Friday's notebook: Donovan Mitchell's mid-range game in tune

Jazz star has upped his efficiency as we dig into 5 noteworthy stats and plays

Happy Friday! We are more than 1/8 of the way through the 2019-20 NBA season. Here are five noteworthy numbers and plays as we head into the Week 4 weekend.

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1. Mitchell’s improved offense

Donovan Mitchell has been a more efficient player this season. In his third year, both his *true shooting percentage (from 53.7% to 57.1%) and his assist/turnover ratio (from 1.48 to 1.73) are career-high marks.

* True shooting percentage – PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA))) – is a measure of scoring efficiency.

But interestingly, Mitchell hasn’t been more efficient because he’s shooting more off the catch with the Utah Jazz’s upgrade at point guard. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the percentage of Mitchell’s jump shots that have come off the catch is actually down from 27% last season to just 19% this season. Mike Conley has assisted on seven (13%) of the 56 buckets that Mitchell has in the 220 minutes that the two have been on the floor together.

Just as interesting is that Mitchell has seen a pretty dramatic drop in the percentage of his shots that have come from the most efficient areas of the floor. Only 47% of his shots have come from the restricted area or 3-point range. That’s the *seventh lowest rate among 116 players with at least 100 total field goal attempts and down from 61% last season.

* The six players with a lower percentage of shots that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range: DeMar DeRozan (29%), LaMarcus Aldridge (39%), Kawhi Leonard (39%), Derrick Rose (41%), T.J. Warren (41%), and C.J. McCollum (46%).

But Mitchell has shot better from beyond the arc (41%) and has thrived in the mid-range. He has shot 26-for-49 (53.1%) from between the paint and the 3-point line, the fifth-best mark among 47 players with at least 25 mid-range attempts through Thursday. That’s also an increase from his 40% mark last season. Among 45 players who have averaged at least five pull-up jumpers per game, only Warren (55%) and Brandon Ingram (50%) have shot better on them than Mitchell (48%).

Time will tell just how sustainable those percentages are. Even with Mitchell scoring more efficiently, the Jazz rank 23rd offensively, having scored just 104.5 points per 100 possessions (and just 92.9 with Mitchell off the floor).

Still, Mitchell and the Jazz have won four straight games and scored almost 118 per 100 over the last two. They look to make it five straight when they visit Memphis on Friday (8 ET, ESPN). They’ll then have the rest of the weekend off before playing Minnesota (9 ET on Nov. 18) in an interesting home-and-home series. The teams are currently separated by one game in the standings and feature a great center matchup.

2. Pacers’ new faces doing fine

The Indiana Pacers have been the league’s most pleasant surprise outside of Phoenix. Heading into the weekend, the Pacers are 7-4 and are one of two teams that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ve done this without Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb and Domantas Sabonis having missed seven, six and two games, respectively.

The Pacers’ 11 games have come against teams that are currently no better than 4-7 (there are five 4-7 teams in the East through Thursday). Still 7-4 is a strong start, given all the injuries and the lack of continuity from last season (Indiana lost five of its top seven guys in total minutes played).

The only two Pacers who have started all 11 games are guys — Malcolm Brogdon and Warren — who were on the Bucks and Suns last season. But through Thursday, no player has more assists to a single teammate than Brogdon has to Warren.

Most assists from one player to a single teammate, 2019-20
Team Player Assisted By AST
IND T.J. Warren Malcolm Brogdon 30
LAL Anthony Davis LeBron James 29
HOU Clint Capela James Harden 28
PHX Aron Baynes Ricky Rubio 27
TOR Pascal Siakam Fred VanVleet 27
DEN Nikola Jokic Jamal Murray 26
MIL Giannis Antetokounmpo Eric Bledsoe 23
WAS Thomas Bryant Bradley Beal 23
ATL Jabari Parker Trae Young 22
IND Domantas Sabonis Malcolm Brogdon 22
ORL Nikola Vucevic D.J. Augustin 22
BKN Taurean Prince Kyrie Irving 21
Through Nov. 14, 2019

The Pacers finally face some tougher competition this weekend. They visit the Rockets on Friday (8 ET, League Pass) and then host the Bucks on Saturday (7 ET, League Pass). But 8 of their 10 games after that are against teams currently under .500. It’s nice to be in the Eastern Conference.

