Donovan Mitchell is an All-Star

Donovan Mitchell has been putting up eye-popping stats for the Utah Jazz. The third-year guard has seen year-over-year improvements in points, rebounds, shooting percentage (overall and 3pt), turnovers, and almost every advanced stat. The confirmation of how good Mitchell is playing should be a trip to Chicago for the All-Star Game.

The NBA’s Western Conference has been the stuff of legend over the past decade or two. It feels like every year we see at least one player who would have been a no-brainer of an Eastern All-Star miss the cut because he plays in the west. The glut of talent is outrageous, and now the Utah Jazz have a squad full of guys who are or have been members of the snub list: Mike Conley Jr., Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic, and the man of the hour, Donovan Mitchell.

We’ll get to Donovan Mitchell in a moment, but let's quickly address the others. Thousands upon thousands of words have been written about how Mike Conley has never made an All-Star game, so we don’t need to get into that here. The short version this season is that his shooting has been a disaster, even if he’s occasionally making big shots and contributing elsewhere beyond getting buckets. Rudy Gobert somewhat famously teared up when discussing his All-Star snub last season (I'd be emotional too if I missed a $1 million bonus on an All-Star snub), although he ended up winning Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career and was named to both the All-NBA Defensive team and 3rd team All-NBA. Bojan Bogdanovic is admittedly a longshot, but his ability to carry the load on offense for a very good team (which he did in Victor Oladipo's absence last season) shouldn't be overlooked - Bojan is scoring over 20 points per game and shooting about 45% on three-pointers this season.

But let’s get to Donovan Mitchell.

Here are some easy facts about Donovan Mitchell through the team's first 17 games:

  • Mitchell is averaging 25.6 points per game, tied with LeBron James for 12th in the NBA
  • He is shooting 39% on three-pointers, a career-best thus far, on about six attempts per game
  • He is averaging a career-low 2.4 turnovers per game
  • He is averaging a career-high 5.4 rebounds per game (he’s 6’1)
  • The Jazz are 11-6, despite only retaining two starters from last season (Joe Ingles has moved to the bench)
  • Donovan Mitchell just turned 23-years-old

Let’s start with the eye-popping aspect of Donovan Mitchell’s All-Star candidacy. Part of the reason Rudy Gobert may not have found his way into last year’s All-Star game is that he doesn’t exactly play a highlight-reel style of basketball. He’s a great player, for sure, but nobody watches the All-Star Game to see blocked shots. Rudy deserves to be there, but the fans want dunks. Donovan Mitchell has dunks.

He even has a history of dunking at All-Star weekend: Donovan won the Dunk Contest his rookie year. And while that was two seasons ago, Mitchell followed that up by dominating in the Rising Stars Challenge game last season with 20 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 5 steals:

Donovan Mitchell Rising Stars Highlights from Hashtag Basketball on Vimeo.

All that is to say that Donovan Mitchell is no stranger to All-Star weekend in the NBA and he can provide the highlights necessary to make an All-Star Game exciting.

Next, let’s move on to the statistical case he’s making against Western Conference competition.

The Scoring

Each conference is guaranteed four guard spots on their All-Star roster, with two wild-cards added in the end, making a max of six guards per roster. Last season saw five guards in the west: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Damian Lillard. In an injury-free world, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson would be automatic All-Stars this season. But this is far from an injury-free world, and that opens up two roster spots. James Harden is a lock, of course, and Damian Lillard will almost certainly be there as well, but then the field opens up a little (unless LeBron James officially lists as a point guard, which is possible, and would guarantee him a spot as well).

Donovan Mitchell is scoring pretty darn well among Western Conference guards. He ranks fourth in points per game behind Harden, Lillard, and Luka Doncic (who is a guaranteed All-Star himself). Among high-volume three-point backcourt players (5+ attempts per game) in the western conference, Mitchell ranks fifth, this time trailing JJ Redick, Devin Booker, Danuel House, and Bojan Bogdanovic.

So he can dunk and he can shoot threes. What else?

Donovan Mitchell is scoring from all levels this season for a team that desperately needs it. Despite taking a higher percentage of his shots in the dreaded midrange (as of Monday, 14% of his shots are between 10 feet and the three-point line, per NBA.com), Mitchell is making over 50% of these attempts - a huge uptick from the mid-40s last season. In fact, 17% of Donovan’s points are coming in the midrange, which feels like a lot. The missing piece here is that he’s scoring much less in transition/off turnovers so far this season, so imagine how many more highlight dunks and easy points Mitchell will get if the Jazz can move up from their current 27th rank in steals per game.

Everything Else

As I mentioned with Gobert earlier, the non-scoring aspect of a player’s All-Star resume is less sexy, but it still matters. Andre Drummond is a guaranteed All-Star because he grabs seemingly 95 rebounds per game. Even if that’s not fun to watch in an exhibition game, his ability deserves to be rewarded. With that in mind, Donovan Mitchell is doing a lot of work outside of the scoring column. 

Perhaps the most important thing a player can do is hold onto the basketball. Donovan Mitchell is one of the best guards in the conference when it comes to turnover ratio, at just 8.0% through 17 games. For comparison, Harden, Doncic, Westbrook, Booker, Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, and several others are all above 12%.

(Note: When looking for accurate stats, I’m pulling a subset of guards who play more than 18 minutes per game, thanks to NBA.com’s advanced filters)

Among shorter guards (under 6’4) in the west, Donovan Mitchell is doing things about as well as anyone. Prior to Monday's game, he ranked fourth in defensive rebounds at 4.5 per game, he had the sixth-best defensive rating at 101.3, he was seventh in steals at 1.3 per game, and third in defensive win shares at 0.163.

Want more? Here’s more. Among his peers, Mitchell ranked 2nd in offensive rebounding at 1.2 per game, ninth in +/- at 3.6, and fourth in overall rebounding at 5.7 per game. He's doing everything that can be asked of him and then some.

Closing Argument

At this point in the young season, Donovan Mitchell is playing so well that it feels like there’s nothing he can’t do, but there's still room for improvement. He has been below average near the rim, which is shocking when you consider his leaping ability and how easy he makes layups look. Additionally, his 31% from 3-10 feet (per Basketball-Reference.com) is an ugly stat. Lastly, he’s just 3-13 on corner-threes so far this season.

And yet, look at the numbers he’s putting up. Look at how he is unequivocally the team leader despite having Mike Conley at his side. Most importantly, watch this dunk.

Now, look at Joe Ingles' face after that dunk.

That's the face you make when you count your lucky stars that your running mate is an All-Star.

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