Finding a Niche For: Tony Mitchell

Finding a Niche For: Tony Mitchell
May 09, 2012, 10:25 am
A consistent fixture on Sportscenter highlight reels, Tony Mitchell had an uneven season on and off the court that put his status as a NBA prospect in serious doubt. Will a team take a gamble on him?

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Derek Bodner

After a strong sophomore season that put him firmly on the NBA radar screen, Alabama's Tony Mitchell took a significant step backwards both in terms of productivity and reputation as a junior, being suspended by Alabama coach Anthony Grant for the remainder of the season for conduct detrimental to the team in early February. The 6'6” Mitchell continues to have many of the questions marks that make his status as a prospect murkier, despite his elite physical tools.

Standing 6'6” with a long wingspan, a strong, wiry frame, and excellent athleticism, Mitchell has the physical profile that could form the basis of a very impactful wing defender. His contributions on this end of the court (7.2 defensive rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes, pace adjusted) put him in fairly elite company for a wing prospect, and he's more than capable of making a highlight reel defensive play to spark his team.

When engaged, Mitchell has been the best defender on an Alabama team that was one of the best in the nation on this end of the court. At times, Mitchell can lose focus, particularly when he's struggling on the offensive end. He appears to give the necessary effort, and it's more an exercise in improving focus than overall effort level.

Offensively, Mitchell still has many of the same question marks he did in years past. His overall efficiency on jump shots has seen an improvement, from 0.852 points per possession as a sophomore to 0.945 points per possession this past year, according to Synergy Sports Technology.

The improvement has mainly come from mid-range, where he has looked more comfortable both in catch and shoot situations and even using one or two dribbles to setup a pull-up jumper on occasion. His form and balance appear to be inconsistent, and so have the results, at times looking like it could develop into a real weapon for him if given enough repetition and at times coming off flat and with little touch.

He has struggled to extend his range out to the collegiate three point line, making only 31.1% of his 3.4 attempts per game. Extending his range and consistency from long range is imperative for his long-term NBA future, especially with his lack of shot creation ability.

Mitchell is not a great ball-handler. He has little in the way of misdirection moves or creativity off the dribble, and he has a very underdeveloped left hand that becomes a hindrance when teams overplay his right. He has a reasonably quick crossover dribble, but because of his weak off hand this is only used to setup a pull-up jumper. Should he be able to improve his ball handling skills, he has a very quick first step with long, rangy strides that could be a weapon, but he has a long ways to go before he's able to use this with any consistency.

Because of his lack of ball-handling ability, Mitchell gets to the line fairly infrequently. His 3.2 free throw attempts per 40 minutes rank towards the bottom third of wing prospects in our database. The combination of inconsistency from three and his relative inability to get to the free throw line creates a relatively inefficient offensive player, particularly as he's been asked to generate more of Alabama's half-court offense. To make matters worse, his 2 point FG% fell drastically this year, from 58.1% his sophomore year to 50.5% this year, and he has struggled at times to finish at the rim when challenged by a shot blocker.

Mitchell is quick and incredibly explosive off his feet, which makes him a superb finisher around the basket off offensive rebounds, cuts, and in transition. He does a very good job controlling offensive rebounds for tips and putbacks, and with his athleticism he's capable of spectacular highlight reel plays that landed him on Sportscenter on numerous occasions.

Mitchell's improvement as a mid-range catch and shoot player was an encouraging step, but working to extend his range, form, balance, and consistency in his jump shot would go a long way towards projecting his viability as an offensive contributor. If he's able to do that, he has the physical tools to be a contributor in a defensive scheme.

That being said, even more of a concern then his ball handling or consistency in his jump shot has been his demeanor and attitude. Mitchell's body language and demeanor can vary from energetic and supportive of his teammates to frustrated, and his effort level can vary accordingly.

His suspension and eventual release from Alabama put a black cloud over his character, and he'll likely have a tough time alleviating these concerns in the minds of decision makers from now until June. Without an incredible skill-level that would make general manager's and scouts overlook these concerns, his performance in interviews during the draft process will take priority over anything he does on the basketball court in the next six weeks.

While its not out of the question that a team decides to take a flyer on him in the second round, in the long-term Mitchell may be best suited withdrawing his name from this year's draft and trying to rebuild his image with a strong professional season on and off the court in the NBA Development League. With added maturation, stronger recommendations from a new coaching staff, and hopefully an increased skill-level after being able to focus solely on basketball for an entire season, Mitchell's draft stock could look considerably better in a year from now.

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