What Would Donovan Mitchell’s On-Court Fit with Heat Look Like?

Is a better world coming? If you read way too far into quotes on hats while sitting next to your team’s franchise player, then maybe so.

But it’s more than just that silly quote.

It feels like the name Donovan Mitchell has come up often when it comes to the Miami Heat searching for the biggest stars around the league with a subtitle of the possibility they could break away from their current organization.

Yet with so much unknown around Mitchell and the Utah Jazz at the moment, it creates an intriguing dynamic.

This should be prefaced by saying that all things must align to initially kick off this process of getting Mitchell out of Utah and onto a team like the Heat. He would have to ask out, say Miami is his preferred landing spot, and Pat Riley and company would need to put together a good enough package that the Jazz would be willing to accept.

So, there are some obstacles. But as Riley once said, there also are none.

Even though it may be a bit early in off-season time, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t prepare for the scenario that this process accelerates quickly. This isn’t about mock trade packages or silly updated Finals odds. Let’s just look into what this may look like on the court if it got done…

The Driving Game: Elite Control/Paint Touches

Finding that three-level scorer seems to be on many minds when it comes to the Miami Heat. Could that be internally? Yes. Could that be through a trade such as Mitchell coming available? Absolutely.

When looking over some Mitchell film a bit more, one thing is blatantly clear: his pick and roll attack and control in those paint touches is simply second to none. Turn-around jumpers, little floaters, physical attacks (which I’ll discuss next), and pure athletic finishes.

But more importantly than that, there’s a certain number that has stuck out on this Heat roster that is a Mitchell strength across his entire career.

The Heat ultimately fell short in the playoffs because the shooting tailed off, but another thing that occurred was that driving numbers were slowly decreasing from Jimmy Butler’s supporting cast, including Tyler Herro having a tough time getting to the rim once that post-season switch was made.

In Mitchell’s five seasons in the NBA, his attempts less than 10 feet from the basket have increased from the regular season to the playoffs. His role is clearly different when it comes to his usage sky-rocketing in general, but it isn’t easy to continually get those paint touches and high efficiency looks when teams lock in on that game-plan to stop you in a specific series.

In the playoffs this year, Mitchell shot 55% from the field off his drives, while averaging the 4th most drives per game in the league.

We had a similar discussion about rim pressure when Kyle Lowry arrived on the scene last off-season, but that was one expectation that didn’t come into fruition since his burst wasn’t at the usual standards for extended pockets of time. He did great as a lead play-maker, but rim pressure was noticeably not a consistent element.

Yet for Mitchell, that’s exactly what this would be for Jimmy Butler, which flows into my next point…

Physicality as a Second Attacker?

If this move was hypothetically made, I think there would be a big expectation for Mitchell to be the first offensive option as an attacker for the majority of the regular season. Emphasis on regular season. The goal would be to give a good chunk of usage to the young blood, so Butler’s skill can be preserved for the long haul, before he picked up the name-tag of primary option once game 82 passed by.

So if that time came, a secondary attacker of Mitchell’s caliber would be scary to say the least. As much as I talked about on-ball control and crafty finishing, he’s just as physical as it gets when talking about straight line drives.

Getting to the second level is one thing, which many guys on the Heat’s current roster possess, but the ability to strongly take it up on that drop defender or help-side guy instead of immediately going for the pull-up is a change of pace.

In the Heat’s system, I’d imagine we’d see a lot of those drive-kick-drive scenarios to maximize personnel and keep the defense totally at bay. Butler drives in the right slot with help at the nail, kick-out to Mitchell on the left wing with the second drive coming and a rotating defense. That type of stuff is tough to beat with two star level players and physical attackers, which would make those offensive wrinkles interesting for Coach Spo and the coaching staff.

The Pull-Up/Self Creation Dynamic 

Now, when people think about Mitchell or any star powered three-level scorer on the market, this is the stuff being imagined. Just a hooper making things happen with the ball in his hands.

Isolation buckets, some flashy cross-overs, and most importantly, a solid pull-up game to fully balance out the previous stuff discussed off the attack.

This past season, Mitchell avergaed the 5th most pull-up threes per game in the NBA, while shooting them at a 36% clip. For some context, Steph Curry attempted the 4th most pull-up triples and shot them at a 37% clip.

Now for even more context, Herro had a great pull-up shooting season as well this past year while shooting 37.5% on pull-up threes, yet he only attempted 3.4 a game in comparison to Mitchell’s 6.2 a night.

Once again, this all feeds into the usage and role thing when it comes to his current position in Utah, but it’s always expected that those numbers would further increase in Miami’s current offensive system next to guys like Butler and Adebayo.

Yet to close off this section, it’s probably more about creation than it is actual pull-up numbers. Being able to make a team pay if Butler gets doubled, while also having counters for doubles himself when that time comes. Simply because he can create off the dribble at a high level mainly through the defensive fear of a strong attack or blow-by being his next move.


Oh, the Mitchell-Butler Pick and Roll

Finally, I must say when it comes to certain pairings, some of us may be focused on the wrong one. Many immediately think about the Mitchell-Adebayo pick and roll, which does make you think a bit.

Mitchell loves operating out of the high pick and roll because open space is his closest friend, simultaneously thinking about the success Herro and Bam had late in the season with the high PnR pairing.

But for some reason, the Mitchell-Butler sets feel to be the most intriguing.

Two seasons ago, what was the best PnR pairing for Miami? Goran Dragic-Jimmy Butler pick and roll.

What set was run late in games this past season when a fully healthy Heat team was on the floor? Kyle Lowry-Jimmy Butler pick and roll.

Butler has been incredible in every category since joining Miami, but he’s been unlocked as a pretty dominant force on the short roll, since he can bull-doze, turn into a post-up, or make reads as his play-making skills make its way into the picture.

Now add a scorer of Mitchell’s caliber, who just averaged 26 points a game this past season, into that PnR equation. Looking at some of the clips above, we saw Mitchell’s role in the playoffs turn into a roll man feeder to his role players, since Dallas did a fantastic job of trying to stop his one-man game in the half-court.

He continued maximizing the court with 4-on-3’s, which shifts back to my thinking of inserting Butler into those spots: how do teams generally choose to defend that combination in an empty corner?

Giving Erik Spoelstra those type of outlets in the half-court, and more specifically in clutch time, really could be the fix to the Heat’s offense in itself.

Now, I know the other thing everybody’s thinking about is that this is completely offensive centric and there’s another side of the floor. Yes, it’s pretty clear that Mitchell has been a negative defender during his tenure in the NBA so far, but there are two points that must be made.

For 1) surrounding him with a cast of characters like Butler, Tucker, and Adebayo make things look much different, just as they’ve done for so many role players over the last few years by turning them into serviceable defenders. And 2) if he keeps up this offensive success that I discussed in this entire piece, the defensive stuff doesn’t stand out as much.

It has stood out for guys like Herro this past playoff run because the scoring averages weren’t completely transferred over from the regular season to playoffs. If Mitchell does what he does best which is score the basketball at an extremely high level, that topic isn’t even probably being discussed.

Anyway, this is still extremely hypothetical. As I said earlier, things will have to completely fall into place this off-season to even get this thing started. But in this fantasy world of predictions, I would say that this Mitchell fit wouldn’t be half bad for what Miami is trying to do next to Jimmy Butler.



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