According to ESPN Stats & Info, Mitchell’s 55 is the most by a guard through his first two postseason appearances in NBA history.
And yet, somehow, a “discussion” regarding the number of shots Mitchell takes, his efficiency and the general nature of volume scoring erupted on Twitter after the rookie led Utah to a Game 2 win and a 1-1 series tie.
At one point, someone even tweeted that Mitchell being a rookie is just a “narrative” (NBA Twitter’s new favorite term) because he’s 21 and not 19. Elsewhere, there was an attempt to start a debate on which of Mitchell or Denver Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris is better.
Never mind the fact that Mitchell is two years Harris’ junior, he also topped him in Box Plus-Minus and Real Plus-Minus this season. And, oh, they play significantly different roles for their respective teams.
As mentioned earlier, the undercurrent to all this was how often Mitchell shoots.
To be sure, the raw number is high, especially for a rookie. His 17.2 attempts per game ranks 30th all time among rookies who qualified for the minutes leaderboard (14th in the three-point era). His Usage Percentage is third all time for rookies who qualified for the minutes leaderboard.
But (and be forewarned, this is another thing Twitter told me was just a narrative) who else does Utah have to create from-scratch offense?
Ricky Rubio? His career True Shooting Percentage (TS%) ranks 553rd among the 660 players who’ve taken at least as many career shots in the three-point era. Joe Ingles? He’s in the 36th percentile for points per possession out of the pick-and-roll. Rudy Gobert? Why alter a role that’s given him the best TS% in the NBA over the last two seasons (minimum 500 shots).
None of that is an attempt to slander the above players. It just seems abundantly clear that Mitchell is the guy who can be trusted to commandeer possessions to a positive end. Need video evidence? Go back and watch the last 14-15 minutes of Game 2 again.
What’s more, pinning the label “volume scorer” on him probably doesn’t even make sense. At least not if it carries a negative connotation.
Mitchell is one of 41 rookies in NBA history to qualify for the minutes leaderboard and average at least 20 points. That alone puts him in elite company. But there are bunch of ways you can narrow it further.
He’s 17th among that bunch in TS% (though much closer to the bottom, 33rd, if you sort by the difference between the player’s TS% and the league average). Only six of the 41 did it on teams with more than 48 wins. Only three others were Mitchell’s height (6’3”) or shorter.
And what’s most important, his “volume scoring” hasn’t hurt the Jazz. In fact, it’s helped them. The bit about team record alludes to that, but there are other numbers that point directly to Mitchell.
The obvious ones are Offensive Rating (points scored per 100 possessions) and Net Rating (net points per 100 possessions). Utah scored 3.3 more points per 100 possessions when Mitchell was on the floor. Its net was 5.6 points per 100 possessions better when he was in the game.
If you’re looking for an example of a real volume shooter who hurts a team’s offense, go check out Dion Waiters On/Off numbers. Mitchell probably shouldn’t even be in this conversation.
But in case you’re still not convinced, let’s keep going.
NBA Math’s Factor Adjusted Team Similarities (FATS) is a model that compares a team’s four factors (shooting, rebounding, turnovers and free-throw rate) to others across NBA history. When Mitchell was on the floor this season, the Jazz played like a 50-win team. They played like a 42-win squad when he was off.
And if his below-league-average TS% was such a problem, you’d think it’d drag down the team’s number. But again, nope. It actually goes up over one percent when Mitchell is playing. And Gobert is the only starter whose TS% dips when sharing the floor with Mitchell.
Who could’ve known that a 20-point scorer who demands the attention of the opposition’s best perimeter defender would help his teammates?
Long story short, Mitchell makes the Jazz better. In part because he is a volume scorer. It’s crazy that this even needs to be said at this point in a remarkable rookie campaign.
So, the next time someone says, “But Donovan Mitchell is a volume scorer” in an effort to discredit Mitchell’s season, you can just reply with, “Good.”
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for SLC Dunk and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewDBailey) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Dan Favale.