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STATS THREAD!: A statistical deep dive into Donovan Mitchell’s performance

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Donovan Mitchell captured the attention the world in a way no Utah Jazz player has since the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone. The numbers help to show why.

Houston Rockets v Utah Jazz - Game Four Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Time for another round of the Utah Jazz #STATSTHREAD! And this week features rising star Donovan Mitchell, one of the NBA’s most exciting young players.

To recap, we’re taking a look at the 2018-19 Jazz roster through a statistical lens. And each week will feature a different player. So far, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio have all gotten the treatment.

So, without further ado, here’s Mitchell...


  • Michael Jordan is the only rookie in NBA history who matched all of Donovan Mitchell’s 2017-18 per-possession averages for points, rebounds, assists and steals (minimum 500 minutes played).

Michael Jordan exceeded Mitchell’s averages in the above numbers fairly comfortably. And if you play around with the qualifiers, you can add some other big names. Regardless, this stat helps to show what a rare debut Mitchell had.

  • Donovan Mitchell scored 1,884 points in the regular season and playoffs combined. The only rookies since 1963 who scored more in the regular season and playoffs combined: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Ricky Barry, Geoff Petrie, Walter Davis, Sidney Wicks, Earl Monroe, Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Bernard King, Mitch Richmond and Shaquille O’Neal. Eleven of those 15 players are Hall-of-Famers (12, if you count the inevitable Duncan).

This list would be more exclusive if we added some more qualifiers, but points alone gives us a group that’s predominantly Hall-of-Famers. It would be pretty ridiculous to forecast Mitchell’s induction after one season, but he’s started on a trajectory very few ever find.

  • Among rookies who appeared in at least 10 playoff games, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan and Elgin Baylor are the only players who averaged more points in the playoffs than Donovan Mitchell (24.4). Their postseason debuts were in 1970, 1949 and 1959, respectively.

Now, we’ll look more specifically at Mitchell’s postseason performance. Simply put, rookies just don’t carry that kind of scoring load into a second-round playoff series. Among the nine rookies with at least 10 playoff games and a scoring average over 20, the three most recent are Mitchell (2018), David Robinson (1990) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970).

  • Donovan Mitchell’s regular-season ranks in points per game among players who had at least 10 appearances in the following situations:

Overall: 25th
Second halves: 16th
Fourth quarters: 9th
Clutch minutes: 10th

Mitchell got better as the pressure increased. Time and time again, he came alive when his team needed him most. That was abundantly clear on December 1, when Mitchell scored 29 of his career-high 41 in the second half (17 in the fourth quarter).

  • Donovan Mitchell’s postseason ranks in points per game among players who had at least three appearances in the following situations:


Overall: 12th
Second halves: 4th
Fourth quarters: 11th
Clutch minutes: 3rd

As you can see, this trend continued into the playoffs for Mitchell. And the best example came on April 27, when Mitchell went toe-to-toe with Russell Westbrook and scored 22 points in the third quarter of a closeout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

  • Donovan Mitchell was above-average in points per possession in isolations, pick-and-roll ball handler possessions and off-screen possessions. He was in the 96th percentile in points per spot-up possession.

Ben Simmons was the only qualified rookie who scored more points per iso than Mitchell. Jayson Tatum and Mike James were the only qualified rookies who were more efficient as pick-and-roll scorers. These are play types you can’t typically trust to rookies. As a spot-up shooter, Mitchell was almost in a class by himself.

  • Donovan Mitchell finished 247 possessions as a spot-up shooter. He scored 1.27 points per spot-up possession. Anthony Tolliver was the only player who used at least as many spot-ups and scored more points per possession.

Mitchell was often forced into tough shots that pulled his percentage down last season, but a spot-up possession for him was one of Utah’s very best options.

  • Player Impact Chart for Donovan Mitchell, who helped boost the Net Ratings for all but three Utah Jazz players with whom he shared the floor for at least 100 minutes.

Three things to consider here. Alec Burks was in and out of the rotation last season. Rodney Hood is no longer on the team. And Thabo Sefolosha went down with an injury before the team took off in January. And those are the only three players who didn’t have a better Net Rating when they shared the floor with Mitchell.

  • The Utah Jazz played like a 50-win team when Donovan Mitchell was on the floor...
  • ...and a 42-win team when he was off, according to NBA Math’s FATS Calculator.

This is another way to look at how Mitchell positively impacted the Jazz. NBA Math’s FATS (Factor Adjusted Team Similarities) model compares a team’s Four Factors (Effective Field Goal Percentage, Free Throw Rate, Turnover Percentage and Offensive Rebounding Percentage) to other teams across NBA history. Utah’s Four Factors were comfortably better when Mitchell was on the floor.

  • FiveThirtyEight projects Donovan Mitchell to finish 22nd in the NBA in Wins Above Replacement next season.

People don’t often talk about the Jazz this way, but they have the makings of an organic super-team. As early as next season, Utah could have two top-20 players in Rudy Gobert and Mitchell. If Mitchell ascends to top-10 status over the next few years, the Jazz will be even closer to that distinction.

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or ESPN.
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.