Summer Review: Tony Mitchell

Pistons can afford patience with athletic 2nd rounder Tony Mitchell

Tony Mitchell
Tony Mitchell was able to show off his incredible athleticism at the Orlando Summer League.
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
(Editor’s note: Second in a series that looks at the five first- or second-year Pistons who participated in Summer League practices or games last month. Next: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.)

The Pistons will go into the 2013-14 season asking of Tony Mitchell what they asked of Andre Drummond a season ago: No matter when and where your opportunity to play might arise, make sure that every time you step on the floor your athleticism makes itself felt.

“His message is to be the best athlete on the floor at all times,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said. “And what I mean is, it can’t just be for scoring. He’s got to use his athleticism to impact a number of different things on the court. The more things he can impact with athleticism, the quicker and the more impressive his improvement is going to be.”

With Drummond coming farther faster than anyone could have anticipated and with the addition of Josh Smith in free agency, the Pistons are now vastly more athletic up front than they were heading into the 2012-13 season. Greg Monroe is entrenched ahead of Mitchell on the depth charter at power forward, Smith figures to spend a good chunk of every night playing there when Monroe isn’t, and veterans Charlie Villanueva and Jonas Jerebko further crowd the position.

Yet Mitchell impressed the Pistons with his performance in Orlando last month on several fronts. Joe Dumars’ relationship with the coach who recruited Mitchell to North Texas – he and Johnny Jones go back to their high school days in Louisiana – eased doubts that cropped up about Mitchell’s demeanor leading to the draft. Once considered a likely lottery pick, the Pistons nabbed Mitchell at pick 37 in the second round. In Orlando, he impressed coaches and teammates with his aptitude and spirit.

“The word for Tony Mitchell is ‘intriguing,’ ” Dumars said. “Tony’s intriguing because he’s an exceptional athlete, but he also has a good feel for the game. He’s not just run and jump. He knows how to work his way around the court. We think he’s going to be a really good offensive rebounder, a guy that can knock down a 15-foot shot. He’ll get better at it as time goes on. The main thing for Tony is defensively, once he figures out who’s who and who likes to do what, we think one day he’ll be a pretty good defender, as well.”

Mitchell had several spectacular moments in Summer League, including a put-back dunk in the final second to win a game, and averaged 7.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and a blocked shot while playing alongside Drummond, who dominated Orlando.

“I know Detroit’s the Motor City, but we’ve got a motor player in him,” said Pistons assistant coach Maz Trakh, who ran the Summer League team. “He just goes after everything. It’s fun watching him because he’s a sponge. Any time you call him over or any time the coaches talk to him, he picks something up and then he does it the very next play.”

“He’s a very observant learner,” David said of Mitchell, who was considered a top-20 recruit coming out of high school in 2010 and was headed for Missouri originally before an academic eligibility issue scuttled those plans and forced him to sit out the 2010-11 season at North Texas before averaging a double-double as a freshman the following season and flirting with entering the 2012 draft. “When he sees something work, it can register with him that, ‘I can do this again. I just figured something out.’ That’s going to go a long way for him through the course of a season. It sounds simple, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.”

With their frontcourt depth, Mitchell could be a candidate to spend a few stints in the D-League to accelerate his learning curve. The Pistons can afford to be patient with Mitchell to allow his skill level to catch up to his game-changing athleticism.

“We can bring Tony along and not have to rush him and allow him to grow and learn and figure things out,” Dumars said. “We don’t have to throw him to the wolves right away. That’s a good thing for him, because we think he has a chance to grow.”