The Bears landed their point guard of the future last week with the commitment of Auburn transfer Davion Mitchell. The 6-foot-1 former top 60 recruit will sit for one year and then have three years of eligibility.
We’ll take a look at Mitchell’s strengths, turn to his weaknesses and close with thoughts on his career arc.
Mitchell has excellent burst. He used that skill to get to the rim and into the lane to find teammates at Auburn. He has an advanced ability to switch hands and maintain his top speed:
The Bears struggled last season in late shot-clock offense and with isolation scoring. If a team snuffed out Baylor’s first or second option, then the team often failed to create late.
Luckily, Mitchell is a superb isolation scorer. His ability to go either left or right will force the back of the defense to keep an extra eye on him. And if they don’t, welcome to disaster:
Davion Mitchell, Baylor's point guard in 2020, is a monster at getting to the rim and scoring there: pic.twitter.com/AR7yzo6YVZ— Kendall (@kkaut) April 17, 2018
The data backs up Mitchell being a monster at getting to the hoop and making shots. He’s over 10% better than any Baylor point guard at making shots near the rim, since hoop-math data going back to the 2011-2012 season. With how well Baylor does at offensive rebounding, teams will be left with a difficult choice: either let Mitchell go up at the rim against a guard or provide help and deal with rebounding against Baylor’s big men. He’s been scoring well at the rim since his high school days:
Baylor runs a ton of high pick-and-rolls, which serves Mitchell well. He has two big advantages in that sequence. First, his quick acceleration and deceleration makes him a problem. If defenses either switch a big man on him or mess up their coverage, then surrendering is not a shameful decision:
Most importantly, Mitchell can pass quickly and seamlessly in the pick-and-roll. Baylor’s played smaller point guards and guys who sometimes need a second to fire passes. That’s led a bevy of defenses to hard hedge against Baylor (the clip below is against an “ice” defense, but the skills he displays are helpful against teams that hard hedge too). And without top end speed or size, the Bears haven’t been able to pass well enough against that defense when running simple two man high pick-and-rolls. But as Jarrod Dyson used to say, “that’s what speed do:”
Finally, Mitchell has the potential to be a very good defender. His steal rate was a decent 1.7%, but it was 2.1% against KenPom’s tier A opponents, which are the toughest games. Mitchell is so fast and has quick hands. He reacts well and seems to be a half-step ahead on defense. The Bears will count on him to jump out quickly and run shooters off the 3-point line. He should do that well.
There are three things that stick out as concerns with his game: low assist rate, too many turnovers and inconsistent 3-point shooting. We’ll tackle those in that order.
Mitchell’s assist rate was just 18.4%, which is the lower than any Baylor point guard since 2012. But that number—like most things you read on the internet—requires context. Mitchell played off the ball, so he wasn’t given a ton of opportunities to assist. But he still was top 20 in the SEC in assist rate. If the Bears can surround him with shooters, he’ll find them in transition:
I’m confident Mitchell is going to assist and help teammates score. He’s too fast and can fire the ball so well. He’s not going to be Baylor’s best passer, but he’s going to be pretty, pretty, pretty good:
The second problem is a very real concern. Mitchell turns it over way too much. The Bears have been terrible at not turning it over on offense, so this remains a glaring worry. Two things stand out to me. First, his handle can sometimes get a little loose. I think this is quite correctable. His dribble is normally fairly tight, and he has superb instincts. With another year to get ready to run the show, Mitchell should have the dribbling skills to avoid catastrophic ball-handling turnovers.
The real issue with Mitchell’s turnovers is that he can misread the defense. In this clip, Auburn ends up overloading the strong side. That leaves no space to make the pass. Mitchell should have avoided driving with so much time on the clock and no spacing. But making this pass turned a quagmire into a defeat:
Mitchell has to not force the action. Too many platitudes can make life complicated. Most rules and tendencies are actually “it depend” and not absolutes. And few of us mess up just one way. Sometimes Mitchell drove when he should have passed. Sometimes he passed when he should have drove:
Give Mitchell spacing and time, and there’s plenty of hope that he can stop turning it over so much. There’s a big jump from the EBYL high school league to the SEC. Pierre Jackson can run an offense surrounded by Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy, Perry Jones and Brady Heslip with a 26% turnover rate. Mitchell can’t. The Bears—like all of us in life—will count on better decision-making as he gets older.
Finally, Mitchell’s 3-point shooting needs to improve. He hit just 29% of his shots last season. He hit 43% and 41% of his shots in his last two high school seasons, so maybe last year is just a small sample size.
But I think Mitchell’s problem is that his form can be inconsistent. He often gets his feet wider than shoulder length apart:
Mitchell's feet tend to get too wide on some of his shots. Misses the first when wide open. Nails the second off the dribble.— Kendall (@kkaut) April 17, 2018
Bruce Pearl called him, "One of the most coachable players I've ever had." He has the tools to be best creator at PG since Pierre Jackson. pic.twitter.com/8MJ9tbGgds
The rest of Mitchell’s shot looks pretty good. He has a slight dip, which is true for nearly every basketball player. He keeps his arms in a fluid motion and doesn’t have any other extraneous action. When his lower body doesn’t throw off anything, he’s ready to drill shots:
Mitchell can also make looks off the dribble. There’s a lot to like in his form. But he has to stay focused on keeping a consistent form. When he shoots like he does on his free throws, with a narrower base, his shot looks much better. Mix in that speed with how quickly he can release it, and the ceiling is the roof:
Mitchell has plenty of skills that could make him Baylor’s next great point guard. He’s so fast and has the ability to get to the rim that is unprecedented at Baylor. Eventually the best offense has an ugly moment where a man has to create something. Mitchell can do that.
There are real limitations that Mitchell has to correct. If he can’t get his shooting up or limit his turnovers, then the Bears are going to end up needing a dominant defense to have any hope of a deep NCAA Tournament run in the Mitchell era.
But Mitchell has shown enough to make the Bears hopeful they have a future star headed to Waco. If he can get close to his high school 3-point accuracy and pick his spots better, then Mitchell will finish his career in the debate as Baylor’s best point guard ever.