My what a year can do. Last year we were trying to figure out where Donovan Mitchell would land as a sophomore after a spectacular rookie campaign. While Donovan Mitchell is known for being his toughest critic, even as far as saying, “I only had a really good few months,” he actually had a spectacular sophomore campaign when compared to his other rookies who had high scoring rookie years.
Last year I compared him to other NBA guards who averaged 17ppg or more in their rookie years during the 3 Point Era. The goal was to find out the possible floor and ceiling for Donovan’s sophomore year. It was enlightening to say the least. We found out that Jerry Stackhouse averaged a FTr of 0.5—not a typo. Michael Jordan shot up in PPG but only played a handful. In the end, the goal was to have an improvement similar to Damian Lillard. How’d Donovan do?
Year 2 PER36 Improvement
Not too bad. Nylon Calculus at the beginning of the year thought Donovan’s FTr would drop as Mitchell would take more threes. Instead Donovan took less three pointers—I’m as shocked as you are—and would improve his FTAs per game by 1.4. Only one player improved more from rookie to sophomore year as a guard ... Damian Lillard.
Donovan Mitchell also saw a 3.3 point per game improvement year over year. The hard part is Donovan Mitchell saw a big increase in shot attempts at the rim and his efficiency from this rookie year didn’t carry over. Why is that?
Well ... the Utah Jazz year over year were a worse 3 point team. They shot 35.6% from three when they shot 35.5% last year. Most importantly, their designated floor spacers were worse from three. Joe Ingles dropped from 44% from three to 39%. Ricky Rubio dropped from 35% to 31%. So the three point shooting fell to Jae Crowder (33%) and Royce O’Neale (38%). But they didn’t play as many minutes as the former and Donovan Mitchell saw most of his minutes with the former. That’s why the Jazz traded for Korver in December to improve spacing.
Last season 204 threes came from Joe Ingles alone. This season? Joe Ingles had 189 with Crowder just behind him at 173. Teams could play around with leaving Joe Ingles alone in the corner and they most certainly could leave Jae Crowder and Ricky Rubio alone with them shooting 33% and 31%. The paint was packed and despite all that Donovan figured out ways to score more. That’s an encouraging sign that he pushed through despite the challenge. What’s even more impressive is Donovan isn’t saying, “If I would have had better spacing or teammates.” He’s saying, “I only had a really good few months.”
For the “Donovan is a PG” crew out there, Donovan even increased his assists per game. He’s getting better in that regard and one could argue that he’d have more assists if his kick outs weren’t going to a diminished Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, or Ricky Rubio. Even more impressively, his turnovers stagnated despite his usage rate going up to 31%. He can still get a better handle on his turnovers, but for someone who had the ball in his hands EVEN MORE than last season to keep it even with turnovers, that’s not bad.
Going into this offseason, the Jazz front office has to been keen on finding what Dennis Lindsey called “Snipers”. For Donovan Mitchell to take another big step, he’s going to need that paint cleared or have the ability to kick the ball out to an open man that has the ability to make the defense pay. Right now the Jazz lack that release valve for the offense so there’s no reason why a team would not continue to pack the paint as evidenced by Utah shooting 20% on open threes in their series against Houston.
ORIGINAL - Aug 15, 2018
Donovan Mitchell had a rookie year for the ages. While sophomore Ben Simmons eventually came away with the hardware, Donovan Mitchell’s rookie year was impressive for a multitude of reasons as laid out by our own Andy Bailey last week. Unlike Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell is about to embark on his true second year in the NBA. He is taking advantage of a true NBA offseason complete with rest, healthy eating, and fully implemented development courtesy of Utah’s Cheat Code, Johnnie Bryant.
While it’s impossible to look into a crystal ball to know what Donovan Mitchell will become in the years to come, it is possible to look at what past high scoring rookies have done in their sophomore seasons as an encore. Nylon Calculus used their analytic knowhow to try to find the most similar players using the nearest neighbors algorithm. That algorithm pulled both big men and ball handlers. While that’s not the most apples to apples comparison, they came to this conclusion:
For the most part, we can expect more of the same from Mitchell next season. Projected points per 36 minutes are over 23 and the model expects an increase of VORP to 3.02 and BPM of 2.1. We can expect Mitchell to shoot even more 3s with an increase in 3PAr and also a higher AST% at nearly 22 percent. Some drawbacks could be a lower 3PT%, lower FTr and slightly higher TOV per 36.
For my projections, I decided to use something a bit more rudimentary. Having been a Jazz fan for most of my life, I think I’m an expert in extreme paranoia in my own team. I want see how often a high scoring season was a fluke. Are the haters right that Donovan Mitchell just was a high scorer because he just got a lot of shots or are they dreadfully wrong? What does history tell us? I wanted to narrow down every guard in the 3 point line era who had scored 17 points per game or more their rookie season and then see the difference between the first and sophomore year. To make this as same for same as possible I translated their ppg stats into PER36 numbers when I calculated the difference between their rookie and sophomore year. We’re not going to compare Donovan Mitchell to a big man because he’s not a big man—compared to other NBA players anyway.
