• Adam Bushman

What's to Come for Mitchell in Year Two?

Updated: Nov 21, 2018

Photo Source: USA Today

Every year in the NBA, players have career years, putting up numbers and making impact never seen before during their time in the league. Yet, some of career years achieve such rarity that they become all-time great seasons.

All-time great seasons from recent memory include Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double throughout the 2016-17 season or Stephen Curry’s incredible 2015-16 season having one of the most efficient and offensively impactful seasons of all time.

Rarer still are the career years and all-time great seasons that come from a first-year player. Most of these outstanding rookie campaigns belong to NBA legends and Hall of Famers such as Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor). But this past season blessed basketball fans alike with a similarly great season from Utah’s own Donovan Mitchell.

Following four Rookie of the Month honors throughout the season and yearlong NBA Rookie of the Year consideration, Donovan Mitchell received another accolade, further cementing his career year in NBA lore. Yesterday, the NBA announced Donovan Mitchell to be named to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie First Team, joining fellow rookies Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, and Lauri Markkanen.

In leu of this recent honor, and with ample time to reflect on the incredible season, we got to wondering: what does Mitchell have in store for year two?

There are a few possible areas for improvement. The most obvious example would be his three-point shooting, on which shot he connected on just 33.7% of his attempts (league average: 36.2%). With his shooting touch, mechanics, and ability to get the shot off, he has the potential to at least be slightly above average.

Other, less obvious examples are his ability to read the defense and make the correct play. This will lead to better shooting and assist numbers. He also improved his rebounding numbers as the season progressed, leading us to believe he could improve in that area as well by leveraging his incredible athleticism and unique, physical measurables.

This analysis, although valuable, is still slightly subjective and very abstract. What if we were to compare other players’ improvements from their first to second year to see what Donovan’s second year stat line could look like. We’ll take a look at basic stats and some advanced stats to give us an idea on his improvement.

The players used for this comparison will be players the media and history have been compared to Donovan. The players chosen for this exercise are Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, Eric Gordon, Chris Paul, Tyreke Evans, and Damian Lillard.

Let’s begin with Donovan Mitchell’s rookie year basic stats (calculated based on playing 36 minutes per game):


22.1 4.0 4.0 1.6 0.4 2.9 54.1%

Now for his advanced stats:


16.7 40.4% 21.8% 12.6 29.1 0.095

These are the stats we’ll use to compare to the improvements made by the aforementioned players. To see a complete breakdown of each players year to year stats and their improvements, view the document here. For the purpose of this article, we won’t dive too deep into the numbers, rather, we’ll run through four scenarios based on the comparison players. Also, for an explanation of the statistical categories we’re using, visit the document in the link above and scroll to the third section.

Scenario 1: Best Case Comparison, Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard had an incredible rookie season where he was efficient and showed incredible potential. Thought he didn’t put up the crazy stats like Allen Iverson right out of the gate, he showed the most consistent, all around improvement to his second year. There was not a single category from our comparison in which he negatively regressed (only in steals did he equal his previous year total).

Were Donovan Mitchell to have this type of improvement to his season, he would end his second year in the NBA with the below stat line (per 36 min.):


25.8 4.8 3.7 1.6 0.6 2.5 56.3% 18.9 43.9% 28.6% 10 30.1 0.169

Scenario 2: Worst Case Comparison, Tyreke Evans

Tyreke Evans has always been a unique comparison to Donovan. His rookie season was nothing short of spectacular, averaging nearly 20 pts, 5 rbs, and 5 asts. His efficiency rating was the second highest of all our case studies. Yet his second season in the NBA took a decline across the board. He only improved in four of the thirteen categories, particularly worsening in his contributions to winning (WS/48).

Should a poor second year in the league befall Donovan, he would see dips in his stat line and would look similar to the below:


19.6 3.7 4.2 1.6 0.7 3.1 46.3% 13.2 53.1% 15.6% 13.8 28.1 0.037

Scenario 3: Most Likely

Taking our six comparison players and using their average improvement for each category, we can get a good idea of a most likely scenario for Donovan. Several of the players in our study are Hall of Famers, others are All-Stars, and some good players who’ve had poor injuries and experiences which may have hampered their potential. It seems like a good mix of scenarios that can cover the gamut very well.

Were Donovan to have an average improvement in his second year using the comparison players, we’d see his stat line close to:


23.6 4.0 4.2 1.6 0.4 2.9 54.1% 17.6 36.6% 23.2% 1.8 30.3 0.094

Scenario 4: Other Worldly

There are few phrases worthy enough to describe Donovan Mitchell’s rookie season. One such phrase is “Other Worldly”. It’s hard to imagine he could continue this trajectory, however, he has the drive, the intangibles, and the talent to do it. Last December we questioned the legitimacy of what he was doing but he proved true his performance the rest of the year.

If Mitchell improves his game in each of these categories equal to the best comparison player’s improvement (the best growth rate for each category), we’d see stellar statistics like few before:


29.5 4.8 5.4 1.8 0.7 3.4 57.3% 21.9 53.1% 32.2% 13.8 36 0.169

Some of the above stats are almost impossible to obtain, such as the usage rate (USG%). Using 36% of all possessions in a game is next to impossible given the Utah Jazz’s style of sharing the ball and since it’s only been done eight times in league history by players playing over 50 games in the season. Still, the numbers illustrate the point.

While all of these scenarios are possible and it’s fun thinking of the incredible things Donovan could do, it stands to reason that the Most Likely Scenario will play out as his floor with his ceiling being the improvement comparison to Damian Lillard.

If this plays out and he averages (per 36 min) 23.6 pts, 4.0 rbs, 4.2 asts, and has better than a 54.1% true shooting percentage, that would put him a group of James Harden, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, and Devin Booker. Seven of the eight are current All-Stars and at least four of the eight are future Hall of Famers.

All signs point to Donovan Mitchell having another career year during his second campaign in the league. During his exit interview, Mitchell vowed to watch all regular season and postseason games before returning for training camp. One thing we’ve learned about the Jazz’s new star player is he lives to improve. Learning from his own NBA all-time great rookie season is a recipe for success in his second year, possibly to the tune of another career year.

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