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The Prospect Overview: Mark Mitchell is a Winner
Duke's Mark Mitchell is one of college basketball's top returners! He spoke with Maxwell about his game, development, and mentality! Plus: Quick Hits on the early surprises of this draft cycle!
First off, WELCOME BACK to The Prospect Overview, and welcome to Year Three of No Ceilings! Our whole team is beyond excited about what we have in store this season, and none of this would be possible without our readers, listeners, watchers, and fellow Draft Sickos. You all allow us to do really cool things that we never thought possible in the world of basketball. Enough of the pleasantries, though. Let’s talk ball.
Feature: Mark Mitchell is a Winner
As someone operating in the draft space, the Duke Blue Devils are typically required viewing. They are a blueblood program, and as such, they usually have a slew of NBA prospects. Last season was no exception. Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead were both highly touted recruits who heard their names called in the first round on draft night. Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor both had tremendous seasons, and their production has earned them first round consideration on many boards. Heck, they may have gone in the first round last year if they’d entered the fray.
But when I watched Duke play last season, there was still someone else who I couldn’t stop watching. He didn’t get a ton of national attention, but he did all the little things. He could scale up and down in role depending on what the team needed on a night-to-night basis. Oftentimes, he’d be tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player. This man was the straw that stirred the drink—a quick thinker who could impact the game with his physicality on both ends of the court. This man boasted traits that could scale well not only to the NBA, but to playoff basketball. That man was Mark Mitchell.
Mark Mitchell’s 2022-2023 Stats:
27.1 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.3 TOV, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
I had the chance to speak with Mark Mitchell for this piece, and the thing that stood out the most about him was how much he talked about winning. Everything circled back to winning. While watching the film last season, it was evident that Mitchell knew how to play the right way. He filled the gaps, didn’t overexert himself on the game to chase stats, and never let his motor run cold. But after talking to him, I gained another level of appreciation for his desire to play the game for his team rather than himself. After all, you play to win the game, and that’s what Mark Mitchell wants to do.
Mitchell credits his early interest in basketball to his father, who taught him how to play at a young age. He consistently played pick-up games, and his family watched the sport all the time, too. While he doesn’t model his game after a single player, he watches a lot of NBA wings and sees what he can implement from their games into his. Mitchell singled out players like Pascal Siakam, LeBron James, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown as people that he studies. In particular, he likes to focus on players who perform at a high level on both ends of the floor, as that’s how he felt that he could evolve his game into something similar to that. He’s been able to achieve that at the college level, as last season, he was one of only 13 freshmen at the high-major level to produce both an offensive and defensive box plus/minus over two. Nine of those players were first round picks in 2023.
While Mitchell could have found himself in that mix, he announced his return to Duke shortly after the conclusion of the college season. Given how many prospects at least go through the pre-draft process, it was a bit of a surprise to me. After hearing Mitchell’s reasoning, though, it’s hard to disagree with his train of thought. “I think there were some things in my game I needed to work on. I wanted to come back. Me, Tyrese [Proctor], we all felt we had unfinished business this year, and we can grow and be better players. I’m seeing things differently after getting to work on my game for another summer. I’m getting bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter, also. Just overall better. Obviously, the NBA is the goal, but when you get to the NBA, you want to be able to stay. I wanted to make sure I was totally ready to make that jump,” he explained. In the age of NIL, there truly is no rush in many situations. Rather than focusing on getting an NBA contract, best preparing oneself to earn a second, more lucrative contract is a smart line of thinking. Still, given his production, athleticism, and physicality, it may be a tough ask for Mitchell to return to school following another strong season. Let’s dig into his two-way production and why I’m optimistic about a breakout season for him.
Rim Pressure and Finishing
When Mark Mitchell goes downhill, the numbers don’t lie, and they spell disaster for his opponents. This past season, 41.2% of his halfcourt shots came at the basket, and he converted them at a wonderful 56% clip, per Synergy. Despite being listed at 6’9” and 232 pounds, Mitchell can put it on the deck like a much smaller player. “Growing up, I always had the ball in my hands. I was always a taller kid, but my dad always made sure I was dribbling the ball up the court and working on that every day. Having a handle—that’s something I take pride in,” Mitchell told me.
His potent first step, lengthy strides, and ability to jump off one foot make him an effective straight-line driver. While he can do that effectively, and often does, he’s capable of more. He knows how to use jab steps, misdirection, and footwork to get his man off-balance at the point of attack. Once driving, he’ll mix in hesitation or change speeds, making his intention unclear to the defender. Smaller players struggle to contain him because they can’t match his strength, and bigger players have a hard time keeping in stride with his speed. Mitchell can finish above the rim, convert through contact, and finish with touch when needed. His willingness to bump bodies gets him to the free-throw line consistently, and he’s a 76.3% shooter there. Few can stifle his attacking game.