3. Drawing it up for the big man

Almost all end-of-game plays are drawn up for guards or wings to run a pick-and-roll, isolate, or maybe shoot off the catch. Even if you have a go-to big man, getting him the ball close to the basket in an end-of-game situation can be difficult.

But three times now, with less than 24 seconds left in the game, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown has drawn up plays to get Joel Embiid the ball within a few feet of the basket. It has worked to perfection two of the three times. On the third, the officials called a foul on Embiid that was deemed incorrect in the Last Two Minute Report, which said that Embiid should have been heading to the free-throw line for the game-winning free throws after a foul on Nikola Jokic.

The below video is a compilation of the three plays…

  1. With the score tied in Atlanta on Oct. 28, the Sixers cleared the paint for an Embiid duck-in against John Collins, who is forced to foul.
  2. Down one in Denver on Nov. 8 with less than two seconds left, the Sixers needed to inbound directly to Embiid. Furkan Korkmaz cleared out the weak side, so Jokic had no help as he fronted Embiid on the right block.
  3. Down one to Cleveland on Tuesday, Embiid set a ball-screen for Josh Richardson, and then a pin-down screen for Tobias Harris, pivoting after the second screen to seal Larry Nance Jr. inside. Harris curled to the foul line and then hit Embiid with the high-low feed.

Overall, Embiid has taken a greater percentage of his shots from outside the paint (48%) than he did last season (41%). He has shot better on those outside shots (effective field goal percentage of 47%, up from 41%), but he’s obviously most effective inside, where the Sixers have been able to get him the ball with the game on the line.

Embiid and the Sixers complete a three-game trip this weekend, visiting Oklahoma City on Friday (8 ET, League Pass) and Cleveland on Sunday afternoon (3 ET, League Pass).

4. Rising up from deep

Through Thursday, the league has taken 37.2% of its shots from 3-point range, on pace to set a record in that regard for the 9th straight season.

Here are the players who have seen the biggest increase in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range.

Biggest jump, percentage of shots from 3-point range
2018-19 2019-20 Diff.
Player 3PA 3P% 3PA% 3PA 3P% 3PA% 3P% 3PA%
JaMychal Green 176 40.3% 37% 55 41.8% 65% 1.5% 29%
Thaddeus Young 146 34.9% 17% 45 33.3% 42% -1.6% 25%
Karl-Anthony Towns 355 40.0% 27% 81 40.7% 51% 0.7% 24%
Larry Nance Jr. 98 33.7% 20% 29 34.5% 39% 0.8% 18%
Wesley Matthews 403 37.2% 58% 47 31.9% 76% -5.3% 18%
Bogdan Bogdanovic 372 36.0% 43% 68 39.7% 61% 3.7% 18%
Brandon Ingram 94 33.0% 13% 49 46.9% 30% 14.0% 17%
Cody Zeller 22 27.3% 6% 22 31.8% 23% 4.5% 17%
Ersan Ilyasova 160 36.3% 42% 31 25.8% 58% -10.4% 16%
Garrett Temple 264 34.1% 54% 47 34.0% 69% 0.0% 16%
3PA% = 3PA / FGA

Through Nov. 14, 2019

Minimum 250 FGA in 2018-29 & 50 FGA in 2019-20

Only four of the 10 guys above changed teams this summer, though another two (Nance and Bogdanovic) are playing under new coaches.

5. CP3 calls his shot

It’s always important to watch games closely. And sometimes, it’s important to listen closely as well. That was the case when Chris Paul pulled up for a short jumper late in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s victory over the Golden State Warriors this past Saturday.

Make sure your sound is on…

Yes, that was Paul himself yelling “Layup!” as he let go of the shot.

Now, more than 20 years of shot location data tells us that shots in the restricted area are made about 60% of the time. But once you get outside the restricted area, league-wide field goal percentage drops to about 40%. So no shot that isn’t a layup is really a “layup.”

But that shot that Paul made against the Warriors was recorded as a 12-footer. A deep dive into Paul’s shooting numbers shows that, over the last five-plus seasons (since the start of the 2014-15 season), he’s 96-for-157 (61%) from 12 feet out.

So when Paul yelled “Layup!” on that particular 12-footer … he was right.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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