Here is the complete list of rookie guards the three point erathat have scored 17ppg in their rookie year. Keep in mind, some of these players played insane minutes their rookie and sophomore years in the NBA.
High Scoring Rookies - Year 1
This list is a who’s who of great players from the past: Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Darrell Griffith, Vince Carter, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, and Steve Francis. It also includes some modern archetypes for the guard position like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. It also includes players like Tyreke Evans and O.J. Mayo. We’re not discriminating on this list. We want the good with the bad.
The big notables are Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson. Those two were scoring machines. They also played big minutes, 38.3 and 40.1 mpg, respectively. What’s interesting about this list is Donovan Mitchell played second fewest amount of minutes; the only player that played less minutes and scored 17 ppg or more than Donovan Mitchell was Kyrie Irving. When converted to PER36, Donovan Mitchell’s average ppg jumps to 22.1 which is actually higher than Allen Iverson’s 21.1 ppg calculated at PER36.
Another interesting note is to see the gradual shift toward the three point line. No high scoring rookie took more three point attempts than Donovan Mitchell in the three point era. What’s crazy is to see who is number three and four on this list: Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudamire. They were truly ahead of their time and could have been cheat codes had they been gifted a forward thinking head coach in the late 90s.
You’ll notice higher FTr’s in the early 3 point era vs now. It’s interesting to see how that percentage drops as more guards gravitate to the 3 point line and to see how the 3 point percentages increase. Let’s all marvel just for a second that Steph Curry had a 3 point percentage of 43.7% as a rookie. My hell. What a 3 point shooting god.
Year 2 - Sophomore Year
What’s interesting is to see what happens in year two for these players. Take a look below.
Year 2 - Sophomore Year
One thing you’ll notice is some of the big time drops in games played. Michael Jordan was hurt and only played in 18 games. Kyrie Irving only played in 59. Magic Johnson only played in 37. Tyreke only played in 57 and Ron Harper only played in 57. You’ll see that there were a couple sophomore standouts that really shined. One of those was the legendary Vince Carter. He had 11.8 win shares, upped his three point attempts, got to the line a lot, and shot 40.3% from three. Simply put he was a beast.
Another one was the apple of the then Vancouver’s eye, the one that got away, Steve Francis. Steve Francis was a powerhouse. He had a win share of 12.2 wins, shot almost 40% from three, averaged 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists. One person I HAVE to put out is Jerry Stackhouse for this insane reason: he had a FTr of 0.51. That’s not a typo. He had a free throw rate of 0.51. I mean, he just dribbled down the court and a referee blew his whistle. It’s beyond batty. But here’s where things get REALLY interesting, when comparing the difference between year 1 and year 2 with these players.
Difference between Year 1 and Year 2
This is where we can see if player took a big dive, kept their numbers, or increased their efficiency and production.
PER36 Rookie and Sophomore Year +/-
While Michael Jordan’s aggregate numbers his sophomore year don’t look all that special, he began to produce at his GOAT levels that year. Donovan Mitchell’s idol, Vince Carter, had some insane gains. He increased his 3 point % by 11 percentage points. Can you imagine what would happen if Donovan Mitchell increased his 3 point percentage by 11 percentage points? Damian Lillard saw increases of 3.1 ppg PER36 and started getting to the line a lot more. There were some others who had some big drop offs. Ron Harper saw decreases while fighting injuries, O.J. Mayo returned to earth. The snake oil of Tyreke Evans started to be seen. Willie Anderson is the most interesting case. He still was efficient, but he saw drops clear across the board. The reason? David Robinson was drafted by his team and he took a lot of the touches.
One interesting note is the usage rates of players were pretty evenly dispersed. About half the players increased their usage rate, the other half decreased. One thing for certain was those who increased their usage rate saw big gains on the court: Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Steph Curry, Damon Stoudamire, Isiah Thomas, and Damian Lillard.
One thing that should make a lot of Jazz fans breath a sigh of relief: even the players who weren’t All-Star caliber scorers like Tyreke Evans and O.J. Mayo didn’t see huge dips in production from year 1 to year 2. In other words, the worst that could happen to Donovan Mitchell is he is exactly the same player he was last season. That’s a pretty incredible observation. If Donovan Mitchell stays the same as last year, Utah has a player who is capable of taking over games and being the best player on the court. If he improves—even if it is just slightly in a few areas like 3 point percentage, FTr, and FT%—he goes from being All-Star caliber to Superstar caliber.
The Utah Jazz got a good one in Donovan Mitchell and judging from the NBA’s past of high scoring rookies, he’s not going to be going away any time soon.