Defining Dillon Mitchell
Dillon Mitchell has lived up to his high school hype far more this season than last, but his game still has clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. How might his skillset affect his NBA translation?
Dillon Mitchell entered his first season at Texas as the #5 recruit in his high school class and as a potential lottery pick. He was the #9 overall prospect in our own Corey Tulaba’s $DRFT rankings; while our crew was slightly lower on him than consensus, he still finished just outside the lottery on our initial board at #15.
Unfortunately, last season did not go as many had hoped for Mitchell. He did start all 38 games for the Longhorns last year, but he was barely a factor on either end, averaging just 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in 17.5 minutes per contest. He was spectacular around the basket, but a complete non-factor outside of five feet and an abysmal free-throw shooter, knocking down a paltry 40.5% of his shots from the stripe. He didn’t even attempt to stretch the floor; Mitchell took just one shot outside of 17 feet last season and zero shots from beyond the three-point line.
This season has been a different story for Mitchell in many key areas. He’s spending a lot more time on the court for the Longhorns, averaging just under 31 minutes a game. He’s been far more productive in his minutes as well, averaging close to a double-double with 11.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. In addition to his improved production scoring-wise and on the glass, Mitchell has also taken a step forward as a defensive playmaker; his block percentage has more than doubled from 2.0% last year to 4.3% this year, and he’s also upped his steal percentage slightly from last season as well. He’s even tried to stretch out his game a bit, taking 21 jumpers through his first 11 games after attempting just eight all of last season.
The question here becomes: how much does that matter? Despite trying to stretch out his game more and attempt more shots off the dribble, Mitchell is nowhere close to being a shooting threat. At 6’8”, his lack of a jump shot is much more troubling than it would be if he were two inches taller.
There’s a valuable NBA player somewhere in the morass of Dillon Mitchell’s skills. He’s good enough on the glass to potentially be a small-ball 5, especially with his shot-blocking improvements, but his athleticism advantage at the college level will be more muted at the NBA level. He’s taken most of his jump shots off the dribble this season, which almost certainly won’t happen in the NBA, but his improved playmaking makes him more of a factor with the ball in his hands and makes it easier to envision him finding an offensive role that works in the pros.
How do we define Dillon Mitchell? In a 2024 NBA Draft class with plenty of questions, Mitchell is still one of the more fascinating conundrums. As of the most recent $DRFT ranking, Mitchell has pretty clearly taken a backseat in comparison to last year—he ended up at #45 in those rankings and #53 on the most recent No Ceilings BIG Board. His production has been evident this season, but the disappointment of last season and his lack of shooting even this year both make it easy to be skeptical. Mitchell’s eventual landing spot will have more of a say in his long-term outcome than almost any other prospect in this class, and he remains polarizing despite his production being increasingly more difficult to deny. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: High Highs, and Low Lows
Let’s start with the positives of Dillon Mitchell’s offense; there’s certainly plenty to dig into there. In spite of his disappointing season overall last year, Mitchell was an exceptional finisher on the few shots that he did take. This year, he’s managed the difficult duo of increased volume and increased efficiency.
His top-tier athleticism, sturdy frame, and solid length allow him to finish over most defenders. He also has good craft around the basket, which he uses to score around the few defenders he can’t jump over for a thunderous dunk. It doesn’t take much film to see how much of an outlier he is athletically even among the best of the best:
Mitchell converted on 63.6% of his two-pointers last year, a very solid number for a 6’8” forward. He made 34 dunks last season as well, per Synergy, an elite mark for most players but a truly ridiculous mark for a player who only took 118 total shots.
Mitchell’s remarkable finishing is all well and good in a vacuum, but it’s not all that helpful when paired with his minuscule 11.8% Usage Rate and complete lack of off-ball shooting value. Still, Mitchell’s effectiveness when he did try to score was a positive sign; he finished in the 83rd percentile in overall offense last season, per Synergy, and in the 82nd percentile in transition. His numbers around the rim are even more telling; Mitchell ranked in the 98th percentile in at-rim scoring last season.
This year, Mitchell has more than doubled his shot attempts (from 3.1 per game to 7.7 per game) but has been even more efficient inside the arc. He is currently shooting 65.8% on his twos, an outstanding number for any player but particularly for a player of Mitchell’s archetype.
Mitchell ranks in the 82nd percentile offensively this season but has jumped up to the 97th percentile in transition, averaging an insane 1.583 points per possession when he’s running the floor. He is also once again in the 98th percentile in finishing around the basket, and he’s already thrown down 19 dunks in the early going. He’s a willing and active cutter when playing off-ball as well. Mitchell really only needed to increase his frequency of finishes, since he was already so effective around the rim when he did get there, and he has done so with great aplomb this season.
In addition to putting up more shots from the field this year, Mitchell has also shown improvement in getting himself to the charity stripe. He has upped his free-throw rate from .314 last year to .459 this season and has knocked them down with improved efficiency as well. He’s already taken more free throws this year (39) than all of last season (37), and he’s up to 61.5% from the stripe so far; that’s not exactly anything to write home about, but it’s far more palatable than his brutal mark last year.
The other key to Mitchell’s offensive success this year has been his increased comfort with the ball in his hands, and that most clearly shines through in his playmaking. Mitchell had just 14 assists all of last season against 21 turnovers; his lack of involvement on offense was clear to see in his shot frequency, but his lack of playmaking exacerbated those concerns among those with long-term doubts about his offense.
