Donovan Mitchell’s draft profile listed him as a shooting guard out of Louisville. His position on ESPN, Basketball Reference, NBA.com and any other site that has rosters, lists Mitchell as a shooting guard.
That needs to change.
In games where Donovan has started at point guard, the Jazz are 6-0. They’re also 2-0 in games where Ricky Rubio was out and the team started Raul Neto or Dante Exum. That’s eight wins and zero losses in games where Mitchell is called upon to play extended point guard minutes.
Mitchell doesn’t need to entirely give up his minutes at the two-guard spot, but what has become more and more clear in my eyes is that Mitchell would fit much better with the Utah Jazz as the starting point guard.
He’s certainly not your typical point, but who is these days in the NBA? Look at guys like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, go down the list and they’re all scorers. Or, to be more accurate, playmakers.
NBA point guards in today’s game are more playmakers than passers. They don’t give the ball a headache and then flip a pass to an open teammate. They create scoring opportunities for the team by being good scorers while keeping their heads up for an open teammate if their own scoring window closes. Houston fans are familiar with this as it’s what their pseudo-point guard James Harden does every single game, and it’s how he can score 50 points and still get 10 assists.
There’s also the fact that Mitchell has played much better in games where the Jazz have needed him to man the point. It’s a topic that I already took a shallow dive into two weeks ago in my downbeat where I compared Mitchell’s January stats to his early February numbers, specifically looking at the 14-day stretch where Rubio was out with injury.
During that span, Mitchell was forced to play almost exclusively at point guard and averaged 30.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting and 40.3 percent from beyond the arc. In the rest of January, his averages were 24.7 points on just 42.7 percent shooting.
It’s also worth pointing out that in that same stretch I brought up, Mitchell had six or more assists in half of those games while attempting an average of 22 shots. He’s able to put his head down and get to the basket for sure, but more and more he’s keeping his eyes up and looking for kick out opportunities.
Something that can’t be overlooked in this discussion is the strength of schedule for the games in question. More often than not the Jazz were facing teams like the Knicks, Cavaliers, Bulls and Lakers, not the Warriors or Bucks. Still, mingled among those are solid outings against the Clippers (before Tobias Harris left) and yesterday against the Nuggets.
One of the less talked about aspects of Mitchell that I believe should put him at point guard is his size. He’s 6-foot-3 in a position that averages closer 6-foot-6. And yes, I am very aware of Mitchell’s 6-foot-10 wingspan (you’ll hear about it more often if you listen to the opponent’s announcers for Jazz games). But that makes him passable at the two. It doesn’t mean he has good or even average length for the position. Just off the top of my head I can think of two former Jazz two-guards, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, who were taller and had wingspans just as long. And they weren’t exactly outliers in the league.
Offensively, the lack of length doesn’t really affect Mitchell, it’s defense where his potential will be handicapped by always guarding players taller and, overall, longer than him. It does a disservice to a guy who dedicates himself on the defensive end to constantly give him the herculean task of guarding bigger players.
For now, Mitchell is going to stay put at shooting guard unless called upon (as he is right now while Rubio/Neto/Exum are all out). There are three point guards on the roster and moving Mitchell into that starting spot could stir up some problems. But Mitchell’s true position in the future will become a very relevant discussion as the Jazz try to bring in that fabled “third star” that we all keep going on about. The biggest question surrounding that most likely will be “Should the Jazz go after a third star that is a point guard?” Because maybe Utah already has a star point guard.