and showed increasing confidence providing help at the rim from the weak side in the half court defense. He also demonstrated increasing mastery as a chase down defender in transition. His potential on the defensive end is very likely higher than any guard in this draft. He is simply in a class by himself defensively among the guards entering the league.
Potential Fit for the Hawks
The biggest limitation in a back-court made up of Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a lack of defensive presence and versatility. Should the Hawks make the decision to head in the direction of starting those two, Mitchell could be a valuable complimentary player in the not-too-distant future. Some Hawks fans might see a little too much Kent Bazemore in Mitchell’s two-way profile, but he played at a much higher level in college, will enter the league a full two years younger than did Bazemore and has the potential to play with a significant amount of more force and explosiveness.
Still, a potentially more important consideration in a possible Mitchell selection is that the league continues to head in a direction where offensive skills have increasingly more value than defensive skills, especially at the guard position. And the Hawks are already so under-skilled as an offensive team that it could make a lot more sense for them to add a player with a stronger offensive profile at the #19 pick.
It is looking less likely by the day that Mitchell will be available unless the Hawks find a way to move up in the draft. But a number of mocks and big boards still have him landing in the 15-18 range. If the Hawks do find a way to secure him in this draft, it will likely mean that they have quite a bit of confidence in Hardaway’s future. But Mitchell does possess the raw skills to potentially grow into being a more versatile offensive player after a couple of seasons in the league.