First-Round Candidate: Donovan Mitchell
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
ID CARD: 6-foot-3 shooting guard, Louisville, sophomore, 20 years old
DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 11th by DraftExpress.com; 22nd by ESPN.com; No. 5 among shooting guards by NBA.com
SCOUTS LOVE: Mitchell’s athleticism and length are his strongest calling cards. He had both the top no-step vertical leap, 36½ inches, and the fast three-quarter-court sprint, 3.01 seconds,of all prospects who submitted to athletic testing at this month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. His wing span of 6-foot-10 is outstanding for a backcourt player and the best among shooting guards considered first-round prospects. He comes across as bright and earnest in interviews. Like a lot of players recruited by Rick Pitino, he takes the defensive end every bit as seriously as NBA coaches will demand. And Mitchell gives every indication that he’ll develop into at least an average NBA 3-point shooter. He hit 35.4 percent as a Louisville sophomore on more than six attempts a game.
SCOUTS WONDER: Can he play point guard? He didn’t do much of it at Louisville, but his athleticism and toughness lead some to imagine what he might do with the ball in his hands in attack mode in the pick-and-roll NBA environment. If a team’s scouting staff concludes Mitchell could be more than just an occasional or emergency point guard, his value goes up considerably. He averaged 2.7 assists in his 32 minutes a game last season for the Cardinals, which isn’t eye popping but at least indicates the seeds of a playmaking bent. Mitchell will have a place in the NBA even if he never or rarely lines up as a point guard. But if the Pistons believe he can handle both backcourt spots, he’d look a lot more attractive at 12.
NUMBER TO NOTE: 6-foot-3. That’s on the very low end for shooting guards. The length might go 100 percent of the way toward alleviating any concerns it could cause for some NBA talent evaluators, but probably not for all of them. Mitchell averaged nearly five rebounds a game as a sophomore, a very good number for a backcourt player, so he’s already exhibited the ability to play bigger than his size. Defense would be the more pressing concern.
MONEY QUOTE: “I’m able to defend. A lot of guys don’t have that willingness to defend and I think as a guard who’s undersized – that’s what everybody says; I’m undersized – I’m able to defend and willing to defend and bring that. My jump shot, as well. Able to hit shots. Consistency is one thing I’ve been working on a bunch this season and this off-season.” – Mitchell at the NBA draft combine May 11
PISTONS FIT: Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith will be back as the 1-2 tandem at point guard. The Pistons give every indication they intend to retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a restricted free agent with an aggressive management team that will do its best to solicit an offer sheet. Reggie Bullock is also a restricted free agent, but retaining him could prove problematic as the Pistons play out Caldwell-Pope’s process. The Pistons also have options on Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije for next season. And Stanley Johnson has been Caldwell-Pope’s backup for both of his NBA seasons while also playing small forward. So that’s a crowd. But Mitchell is different than all of them. Even if the Pistons are skeptical of his future as a point guard, he would hold appeal as a secondary ballhandler next to Jackson or Smith. Mitchell reported a scheduled meeting with the Pistons while at the combine.
BOTTOM LINE: Mitchell is more likely than not to be available to the Pistons. Most projections have him going either late in the lottery or beyond it. Of all the most likely players under consideration at 12, though, Mitchell might be one of the most likely to challenge for playing time as a rookie. He’s physically mature and already looks like he could at least hold his own defensively. Lack of strength and defensive deficiencies are the two biggest obstacles to playing time for most rookies. Mitchell, who carries a rock-solid 211 pounds on his frame, is likely to be ahead of the game on both counts.