Mitchell doesn’t need the ball to be effective, either. While he can get to the basket with the rock in his hands, he’s more than happy to do it as a cutter, too—13.6% of his shots came off cuts last season, per Synergy, and he converted them at a 72.7% clip. When I asked about playing without the ball, he noted, “I think with me, it’s just finding a way to win. Growing up, we [Mitchell and his Duke teammates] were all high-level players, we all had the ball in our hands all the time. I was trying to find ways to help my teammates. Coach Scheyer was showing me ways to win. It’s to help my teammates and help each other. I’m not going to have the ball in my hands all the time. In the NBA, you’re not going to be able to come in and shoot 20 shots a game. That’s something I was focused on and it’s something I got better at.” Whether it’s a baseline cut while his big man is posting up, a simple backdoor action, or a well-timed 45-cut, Mark Mitchell will punish his defender when he catches them snoozing off the ball. This gives him a malleable, low-maintenance way of contributing while generating high-percentage shots for his team.
Between his on-ball and off-ball work, Mark Mitchell is going to pressure the rim. It’s yet another thing for his opponents to worry about when he’s on the floor, whether he has the rock or not. He’s a second-side creation threat who can get to the basket immediately or string out a defender when needed. His activity and work rate going downhill collapses defenses and opens up shooters. Mitchell is going to make things happen that bring value to his team, and it starts with his knack for attacking the basket.
Mitchell isn’t a reckless attacker. Instead, he operates with a sense of poise. That shows up in his pace, and it shows in his playmaking for others, too. While his 1.2 APG and 8.4 AST% don’t jump off the page, the game film demonstrates that there’s some real passing acumen to Mitchell’s game. When he gets inside, he can punish missed rotations and hit the open man. Regarding his interior passing, Mitchell remarked, “It just comes from trying to play the right way and not trying to force things. If I get down there and make a read, I’m going to hit him. I’m not trying to do anything unnecessary or any stat padding. When you get to the NBA, you’re not going to be able to force shots, anyway. With Mitchell Robinson, Jaren Jackson Jr., these big shot blockers, you’re not going to force it. If someone’s open, pass it. Do what’s best for the team and play smart. When I get two feet in the paint, it’s my world. I can shoot, pass, pivot, and I’m learning how to really take my time down there.”
On the perimeter, he can quickly skip it to the next player. When a player opens up on the interior, he whips sharp, accurate passes, ensuring the ball gets where he wants it before the defense can catch up. Crucially, Mitchell always has the floor mapped in his head. He knows where his teammates are, where they are going to go, and where the off-ball defenders are. This enables him to make the “.5” decisions that NBA teams want from their role players. The greatest example of this mental processing came against Syracuse, where Mitchell decimated the Orange Men’s 2-3 zone from the elbow and nail for five assists and zero turnovers. He knew time and again where his opponents would be and how his teammates would best exploit that, and he acted at warp speed. While he won’t face a ton of zone defenses in the NBA, it was a peak into a skill set he didn’t get to show off as much in a complimentary role, and a look at an upside area in his game that doesn’t get as much love as it deserves.
This is where Mark Mitchell received the most acclaim last year. From a pure tools standpoint, everything you’d want is there—he’s big, he’s long, and he can move. In the world of basketball, there are a lot of guys like that, though. What differentiates Mitchell is his understanding of the game, attention to detail, and work ethic. The man plays hard, never taking plays off or losing out on a possession due to effort. Competitiveness is in the fabric of his being. “I don’t know if it [my motor] comes from anywhere, it’s just internal. I play hard, and I’m trying to win. People ask me that, and I don’t know where it comes from. I know with the blessings I have from God, if I use them, they’re going to make a difference on the court if I’m going hard,” Mitchell told me.
On the ball, Mitchell can make life difficult for anyone. Iowa’s Kris Murray had one of his toughest games of the season against Duke, and Mitchell was often the man taking the assignment. Murray was held to eight points, his second-lowest total of the season, on nine shots. He struggled to separate from Mitchell, whether on the ball or off of it, and he couldn’t overpower the Duke freshman inside the way he did many other players last season. Mitchell did to Murray what he told me he does best— making it tough for his opponent. “I think the best thing I do is make it tough for people. Make them take tough, contested shots. If they score, they’re going to work for it. I can do a little bit of everything. In the NBA, you’re not going to stop everybody, but shoot, you’ve got to make it hard. I’m good at contesting shots and have a knack for getting my hand up at the right times,” he said.
