A consensus top-35 high school recruit, Donovan Mitchell's freshman was mostly a learning process, as he averaged 7.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game Rick Pitino's 23-win Cardinal team that missed the postseason due to a self-imposed ban.
Listed at 6'3 with a strong 210-pound frame and good length, Mitchell as a bit undersized for a shooting guard, but compensates with tremendous athletic ability. Among the most explosive players in the country, Mitchell is a powerful two-footed leaper who provided plenty of highlight reel material last season. The New York native also possesses terrific lateral quickness, giving him intriguing potential on the defensive end.
As a true freshman, it was Mitchell's ability to make use of his athletic gifts that led to his most significant contributions offensively coming off the Cardinals' bench. Playing primarily off the ball doing the majority of his scoring filling lanes in transition or spotting up on the perimeter, but also getting some opportunities to create in the pick & roll, Mitchell finished the year as Louisville's fifth leading scorer, averaging an above average .931 points per possession.
Offensively, Mitchell is a bit of a mixed bag. He was most effective as a finisher last season, shooting 59% around the rim overall according to Synergy Sports Technology as his explosiveness made him a threat to go up and finish lobs or explode over defenders to finish in traffic off the bounce. Attacking the rim with reckless abandon and being unafraid of contact, Mitchell has a powerful first step and proves capable of turning the corner with or without a ball screen at times.
The challenge for Mitchell last season was making sound decisions with the ball when he did opt to put the ball on the floor. He posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and showed some advanced ball handling and drive and dish ability, but often looked sped up and wasn't always decisive enough to get all the way to the rim when penetrating, particularly when going left. His command in the pick and roll is a major work in progress and his ability to become a more capable shot creator for himself and others is a point of interest for scouts, as adding value as a secondary ball handler would really help his cause.
Part of Mitchell's struggles creating off the dribble are the result of his inconsistent jump shooting ability, as defenders frequently sagged off of him in the half court. Though there are some things to like about Mitchell's shooting mechanicsnamely that he usually shoots on balance and gets great elevation to go along with decent touchhis mechanical inconsistencies and lack of great fluidity led to inconsistent results. Knocking down just 27% of his catch and shoot jump shots in the half court, but 40% of his pull-up jumpers, Mitchell isn't an incapable jump shooter, and is actually quite effective from the midrange, but has a lot of room to grow as a 3-point threat.
On the defensive end, Mitchell's terrific physical profile gives him nice upside for the next level. His combination of strength and lateral quickness could allow him to defend both guard positions effectively, even if he'll give up some size to some NBA shooting guards. Getting lost and not always looking dialed in defensively last season, Mitchell has some work to do to reach his potential on this end. Despite his lapses, he did prove to be a pest at times too, as his physicality and quickness to the ball on the perimeter helped him disrupt opposing offenses in certain possessions.
Scouts will be keeping a close eye on the role Mitchell is asked to play this season. Losing Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, and Chinanu Onuaku to the pros, the Cardinals have a major void to fill offensively. It will be interesting to see if Mitchell can answer that call like Terry Rozier did in 2015, and what his performance in what figures to be a much larger role means to NBA draft stock.
One of the most gifted athletes in the college game, Donovan Mitchell is an engaging young man with interesting long-term potential. The 20-year-old Brewster Academy product figures to have a great opportunity to solidify himself as an NBA prospect this season. The development of his skill level playing on the ball is certainly worth keeping an eye on, as is his consistency on the defensive end.