Donovan Mitchell’s rookie campaign will be remembered as one of the great rookie seasons for a guard and maybe the best ever for the Utah Jazz.
The question now is, will he continue where he left off or will there be a sophomore slump for the rising star?
To get an idea of what we can expect from Mitchell, let’s take a look at a few former combo guards that were roughly the same size who also had incredible rookie seasons, and careers.
1. Damon Stoudamire
Damon Stoudamire came into the league at 22 years old, just one year older than Mitchell was at 21, and he was electric.
Stoudamire averaged 19 points per game and set a rookie record for 3 pointers made in a season. Sound familiar? Here’s a look at their rookie stats compared.
Stoudamire’s stroke from three, along with his passing, really set him apart. As a rookie he shot 39.5% from beyond the arc and dished out 9.3 assists per game.
He did that in 40.9 minutes per game. Mitchell, even with a lower 3pt%, scored more points in less minutes per game and had a higher 2P%. When you look at the per-36 numbers, Mitchell really stands out.
Mitchell is an elite rim finisher which gives him a 2P% that rivals some of the best bigs in the game. For example, Joel Embiid had a 2P% of .527 last season.
This is what makes things so exciting for Mitchell’s potential. His 210-pound rookie frame will only get stronger, and he should see an uptick in his numbers simply because he’ll have a much better start to this season than he did at the beginning of last year.
Watching Stoudamire, it’s clear that a lot of his production depended heavily on his jumpshot falling. For Mitchell, he’ll kill you in different ways. If the the jumper isn’t falling, he’ll go to the rim. If there’s an elite rim protector, he can facilitate for others.
How did Stoudamire do in the following seasons?
Because he surely became the point of emphasis of opposing defenses, his percentages went down. Considering Mitchell became the point of emphasis for defenses midway through the year, and led the Jazz to the 2nd round of the playoffs, things are looking good.
Mitchell’s ability to counter defenses with his elite quickness will be what keeps him from slumping, but he needs to find ways to facilitate when the open shot isn’t there.
Also, when you consider the room for improvement with his three point shooting, Mitchell should be able to avoid some of the issues that plagued Stoudamire and get even better. Mitchell is also helped by the talent around him and a system that promotes ball movement.
2. Allen Iverson
AI was as electric a rookie, and player, that we’ve ever seen. He was tough as nails, never backing down from anyone and eventually led the Philadelphia 76ers to the Finals in the 2000-01 season.
That Sixers team was not unlike this current Jazz team in that they were the #5 defensive team in the league with Iverson leading the scoring attack. In the playoffs, when defenses locked in, Iverson got tough buckets when they needed them most.
Let’s take a glance at Iverson’s rookie season compared to Donovan Mitchell’s.
Mitchell and Iverson are an interesting comparison. Iverson gets the edge in total points and assists but, just like Stoudamire, gets the benefit of playing 40 minutes per game. When you look at the per-36 numbers it gets me feeling warm and fuzzy.
Mitchell gets the slight edge in points with Iverson getting the edge in assists. But they’re nearly identical in rebounds and 3P%.
What’s even more exciting is Mitchell’s 2P% that is nearly a full six points higher than Iverson’s. Iverson was a better player than Stoudamire because of the incredible athleticism combined with grit and nails, but Mitchell has that same explosion combined with 6’3” in height and a 6’10” wingspan. That surely helps him finish over and around opposing bigs in ways that Iverson might not have been able 6’0”. Can Donovan Mitchell take advantage of his size and take things to the next level?
Let’s look at what happened to Allen Iverson in the next few years following his rookie season.
Iverson’s second season is interesting. His points went down but that is almost entirely caused by his 3PA and 3P% going way down. For whatever reason Iverson shot only 2.9 3-pointers per game in his second season when he shot 6 per game the year before. Did he stop shooting them because his percentage dropped to .298? It undoubtedly hurt his point totals in his sophomore season.
Iverson did however improve his 2P% significantly from .448 to .494 which is what became his bread and butter that season and beyond.
In Quin Snyder’s system you won’t see a downtick in Mitchell’s 3 point attempts. The question is, can he improve his 3 point shot to a higher percentage? If he can, the Jazz are in for an electric second season.
What Iverson brought, that Mitchell will need to emulate, is an intense competitiveness and toughness every season. If Mitchell can keep up his intensity year after year, there’s no reason he can’t be not only a Jazz great, but an all-time NBA great.
3. Steve Francis
This is easily my favorite comparison.
Stevie Franchise was an incredible mix of athleticism, scoring and passing from the point guard position. He was 6’3”, just like Mitchell, and was paired with a dominant center in Yao Ming.
Watch these Franchise highlights from one of his best games and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Donovan Mitchell.
Looking at their rookie seasons, Mitchell and Francis were incredibly similar.
Then looking at the per-36, it’s even closer. And even though Francis gets the nod in assists, that can probably be attributed to Ricky Rubio being the point of attack for a lot of offensive possessions.
Francis was able to put up great numbers in his first six seasons before some personal demons derailed his career.
Francis’ numbers either improved or stayed strong as each year came along. As we saw with Stoudamire and Iverson, the 3-point shot eventually fell off but who knows why.
What can we learn from this comparison? Mitchell is on track to be on the same level as one of the more exciting young players in the history of the league. He just needs keep a good head on his shoulders.
If he can hold steady with his 3-point shot and work on his facilitating, he’s looking at a long, All-Star laden career. Sadly, Francis wasn’t able to do that.
Looking at all these comparisons, I’d be surprised if Mitchell doesn’t come back with a fantastic second season. If he stays exactly the same, he’s a great player. But if he can improve his game year after year, there’s a chance for him to be very special player for years to come.