Because he has a knack for steals, some freakish athletic abilities and is considered a bit of an undersized two-guard, Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell has often drawn comparisons to quality NBA players Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart.
But there’s also another player the 6-3, 211-pound Mitchell is reminding some of lately, a name sure to catch the attention of Miami Heat fans.
“His elite athleticism, length and game give him a passing resemblance to a young Dwyane Wade,” ESPN Draft Analyst Chad Ford wrote in his latest mock draft Monday where he has Miami taking Mitchell with the 14th pick in Thursday’s draft ahead of Wake Forest power forward John Collins, UCLA stretch four TJ Leaf, Creighton center Justin Patton and North Carolina forward Justin Jackson.
“I don’t think [Mitchell] has that same ceiling [as Wade], but his talent is definitely worth taking a risk on here.”
Mitchell, who worked out for the Heat last Tuesday, has been rising up the draft rankings over the past couple months and has worked out for every team in the lottery from the eighth pick on.
Sunday, after working out for the Pistons (12th pick) Mitchell told reporters it was only a couple months ago when he finally began to believe he would not be returning to school.
It wasn’t until he had a few private workouts in Los Angeles with All-Stars Paul George and Chris Paul that Mitchell said his confidence level began to rise. He finally hired an agent the first week of May.
“That’s what really got me going,” Mitchell told Pistons writers Sunday. “When you have All-Stars telling you that you could be really good in this league, I think that’s going to raise your level [of confidence]. I used to walk into the gym like maybe I’ll get him. Now, I walk into the gym with the mentality I will.”
Then, what Mitchell did at the combine in Chicago last month only helped seal the deal.
After measuring in with a freakish 6-foot, 10-inch wingspan (Wade’s wingspan in 2003 measured 6-10 3/4 inches), a combine-best 36 1/2-inch standing vertical leap (Wade’s vertical was 35 inches) and the fastest three-quarter court sprint time (3.01 seconds) at the combine since 2008, Mitchell’s stock has only continued to rise.
What Mitchell believes makes him special is what he can do on the defensive end, and that’s guarding guarding point guards, shooting guards and most small forwards.
“A lot of guys don’t have that willingness to defend and I think as a guard who is undersized I’m able to defend and willing to defend and bring that attitude,” Mitchell said last month at the combine. “My jump shot as well, I’m able to hit shots. Consistency is one thing I’ve been working on a bunch this season and this off-season.
“A lot of people are saying I’m going to play point guard when I do get drafted. I just want to go out there and provide any combo guard needs. I’ll be able to play on the wing, hit shots, penetrate, find the open guy, but also come off ball screens and run the offense as a coach on the floor, as a point guard.”
The son of a career minor leaguer in the Astros farm system, Mitchell grew up believing he was destined to star in baseball. He played shortstop and pitcher up until he collided with a teammate going for a pop fly and broke his left wrist his sophomore year of high school.
His father, Donovan Sr., is the director of player relations and community engagement for the New York Mets. Mitchell said he grew up around the Mets’ David Wright, Pedro Martinez and Jose Reyes and believes seeing them developed a strong daily work ethic in him.
Mitchell said he wore the number 45 at Louisville because it was the same number Michael Jordan wore when he played baseball and towards the end of his basketball career.
Under Rick Pitino at Louisville, Mitchell prided himself on guarding the opposing team’s best player nightly. He averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals and shot 35.4 percent from three-point range.
Scouts believe Mitchell’s athleticism gives him significant potential as a scorer in both the half-court and in transition, but believe he needs to learn to make better decisions with the ball, which does not make him an ideal candidate to transition easily to point guard. Mitchell’s speed, vertical leap and long arms, though, make him a solid defender.
Heat president Pat Riley, who attended Mitchell’s Pro Day in Los Angeles earlier this month, could take Mitchell with the 14th pick for a variety of reasons.
For one, there’s no guarantee starting shooting guard Dion Waiters will be back next season – especially if Miami goes all in on Jazz All-Star swingman and free agent Gordon Hayward.
Secondly, Wayne Ellington’s $6.3 million team option for next season could be sacrificed if the money is needed to fit Hayward and potentially forward James Johnson under the cap (Miami has roughly $38 million in space).
Thirdly, Tyler Johnson’s backloaded deal goes from close to $6 million next season to $19 million in 2018-19 and 2019-20 and Riley could clear future cap space to accomodate others by trading Johnson away. That would leave a void at guard.
Drafting Mitchell or Duke shooting guard Luke Kennard on Thursday – should they be available – could be the first sign Riley is setting any one of those dominoes in motion.
Vertical: 40 1/2