Last weekend a severe breakout of arachnophobia took place in downtown Salt Lake City. Over a two night period, “Spida” Mitchell slung 70 points on just 40 shots to tie up the Memphis Grizzlies in consecutive losses.
Spiders are annoying.— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 28, 2021
From opening tip, Donovan Mitchell was aggressive and decisive. He had every shot in his arsenal dialed in. His passes countered every defensive adjustment. He even showed what he’s capable of on defense.
He ended the two game stretch with the following average stat line:
35.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 3.5 turnovers on 77.3% TS
Relieve the best moments of what some have dubbed Mitchell’s second best regular season outing on Saturday night:
Honestly, what Donovan’s play is nothing new—as long as you’ve paid attention to the Utah Jazz since the All-Star break.
SLC Dunk’s own Calvin Chappell summarized beautifully the elite play Utah is getting from their leading All-Stars since the big game.
Donovan Mitchell post All-Star game:— (@CHALVIN2018) March 28, 2021
Rudy Gobert post All-Star game:
68.8% FG pic.twitter.com/6RfWrbEQdS
It’s pretty clear the spida-senses are tingling.
With what is easily Mitchell’s best campaign of his career in tow for the home stretch of the season, you have to wonder if Donovan merits consideration for an All-NBA selection (a recognition far more prestigious than an All-Star appearance if you think about it).
Let’s learn from the past few seasons what standards are needed to build Mitchell’s campaign, evaluate the competition, and pinpoint any areas of focus for the final 27 games of the season.
All-NBA selections are conducted by a large panel of media members across the world. Unlike the All-Star selection, no direct fan, player, nor coaching input is permitted. Such a format is inherently taken more seriously and scrutinized more deeply.
However, even in sportswriter and broadcaster circles you’ll find a spectrum of traditional and progressive approaches to basketball analysis. While many will certainly cite FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR and ESPN’s RPM as a medium to measure impact, most will undoubtedly adhere to the traditional stat line, a measure of efficiency, and team performance.
Therefore, we’ll concentrate our comparison with the same data points (though adjusted to per 75 possession averages to account for playing time and team pace of play).
See the below comparison for Donovan Mitchell’s 2020-21 season to the past 18 All-NBA selected guards:
The graphic above plots the range of each statistical category. Points, for example, ranged from a minimum of 16.9 by Ben Simmons last season to a maximum of 36.2 by James Harden the same year.
25%tile, average (or 50%tile), and 75%tile were also added to give perspective of where Donovan’s stats lie compared to the data distribution. The above may look vaguely like a number line or be attempting a box and whisker plot. That’s the exact idea, except with some more intuitive design.
Back to the data.
Mitchell meets the minimum “thresholds” for every category throughout the 18 guard sample. In fact, outside of assists, he’s virtually at or above the 25%tile in every category, with points and team win % pacing above average.
Take a look below at the entire list:
Not one player from the sample was above average in every category. It is important, however, to exceed average in 2-3 categories (13 selections exceed average in two categories, 7 selections in three).
Donovan Mitchell hits on two categories. Sadly, there’s no time to approach average on a third category. But there is still more to be done (more on that later).
The jist: Donovan certainly belongs in the All-NBA talk.
While clearly deserved for consideration, Donovan Mitchell isn’t the only play vying for a coveted spot on an All-NBA team.
All-NBA is comprised of three teams, each comprised of a five-man “starting lineup”. These teams require two guards, two forwards, and a center. That leaves just six opportunities for Mitchell to best the likes of Harden, Curry, Doncic, Lillard, and the like.
Talk about a tough task.
The current list of NBA guards who meet the 25%tile in points (25.6 per 75) and meet the 25%tile in one other category of rebounds (4.9 per 75), assists (6.8 per 75), or TS% (0.586) with a minimum of 1,000 minutes played is 10:
Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Stepen Curry, Zach LaVine, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Trae Young, and Jaylen Brown.
If the criteria is relaxed to 24-4-5-0.550, add 5 more players.
If the criteria is relaxed further to 22-3-4-0.52, add 3 additional players.
Thus far, 18 players. Ben Simmons, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul were all selected last season and missed the list of 18. Add them to the list you’re at 21 players...for 6 spots.
Filtering out players whose role won’t warrant All-NBA selection (Jordan Clarkson and Norman Powell, for example) and players whose team performance excludes them from consideration (De’Aaron Fox and Collin Sexton, for example), we’re left with 15 players.
Lillard, Harden, Doncic, and Curry are clear locks, leaving 2 spots for 11 players.
Let’s exclude Westbrook and Paul. Both are having worse years than last year and have teammates with better cases (via the above methodology) for All-NBA.
9 players left and it is TRICKY!
There’s no right answer at this point. Beal and LaVine have had better seasons than Mitchell, but far worse teams. Booker, Brown, Tatum, and Young have had the same season as Mitchell with mixed team results.
Irving and Simmons have similar team results and have a good case for a better season. As it stands, they likely get those last spots.
The Home Stretch
With so many future Hall of Fame guards in their prime around the league in Harden, Lillard, Curry, and Doncic, there are so few opportunities to make an All-NBA team. Stack that up with the highest season in frequency of volume scorers, there isn’t even elbow room in line for your turn.
Donovan’s best shot at an All-NBA team hinges on an appreciation for team success. As the favorite to finish with the league’s best record, the Utah Jazz success as a team may be the only weight that can tip the scales in his favor.
He can, however, ensure that he’s competitive across the board and that means getting four categories above the 25%tile, a feat accomplished by 10 of the 18 guards in the sample.
He needs just 0.3% in True Shooting efficiency and to keep his rebounds above 4.9 per 75. Assists will be tougher given that he’s 0.9 per 75 below the necessary mark.
Donovan Mitchell’s season isn’t just All-NBA worthy, it’s been one of the best seasons of franchise history and from a player in his 4th NBA season.
What an absolute treasure we have in Utah. Paired with Rudy Gobert (a perennial lock for one of the All-NBA teams having been selected 3 out of the past 4 years), the Utah Jazz are setup for incredible seasons for years to come.
Donovan is hitting his stride, but at 24 years old, he’s still got a good 3 years ahead of him before his prime, at such a time when Harden is 34, Curry is 36, and Dame is 33.
Mitchell’s time is coming, be it this year or those upcoming.
Soon the entirety of the NBA will live in fear—not just the Memphis Grizzlies.