The Indiana Pacers guard rotation was a nightmare last season.
Other than Jeff Teague, the Pacers struggled to find consistent guard play. Coach Nate McMillan juggled between Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, and Aaron Brooks to share ball-handling duties, but playing any combination of these three proved liable both offensively and defensively.
The emergence of CJ Miles alongside Teague and the addition of Lance Stephenson in the second unit made it apparent that the Pacers guards were lacking three qualities: shooting, size, and defense.
The Pacers seem to know this.
Rodney Stuckey was waived before the end of the season. Aaron Brooks does not seem to be in the future plans. Monta Ellis has been rumored to be on the trading block, and moving him could clear up $11.2M in cap space.
President Kevin Pritchard has mentioned the mutual interest between the Pacers and Teague, but even the soon-to-be 29-year-old could be elsewhere next season if a team offers him a monster contract that the Pacers are unable, or unwilling, to match.
Enter Donovan Mitchell.
It should come as no surprise that Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers front office are looking at the Louisville guard. Mitchell, a 20-year-old sophomore, is a stellar athlete at 6’3” and 211 lbs. What he lacks in height, he makes up in length with a 6’10” wingspan.
Much like Hamidou Diallo, Donovan Mitchell is a freak athlete. Per DraftExpress.com, Mitchell posted a 36.5” standing vertical leap, equivalent to Pacers Dunk Champion Glenn Robinson III, which ranked third in this year’s combine.
The Louisville guard also ran the fastest three-quarter court sprint time (3.01 seconds) out of all combine participants.
Mitchell is an incredible athlete, and he’s even drawn comparisons to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. You may see why in his season highlight video.
Mitchell’s ability to get to the rim and create his own shot is impressive. He’s explosive, quick, and a good leaper. As evidenced by the video, he also has the ability to pull up from anywhere on the court and knock down the jumper.
While Mitchell led the Cardinals in points per game, his offense could use more consistency. The shooting guard shot 35.4% from beyond the arc on the year, and that number would most likely decline with an extended three point line in the NBA.
However, Mitchell has shown tremendous improvement from the perimeter since his freshman year. He shot just 25.0% from beyond the arc on 72 attempts in his first season under coach Rick Pitino. His 10.4% increase in 3P% along with 226 total three point attempts proves Mitchell’s commitment to improvement on the perimeter.
One of the New York native’s shooting struggles is his shot selection. If Mitchell can eliminate taking forced shots, he may see further improvement in his shooting percentages.
The Louisville guard is a versatile scorer, but he also shows promise on the defensive end of the floor. At 2.1 steals per game, he led the ACC in steals.
Mitchell’s explosiveness and lateral quickness make him a great on-ball defender as he’s able to keep his man in front of him. Extending his hands into passing lanes and contesting shots with his 6’10” wingspan create havoc for the opponent.
With regards to his off-ball defense, the 20-year-old has a tendency to ball watch and lose sight of his man. Watch how his opponent is able to back-cut or move along the perimeter without Mitchell paying attention (3:26 mark).
Mitchell clearly has the potential and athleticism to succeed at the NBA level. What isn’t clear is exactly which position Mitchell will play.
Last season, the sophomore saw most of his minutes at the shooting guard position next to point guard Quentin Snider. But given his on-ball skill and 6’3” height, Mitchell may be better suited as a point guard in the NBA.
The Pacers have had a history with combo guards, and Mitchell may just be the next.
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