As one of the most improved all-around college basketball players of the 2020-21 season, the news that Baylor Bears star Davion Mitchell is entering the 2021 NBA Draft should come as no surprise.
The guard was nothing short of spectacular in these past two years for the Bears, but especially during this junior season, as he became a must-have floor presence for Scott Drew and his staff.
Though there are a few small knocks to his game (poor free-throw shooting, over-aggressive in passing lanes), there lies an expectation he’ll be selected among the first 15-20 players in July. ESPN has Mitchell at No. 12 overall, while The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has him at No. 11 on his Big Board.
After helping lead Baylor to a national title, there are several reasons why Davion Mitchell should indeed be a lottery pick.
1. Defensive prowess
Winner of the 2021 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award, Davion Mitchell was just the fourth-ever player to receive it. The others to win it: West Virginia’s Jevon Carter (2018), Washington’s Matisse Thybulle (2019) and Kansas’ Marcus Garrett (2020). He beat out other strong contenders for it this year in Alabama’s Herbert Jones, USC’s Evan Mobley and Utah State’s Neemias Queta.
If the award itself gives any indication to Mitchell’s future, that’s good news. Carter (Phoenix Suns) and Thybulle (76ers) have gone on to start fairly successful NBA careers as defensive-minded stoppers with the ability to make timely baskets at all three levels, and Garrett just finished up a nothing-but-improving four-year Jayhawks career.
Though not nearly as shifty as former North Carolina star Ty Lawson, or as big as former Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart, Mitchell has drawn comparisons to both with his ability to slash in the lane and physical nature with bigger ball handlers.
His defensive scouting report, from NBADraft.net:
- One of the best on-ball defenders in the country
- Harasses ball handlers without fouling
- His quick hands and pressure leads to steals
- Has great lateral quickness to stay in front of driving opponents, and uses this to draw charges
- Excellent communicator on both ends of the court
- Contests shots well without fouling
- Able to switch onto bigger players thanks to his strong frame
All of the strengths, important in the pick-and-roll world of the NBA.
2. Exponential offensive improvement
Davion Mitchell has been a defensive problem for the last two seasons, where he earned Big 12 All-Defense each year after compiling 101 steals and 22 blocks in 60 games for the Bears.
It’s his offensive explosion from his sophomore to junior campaign that could have GMs drooling in July.
After shooting 40.9% from the floor and 32.4% from the arc in 2019-20, Mitchell absolutely motored in 2020-21 — shooting 51.1% from the floor and 44.7% from the arc. His 2-point percentage shot up from 46.7% to 56.5%, too, showcasing not only a relentless work ethic and improved strength to finish near the rim, but an improved basketball IQ as he took more efficient, effective shots.
These improvements aren’t coming from a squeeze in his shot attempts, either. Mitchell often served as the Bears’ offensive focal point, and this year he finished third on the team in shot attempts behind Jared Butler and MaCio Teague. He also finished behind Butler and Teague in 2019-20, but took 52 more shots in 2020-21 — an increase of 1.73 shot attempts per game.
Vecenie’s scouting report on where Mitchell could truly fit in the NBA really centers more around his offensive improvements rather than what he already brings defensively:
“He won the national Defensive Player of the Year award, a genuinely elite point-of-attack disruptor who will make an impact as a defender in the NBA from Day 1,” Vecenie writes. “But I think his offense has gone underrated. The shooting improvement has gotten plaudits, but I’m still somewhat skeptical of that. What I’m not skeptical of is his athletic burst. He can get into the paint and attack the basket with ease.”
Essentially, Mitchell will get on an NBA court because he can play defense. But it’s his bucket-burying mentality and noted work ethic that could keep him on it for longer stretches.
3. Stage presence
In the biggest three weeks of his decorated collegiate career, Davion Mitchell delivered for the Bears in all six games of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, all the way to Baylor’s first-ever national championship.
Through wins against Hartford, Wisconsin, Villanova, Arkansas, Houston and Gonzaga, Mitchell shot 50.0% from the field (34-for-68), 36.4% from the arc (8-for-22) and averaged 13.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
He had at least one theft in every tournament contest, and his assist-to-turnover ratio in those six games: 3.5-to-1.
The situation just never seemed to be too massive for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior guard out of Hinesville, Georgia, who originally committed and signed to play for Bruce Pearl and Auburn University out of high school before transferring to Scott Drew and the Bears and sitting a season after his 2017-18 freshman campaign.
For as good as Mitchell was in the title game against the Bulldogs, his best single-game tournament performance might have come in the Final Four against the Houston Cougars — where he had 12 points with 11 assists and no turnovers in 36 minutes.
To be this good throughout an entire intense tournament? Yeah, that’s a professional pedigree, and a high one at that.