Donovan Mitchell is having a career year for the Utah Jazz. He's scoring more efficiently than ever before, and he's a more positively impactful player overall. Despite three All-Star appearances, Mitchell has never made it to the more exclusive club of All-NBA.
Each year, a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters appointed by the NBA will vote on the All-NBA teams. There are three All-NBA teams, each consisting of five players. Each group of five has two slots for guards, two slots for forwards, and one slot for a center. The league has slowly been shifting to being more lenient with the positions, so it may not be long before it's just two guards and three frontcourt players, or even wholly positionless. Assuming that change won't be happening this year, Mitchell is vying for one of six guard slots, while Rudy Gobert will go for one of three center slots.
The NBA is full of stars, and the guard position seems overfilled with them. This year, a few of the regulars in the All-NBA teams are very unlikely to make it, for one reason or another. Kyrie Irving missed too much time due to refusing to take a vaccine. Russell Westbrook's reputation has finally caught up with reality. This has opened up some space for younger players like Mitchell to claim their first All-NBA honors.
I decided to take a statistical look at the candidates to see who deserves the six spots. I first determined who should be considered based on games played and positional qualification. For example, Kyrie Irving hasn't played enough games to warrant consideration, and DeMar DeRozan has played almost exclusively as a forward this year, so neither are included.
I took a combination of statistics, both basic and advanced, and ranked each player 1-11. I then averaged the players' ranks across the stats.
If we were to go by this method exclusively, the All-NBA guard would look like this:
- All-NBA 1st Team: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul
- All-NBA 2nd Team: Trae Young, Luka Doncic
- All-NBA 3rd Team: Ja Morant, Donovan Mitchell
Now, this is not a perfect way to determine these teams. I don't mean for anybody to base their opinions solely on this chart. I hope it can be a good visualization of how each of these players impacts the game in different ways and a good starting point for how to rank the top guards in the league.
A takeaway one might get from this chart is that although Chris Paul ranks dead last in points per game by a wide margin, he is one of the best guards in the league. Paul's impact is not in the volume of points but in helping his team win as a floor general, a defender, and an all-around player. Another thing one might see is that Zach LaVine is the most efficient scorer of the group, but he nears last place in almost every other category. LaVine is a great scorer but doesn't impact the game much elsewhere. Stephen Curry is having a down year by his standards, but he still lays claim to the title of the best guard in the league.
Donovan Mitchell grades well in almost every category but never at the top. There is a noticeable dropoff from Curry to Paul and then again from Paul to the group of Young, Doncic, Morant, and Mitchell. He still has a ways to go before he's one of the top three guards in the league, but he's climbing steadily. Last year, Mitchell wasn't close to All-NBA. This year, he just might make it.