Few players can compete with Mitchell’s physicality. Smaller players would try to make him dance on an island, but Mitchell slides his feet so well that they couldn’t get him off balance. Oftentimes, they’d end up swallowed up by his chest, forcing a bad floater that he would then reject. Mitchell had a rock-solid 2.1 BLK%, and it was surprising to me how many of his blocks came after players failed in a fruitless effort to beat him one-on-one. It’s a bad idea, and guys should stop trying it. Per Synergy, on 25 isolation possessions against Mitchell, players went 5-for-22 shooting with three turnovers.
Mitchell’s aforementioned strength, paired with his agility, gives him one of the most coveted traits in modern basketball: switchability. “It affects the other team because they can’t get mismatches on switches with me. Switch me onto a guard, switch me onto a big, I can handle anything. At the college level, I can guard 1-4, sometimes 1-5 depending on the team we’re playing. On our team, it’s an advantage for game planning. Just being able to switch on guys from Isaiah Wong to Jordan Miller if you’re playing a team like Miami, being able to guard different people is something I take pride in. At my size, I’m versatile enough to guard anyone,” he noted. Rarely does he look out of place or uncomfortable in a matchup.
Off the ball, Mitchell remains engaged and active. On a basic level, he’ll monitor man-and-ball well consistently. He’s able to get his hands on passes with his long arms and quickness. When someone gets sloppy with their handle, Mitchell can quickly dig in and take their cookies. The biggest thing that pops, though, is his recognition and ground coverage. He’s never a step slow in his initial response, not needing the action to register before he acts. Instead, Mitchell goes, and when he goes, he goes with fervor. He takes long, hard steps, and he gets off the ground easily to contest, whether it’s at the rim or on the perimeter. When players try to drive against his momentum, he’s able to get his balance back quickly and stay in the play thanks to his potent recovery tools.
Mitchell specifically credited former Sunrise Christian Head Coach Luke Barnwell (who is now at Texas Tech as an assistant) for helping him develop this aspect of his game during his senior season. “He really taught us the nuances of playing defense. We were really sound and fundamental on defense, and that was him. We were drilling it every day. When I got to college, it showed up on film more, it helped me get over that curve quickly, and I knew where to be. It came from playing the game and learning, but that last year of high school, being in the right spots, knowing when to help and how to help, how to be in the gap, definitely helped me play better defense in college,” Mitchell explained.
The Jump Shot
Often, I feel like Mitchell gets lumped in with other, “if he shoots it” type prospects. In one sense, it’s a fair criticism, and it is unquestionably his biggest swing skill when it comes to projecting his draft stock. At times, Mitchell would pass up open shots on the perimeter, and he only attempted 3.5 threes per 100 possessions. His left-handed stroke can come out low and hitchy with his feet pointing inward. Where I would counter, though, is that Mitchell has far better indicators than many of the other players he’ll get lumped in with. For starters, he shot 35.2% from three and 76.3% from the free throw line. While the volume was low, they did go in. When defenses left him open, he shot 37.8% on catch-and-shoot threes, per Synergy. Even better, he went 41.7% on 24 corner three attempts. I dig Mitchell’s touch, too, which was evident on his runner (40.7%, 61st percentile per Synergy) and 42.7% mark on 27 pull-up twos.
Shooting has been a focal point for Mitchell this off-season, and he’s feeling confident heading into next season. “I think I’m definitely in a better place than I was last year. I was in a decent spot this past year, but I improved a lot. I put in a lot of work this summer to be more confident. Sometimes, I passed up open shots or wouldn’t shoot with confidence. This year, I’m going to take more shots and better space the floor for my teammates. I’ve been putting in the work on that all summer. I made a few mechanical tweaks, nothing too crazy. When I get in the game, I’m focused on not being so set on driving, but taking what the defense gives me and not letting it affect me on the next shot.”
While there’s certainly a degree of risk in “buying” a lower volume shooting percentage, I’m willing to do it with Mitchell. He got it done at the free throw line, and when someone with this much passion for the game tells me they’ve put in the work, I’d feel rather foolish to doubt them. Add in his strong corner and unguarded numbers, and there’s a very clear path for Mitchell to emerge as a solid shooter, both this season in college and eventually in the NBA. Plus, as my past research has shown, it’s pretty common for draftable-type players to make big shooting leaps during their sophomore seasons. There’s not just room for hope, there’s room for excitement, too, if you’re willing to be optimistic.
