Donovan Mitchell’s rookie campaign with the Utah Jazz came to a close Tuesday night, but there appears to be no limit of what this kid can do.
As the No. 13 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the former Louisville product shattered all expectations during the regular season, and with the accolades he earned, he’s following an errily similar path that another sleeper draft selection took a decade and a half ago.
Here is a list of Mitchell’s rookie accomplishments:
- Western Conference Rookie of the Month from December through April
- Led all rookies and the Jazz in scoring (20.5 points)
- Most 3-pointers in a season by a rookie in NBA history (187)
- NBA Slam Dunk contest winner
But it was in the postseason where the 21-year-old Mitchell solidified why he was the best rookie in the league this season.
The playoffs are an entirely different beast and even vets can succumb to the pressure of the win or go home stakes. However, Mitchell passed his inaugural charter with flying colors, playing a pivotal role for a surprising Jazz squad that made it to the second round before the Houston Rockets eliminated them.
In the Jazz’s first round series versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mitchell outplayed reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook and five-time All-Star Paul George to become the first rookie to score 20-plus points in his first six playoff games since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Then in the second round against the Rockets, Mitchell unleashed the dunk of the postseason.
— NBA (@NBA) May 3, 2018
Then in Game 5 before leaving with a leg injury, Mitchell singlehandedly outscored the Rockets, which boasts a backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul, in the third quarter (22-21).
The Jazz lost the series 4-1, but Mitchell earned the respect of the Rockets’ point guard, who called him his “little brother.”
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 9, 2018
If this rookie season seems familiar, you aren’t alone. The start of Mitchell’s career is a near direct parallel to the first season for a future Hall of Fame shooting guard 15 years ago.
Mitchell is the second coming of Dwyane Wade.
With the more heralded LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony stealing the limelight in his 2003 draft class, the Marquette product was overlooked and slipped to the No. 5 pick where he was selected by the Miami Heat.
Just like Mitchell, the explosive Wade was the steal of his draft, taking the league by storm and was the only player of that trio to win a playoff series, with James not even making the playoffs as a rookie.
Just like Mitchell, he won a first round series (against the formerly New Orleans Hornets).
Just like Mitchell’s monster tip slam vs. the Rockets, Wade emphatically put his stamp in the second round of a losing effort as well against the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers.
Unfortunately, Mitchell is likely going to have one other thing in common with Wade — a Rookie of the Year snub.
Despite all of this, the steal of the 2017 draft isn’t going to win Rookie of the Year. Ben Simmons will claim the prize at the league’s award show in June due to a flawed system which allows the Philadelphia 76ers guard to be nominated despite sitting out his actual rookie season last year due to injury.
This isn’t to knock Simmons, who is a fantastic young player in his own right.
But Mitchell didn’t have the benefit of spending what amounted to a redshirted season learning the ins and outs of the NBA. While Simmons was gaining insight from the 76ers sidelines, Mitchell was still a student athlete at Louisville.
Mitchell’s playoff performance is the latest example of why it’s foolish for the NBA to vote on individual awards based solely on the regular season.
If the postseason were included in body of work, the scales would tip in favor of Mitchell over Simmons.
Outside of scoring, Simmons has better overall numbers (16.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.9 steals) than Mitchell, but Simmons has more help. The 76ers have built a stacked roster that includes fellow franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid.
However, Mitchell (24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals) ended up having to carry a much larger burden on a less talented team, especially when starting point guard Ricky Rubio became sidelined in the first round with a hamstring injury.
Despite making the playoffs and performing well during the postseason, Wade also lost in the Rookie of the Year voting to James.
But it was as a rookie that Wade laid the foundation for becoming a legend, as one of only three players (Michael Jordan and James) in league history with at least 1,159 games played, 26,036 points, 6,270 assists, 5,576 rebounds, 1,844 steals, 1,022 blocks, 12 All-Star appearances and three NBA championships according to AP reporter Tim Reynolds.
Mitchell has a long ways to go to replicate those lofty accolades, but he has the same elite finishing ability at the rim, tireless work ethic and maturity that exceeds his age that Wade demonstrated as a rookie.
Need more proof this comparison is legit?
Check out this awesome video that validates this isn’t just a hot take.
After struggling in a loss in Game 1 versus the Rockets, Kobe Bryant suggested Mitchell study the tape of Wade’s epic 2006 NBA Finals series against the Dallas Mavericks as a reference point. Wade carved up the Dallas defense en route to what many deem the greatest individual NBA Finals feat ever.
Mitchell took the Black Mamba’s advice and practically watched it on a loop over the next two off days.
The rookie did his best D-Wade impersonation as he bounced back with a vengeance in Game 2, a contest in which he sealed with the tip slam.
As his own career winds down, the 36-year-old Wade is paying it forward as a mentor to the rising star.
I can’t wait to watch @spidadmitchell growth from year to year. What a season my brother!
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) May 9, 2018
The future is incredibly bright for Mitchell and the scary part for the rest of the league is that he’s only getting started.