This season has been a very different story for Mitchell. He’s already dished out 23 assists this season with only 19 turnovers; his 1.21 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t eye-popping in and of itself, but it’s a pretty remarkable turnaround from his 0.67 ratio from last season. He’s been much more willing to take the ball up himself in transition, a huge positive given his exceptional nose for the glass and ability to outrun most of the competition on the break. Mitchell’s increased comfort with the ball in his hands is easy to see on the film as well; he’ll try to make something happen this year instead of being passive like he was much of last season. He’s even dished out some pretty dimes that go beyond just making the basic reads:
Now, to the elephant in the room: the shot. The improved free-throw percentage is at least a nice sign of growth, but any potential positive takeaways from his increased willingness to take those shots are mitigated by just how much he struggles with them. Mitchell ranks in the sixth percentile among all jump shooters this season. After knocking down 2-of-8 jumpers last season, he’s lowered his percentage to 23.8% with his 5-of-21 shooting this season. He has also missed all six of the three-pointers he’s taken this season.
His shooting off the dribble is only slightly better, putting him in the 15th percentile, but the film almost looks worse than the numbers. His footwork on the shot is inconsistent, and his misses are all over the map. Defenses are perfectly happy to completely ignore him outside of 15 feet and sag all the way off him; with the way that Mitchell’s guarded, it’s arguably even more impressive that his finishing numbers look as good as they do. Even when the shot does go down, it doesn’t give you much confidence that the next one will do the same:
There’s really no talking around it: Dillon Mitchell’s jump shot is miles away from not being a hindrance, much less being anywhere close to a positive. Given how shooting-focused the modern NBA game has become, especially for non-centers, any player who struggles as much as Mitchell does with his jump shot has to clear a really high bar with the rest of his offensive game and his defense to make up for it. Luckily for Mitchell, he has a good argument to be that kind of talent on both ends of the floor.
Defense: More Answers than Questions
Dillon Mitchell was a capable enough defender last season, but there was certainly room for improvement on that end of the floor. Despite his elite athleticism that he had already figured out how to leverage around the basket on offense, he wasn’t as sharp when it came to protecting the rim on the other end. This season, though, Mitchell has shown much more aggressiveness as a rebounder, particularly on the defensive end, and as a weak side shot blocker.
Part of Mitchell’s success at sending back shots is due to having more help down low from transfers Kadin Shedrick and Ze’Rik Onyema, but those two additions alone are simply not enough to account for Mitchell’s quantum leap in sending shots back the way they came and wreaking havoc on the defensive end. Just as he has been on the offensive end, he has been much less passive on defense this year, and it’s shown on the film as well as the stat sheet:
There were certainly reasons to be concerned about Mitchell’s motor last season, but the combination of his high school tape and his tape from this season makes it seem like last season’s issues were more due to hesitation than a lack of effort. That shines through in Mitchell’s defensive rebounding numbers; his leap from 3.9 overall rebounds per game last season to 9.7 per game this year is stark, but it’s nowhere near as stark as his leap on the defensive glass.
Mitchell has literally tripled his defensive rebounding numbers this year, from 2.5 per game last year to 7.5 per game this year. He ranks fourth in the Big 12 with a 17.6% Total Rebound Percentage, and he ranks second in Defensive Rebound Percentage with an elite 25.5% mark. When coupled with his increased willingness to grab and go in transition and his increased steal rate, Mitchell has been far more effective this season at turning defense into offense.
The two-way synergy is a plus, but his defense has been elite this season even without the added element. After finishing last season in the 47th percentile defensively, Mitchell is in the 93rd percentile defensively this season, per Synergy. He’s always been a multi-positional defender, but he’s been much more comfortable guarding at the point of attack this season in addition to his growth as a shot blocker.
With his size and athleticism at the point of attack, Dillon Mitchell’s already potent potential as a switch defender becomes even easier to see. Given the improvements that he’s shown this season, his projection as a plus defender at the NBA level will probably come true sooner rather than later.
There is plenty of time left for things to change for Dillon Mitchell this season—for better and for worse. A larger sample size of atrocious shooting might push his detractors even further away, but a few timely makes could also lead to his proponents being more vocal about his strengths in light of a seemingly less damaging weakness.
I admittedly held out hope on Mitchell for much longer than most last season; I didn’t drop him into my second round last year for quite a while, but ultimately gave up the ghost as he continued to be an absolute non-factor on offense outside of his rare finishes around the rim.
It would be dishonest of me to say that my optimism around his game isn’t greater than most. However, I have Dillon Mitchell as a first round pick on my board at the moment, and I feel better about his NBA future than some of the names I have around him.
There is a world where Dillon Mitchell figures out his shooting woes; in that world, all of these questions will look quaint in hindsight. However, hoping for Mitchell to become a solid shooter is optimistic to the point of foolishness.
Is it easy to see a scenario where Mitchell’s lack of shooting hamstrings his professional career? Sure. The “everything else” to his game, though, is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
Ultimately, my belief in Mitchell is rooted in what he CAN do, not what he cannot. He has continued to be an elite finisher on a much larger volume of attempts than last season, and his defense has also taken a huge step forward. It might take the right coach and maybe even a second NBA team to get there, but Dillon Mitchell has the right tools in his toolkit to make his shooting woes a coverable weakness in the NBA instead of a fatal flaw.