I’m going into the season with Mark Mitchell ranked firmly inside the Top 20 on my board. There’s a degree of risk to it, sure. Duke returns a bevy of great players and brings in a new group of highly touted freshmen. While many returners see a massive increase in their offensive role, Mitchell likely won’t see much of a change. I’m unbothered by that. What I’m buying is that Mark Mitchell looks like a guy you can go to war with, and win with, in the playoffs. He has a tremendous frame for the NBA, a rare breed of competitiveness, and a selflessness conducive to a long NBA career. On defense, he’s going to be able to guard up and down the positional spectrum. He’ll compete every night and embrace the dirty work. Offensively, he’ll make good decisions quickly. He can pressure the rim, find the open man, and he won’t need the ball in his hands to succeed. Should he increase his three-point shooting volume and maintain or improve his efficiency, he’ll have a strong lottery case on draft night. Compared to a player like Jerami Grant, his shot is further along at the same point while bringing a lot of similar traits to the table. In that situation, he’ll profile as a 4th/5th starter or high-end rotation player at the most important position in the game. Teams competing for a title are often looking for big wings who know how to make good, quick decisions on offense, will embrace their role for the betterment of the team, and can cover multiple positions. They’re looking for winners, and Mark Mitchell is a winner.
-I’ve got to start off this year’s Quick Hits by giving some love to one of the players I’m highest on relative to consensus coming into the season, and that’s Tyler Smith of the G League Ignite. At 6’9” and 224 pounds, the still-18-year-old looks like a grown man on a professional court. Even better, he’s 4-for-11 from deep through the Ignite’s five exhibition games. His stroke is confident off the catch, and he doesn’t hesitate for a second when he’s left open. On defense, when he gets down in his stance, he’s tough to beat on the perimeter. Because of his power, he’s not easy to beat on the interior, either. There’s a competitive spirit to him that showed up in the Intercontinental Cup, too. Smith played with a real fire and seemed the most determined to right the ship when the Ignite were down early against Sesi Franca Basquete. He’s a firm first round pick for me right now.
-Next, I have to give a shoutout to my No Ceilings teammate Evan, who consistently made sure I was getting in my Pacome Dadiet film this off-season. Dadiet is playing for Ratiopharm Ulm in Germany. At 6’8”, he’s a good mover who won’t turn 19 until July. While he’s been relegated to lower minutes so far, there’s a lot to like. Dadiet is like the Energizer Bunny in transition with the finesse to finish with touch. He’s shown some passing downhill and he’s pretty confident putting it on the deck. Over his last 12 games between this year and last season, he’s gone 15-for-33 from deep. If he can carve out a bigger role this year, he’s going to be difficult to deny. His length, high-octane style, and skill make for an intriguing combination at such a young age.
-Ben Henshall has been a delight and an early fun surprise in this draft cycle. At 6’5”, he doesn’t have exceptional size, nor is he an overwhelming force athletically. What he does have, though, is an electric jump shot. When he gets going, teams have to close out hard, and Henshall can answer. He’s got some wiggle and shiftiness, enabling him to weave through traffic and finish more efficiently than one might expect, given his skinny frame. Plus, he’s not a “head down” driver, either—he’s capable of consistently finding and rewarding the open man. He may still be a few years away, but Henshall has firmly planted himself on draft radars, and he deserves the early buzz he’s received.
-Ariel Hukporti has made for another fun surprise in the NBL. Though he’s been discussed in draft circles for ages, the 7’0” big man from Germany is still only 21. Hukporti is never going to be a switch-everything player, but he’s done a much better job instinctually in pick-and-roll settings on defense after missing almost a full year. His ball tracking for blocks, particularly with his left hand, has popped early and led to him posting 12 blocks through five games. If he wants to reach a higher-level outcome, he will need to continue to develop his face-up game, which can be rather clunky. Nevertheless, his work on the glass, sheer size, and shot-blocking skills could enable him to carve out an NBA roster spot at some point. After a mundane 2021-2022 season and being out for the near entirety of the 2022-2023 season, it’s been a blast to see Hukporti not just back on the court but thriving in a bigger role.
-Lastly, I’ve felt completely blindsided by Lachlan Olbrich, which is unacceptable to me as a man who loves swimming in the small conference waters. After a strong freshman season at UC-Riverside, he made his way to the NBL to play for the Illawara Hawks. At 6’10”, he has a real fluidity to him. Players have tried to test him laterally, but he’s stuck with them. He’s a skilled passer who has posted 11 assists to four turnovers. Additionally, Olbrich has been wildly efficient through four games, going 19-for-24 from the field. Olbrich probably isn’t a true big at the NBA level due to strength and bounce limitations, so front offices will want to see him stretch the floor. He’s only taken two threes as of this writing, but he did shoot 29.2% from deep on 1.9 attempts per game last year. Conversely, he’s always been a shaky free throw shooter, starting out this year 5-for-10 and going 55.6% from the stripe at UC-Riverside. If the jumper gets there, his size, outstanding feel, and ability to slide his feet will make him tough to pass up. Still, Olbrich won’t turn 20 until December, giving him plenty of time before he’s automatically eligible. But the bottom line is that Olbrich is now firmly on radars when he wasn’t going into the season, and that in and of itself is awesome.
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