Davion Mitchell’s strengths for the Sacramento Kings have been obvious since the team drafted him in 2021. His defensive tenacity and physicality are off the charts nearly every moment he’s on the court, and that high-level defense was on full display against Steph Curry and the Warriors in the playoffs. On a Kings team that took the league by storm through their dominating offense, Mitchell was far and away their best defender. But the issue for Mitchell and the Kings has always been his shooting ability, and without some real improvement on that end of the court, it seems unlikely he’ll get the minutes his defense may otherwise earn him.
On a team built around De’Aaron Fox and Domas Sabonis, shooting and floor spacing is a premium. To optimize Sacramento’s best players, their teammates need to be able to knock down deep shots, especially open ones. Per NBA.com stats, Mitchell shot 34.6% from three on catch-and-shoot shots last season—decently below the league average of 36.9%—and shot a whopping 31% on three point shots when left wide open (considered to be 6 or more feet from the nearest defender). If Mitchell can’t hit open shots and threaten defenses for leaving him alone, the Kings have plenty of shooters who can—and given that Davion played just 203 minutes last season with Fox, it’s clear the Kings think that it is always best to pair Fox with consistent shooters.
Across his collegiate career at Auburn and Baylor, and in his time with the Kings, Mitchell has had only one season where he shot better than 33% from deep; his 2020-21 junior season at Baylor, when he helped lead the Bears to the National Title, shot 51% from the floor and 44.7% from deep, and earned himself the 9th overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft. Across his two years in the NBA, Mitchell is just 164 of 517 from three (31.7%). While inconsistent shooting takes nothing away from his defensive brilliance, as the Kings added more shooters to the roster last offseason, Mitchell’s playing time decreased; from 27.7 minutes per game as a rookie down to 18.1 per game as a sophomore under Mike Brown.
Mitchell’s defensive excellence makes the Kings a better team. His teammates don’t hesitate to speak on his impact. He had strong success at finishing at the basket last year, shooting 66.3% in the restricted area and 66.9% on all layup attempts. And he has really strong stats in games where he either earned or (through injuries) got a ton of playing time; in 4 games where he played 30 or more minutes, he averaged 15.3 points, 4 assists, and 2.5 rebounds on a whipping 70.6% from the field and 63.2% from deep. But when the Kings played the Warriors in the playoffs, even Davion’s defensive hounding of Curry wasn’t enough to keep his minutes; Mitchell shot just 41% from the field and 26% from deep in the series, and after playing an average of 23 minutes per game in Games 1 through 5, Mitchell got just 19 minutes across the final two games as Coach Brown opted to go with Terrence Davis instead.
To his credit, Mitchell knows his role with the team is tied to his shooting ability. Deuce and Mo interviewed Davion early last month, where he talked about spending the offseason working with Brandon Payne, Curry’s shooting coach.
Davion Mitchell has spent the offseason working with Steph Curry's shooting coach Brandon Payne.
He got to work right after the season ended.
"If I was a better shooter, I would have been on the floor more, you know what I'm sayin? Game 6 and Game 7." pic.twitter.com/BbhQXsru9K
— Deuce Mason (@DeuceMason) August 7, 2023
If he can take a real step forward as a shooter, the Kings will be much better off for it—they’ll be able to play their best defender in more minutes, and more minutes with Fox and Sabonis without sacrificing their floor spacing. But until he can start hitting his catch-and-shoot threes—at least the open ones—at a stronger clip, his minutes won’t live up to his defensive ability. The Kings, and the stars they’ve built around, are not a team that can play non-shooters.