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Team USA is polishing Donovan Mitchell into a superstar

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When Donovan Mitchell’s game takes a leap this upcoming season, we’ll think back to this August.

USAB - Blue v White Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Donovan Mitchell is having himself a moment right now. As the Salt Lake Tribune’s Andy Larsen put it, “Donovan Mitchell can’t help but find himself in the starting lineup of every team he joins.” Donovan Mitchell is the starting shooting guard for Team USA at the moment. Praise is being heaped on him from Steve Kerr to Greg Popovich. It would appear that Donovan Mitchell is on the verge of yet another breakout season.

It’s crazy to think that just a few months ago, Donovan Mitchell was looking at his lowest point in the NBA Playoffs after the Utah Jazz were unceremoniously jettisoned by the Houston Rockets. In that series, Utah couldn’t find any offensive punch beyond Donovan Mitchell. Donovan Mitchell was slandered by those calling him the “Mormon Monta Ellis” or “Ben Gordon 2.0”. Yet here is Donovan Mitchell being expected to be THE GUY on a Team USA squad that features talent like Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, and Jayson Tatum.

Donovan Mitchell certainly looks ready for the task as he has been a standout in practices and last night in the Team USA scrimmage he tallied 7 points on 3-7 shooting with 4 assists. Mitchell even ran some time at point guard in the second half. Just a preview of his versatility with this Team USA roster.

With all the praise of Spida-man, Mitchell has a chance to follow a bit in the footsteps of his mentor Dwyane Wade who had a similar breakout with Team USA. While Donovan Mitchell is now facing the overrated chants because of a less than ideal showing in the NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets, Dwyane Wade was fighting the demons of recurring injuries.

It’s hard for a lot of younger fans to imagine a time in which Dwyane Wade was not a superstar. Even as he finished off his twilight in Miami this past season, to most, Wade has always been in that tier. He started his career with a bang, won a championship and an NBA Finals MVP in his second season, and was the man who recruited LeBron James to South Beach. But in between that Shaq-Wade fueled ring and recruiting, there was a time—2007 to 2008, to be exact—that Wade’s career was in doubt.

From the New York Times back in 2008:

For a player who is often overlooked, the latest chapter in Wade’s story is a fitting one. After ascending to the pantheon of N.B.A. megastars by leading the Miami Heat to a championship in 2006, two serious injuries handcuffed his game and hindered his production.

Two years after being on the top of the basketball world, Wade found himself in a familiar situation.

Wade had suffered an injured a torn shoulder and numerous other injuries that just seemed like career enders—sort of a death by a thousand cuts. By the time D-Wade showed up for Team USA and the Redeem Team, few expected Dwyane Wade to be THE GUY for a team that featured Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and LeBron James.

Wade has perhaps been Team USA’s best and most valuable player. The team’s 106-57 pounding of Germany on Monday boosted its average victory margin to 32.2 points.

He is leading the Americans in scoring at 16.2 points a game. The most telling attribute of this dominant edition of the United States team is that Wade is perhaps the best player so far in this tournament. And he is not even a starter.

“He’s better than he was two years ago,” the United States assistant Jim Boeheim said. “He was good, obviously; they just won the championship. He’s much better defensively and much stronger.”

The description of Dwyane Wade being stronger is an interesting one considering Donovan Mitchell has also had many Team USA guys say he’s just flat out stronger than he was. Yesterday Bill Simmons had Brian Windhorst on the Bill Simmons Podcast where they talked about Donovan Mitchell being such a revelation with Team USA.

Donovan Mitchell in his second year is crazy similar to Dwyane Wade in his second year, but just as Bill Simmons and Brian Windhorst pointed out, there are some significant differences. Wade could get to the line at an obscene rate—almost 10 times a game. Donovan Mitchell gets to the line about half that amount, but where Mitchell also excels at something that never was Wade’s strength, pure shooting. Donovan Mitchell’s eFG% was actually higher in his second season due to his three point shooting. Dwyane Wade never shot better than 33% from three in any season, Donovan Mitchell has already done that twice—34% in his rookie year and 36% in his sophomore season.

If Donovan Mitchell was going to have a Dwyane Wade like season after his Team USA experience, here’s what that would look like:

  • 30.2 points per game on 22 field goal attempts per game
  • 7.5 assists per game
  • 5.0 rebounds per game
  • 2.2 steals per game
  • 1.3 blocks per game
  • 51.6% eFG%
  • 9.9 free throw attempts per game

When looking at Dwyane Wade’s season after the Redeem Team, it’s important to note that he played 38.7 minutes a game. He played in 78 games that season. For those worried about Donovan Mitchell getting injured after spending his offseason with Team USA, the oft-injured Dwyane Wade didn’t have that worry. If anything, his minutes per game with the Miami Heat in 2008-2009 was the culprit of his body wearing down later on in his career.

Donovan Mitchell won’t have to carry nearly the weight that Dwyane Wade had to carry on that Miami Heat team. Donovan Mitchell has an amazing supporting cast of Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert. Mitchell could see a reduction in field goal attempts a game from last season where he had 19.9 a game. But his efficiency and ability to get free throw attempts could increase as opposing defenses won’t be able to key in on him possession after possession. Defenses that have been put in a blender could look to desperation foul Donovan Mitchell and put him at the line when they’re beat.

Donovan Mitchell has also been displaying his catch and shoot ability which looks much improved. Not that it was terrible to begin with. He shot 40.2% from three in catch and shoot opportunities but he didn’t get those opportunities too often. He actually saw a drop in that percentage from Year 1 to Year 2 as defenses were not about to let Utah’s top offensive player see daylight whether on or off the ball.

This season that type of attention on Mitchell could open up daylight for amazing catch and shoot players like Joe Ingles, Mike Conley, and Bojan Bogdanovic OR it leaves Rudy Gobert open for the most efficient shot in the game of basketball—a wide open dunk.

Donovan Mitchell will most likely see more time playing the point guard position with Team USA with the news that Kyle Lowry has decided to pull out from Team USA. That leaves De’Aaron Fox, Kemba Walker, and Donovan Mitchell as Team USA’s main ball handlers. While Kemba can most certainly light it up, Donovan Mitchell has the size to go up against bigger point guards and the superstar ability to make them pay off the dribble. De’Aaron Fox has the speed and the quickness to dive into the lane, but is still developing that off the dribble shot or the ability to shoot the three over the screen—though he definitely showed an ability if he shot more threes as he hit 37% of his threes but only on 2.9 attempts a game.

Donovan Mitchell is being gift wrapped a dream offseason. He can test new parts of his game against top tier basketball talent on a big stage playing low minutes—15-20 minutes a game—instead of fishing for validation against scrubs in runs in Los Angeles. Mitchell is able to get premier coaching from the top basketball minds in the USA like Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr while still getting coaching from Johnnie Bryant and the Utah Jazz staff. Think about how rare it is to get one on one tutelage from opposing coaches in the NBA. The same mentors of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are investing a lot of their time into making sure Donovan Mitchell is as successful as he possibly can be this offseason. How insane is that?

Donovan Mitchell looks poised to take the next step and just like Dwyane Wade before, Team USA might have played a major role in that development.