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The Subtle Side to Davion's Defense


catterj
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If you are reading this on Kings Landing at The Kings Herald, you’ve almost certainly seen Davion Mitchell’s uber highlight against Donovan Mitchell, simply wresting control of the ball from Donovan’s hands and pushing it up the floor for an ally oop to Terence Davis. Just in case you haven’t, here is that play (and other highlights) in highlight replay form: 

https://twitter.com/JohnBrisker2021/status/1451904934576852992?s=20

Without even a screen to help him, Donovan chose to drive in one on one against Davion. As the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would say:

But that is the only real highlight worthy play you’re going to see in this post. What I’m going to focus on are the under the radar fundamental defensive plays Davion made in the games against the Jazz, Warriors, and Suns. The majority of the gifs come from the Jazz game with only one from the Warriors. Here we go with the first example, a clear as crystal fundamental:

Lock and Trail

There are a couple elements to the lock and trail but in my opinion it is really just an evocative way of saying stick with your man through cuts and over screens. It really takes defensive awareness, athleticism, and effort to do effectively.

In this one we start with Mitchell on Jordan Clarkson in the left corner. Mike Conley has the ball up top while Rudy Gobert does a wide pindown for Clarkson. Gobert, one of the most effective screeners in the league, gets blown through by Davion, so he re-screens and juts his hip out a bit. Mitchell still fights through and performs a heavy contest against Clarkson on the fadeaway shot. Clarkson is a good player and still makes the shot (with some luck as well in my opinion).

On a baseline out of bounds play, Conley and Clarkson both cut to potentially receive the inbounds pass, with Clarkson coming off a Gobert screen. Davion is slowed but still contests Clarkson who, with slightly more daylight than the last play, airballs it this time. 

Gary Payton II does a dribble handoff to Curry and tries to provide a little contact to Mitchell in the process. Davion is still right on him and he passes to the top. He comes off a Bjelica screen who receives the pass and misses the open three. 

Off-ball, Booker comes off an Ayton screen. He does receive the pass but with no opening passes it right back. He cuts off another Ayton screen and still nothing going. Bridges decides to get his own screen and drive in a bit for a miss. 

Shoot the Gap

Shoot the Gap means, as the defender of the ball handler, to go under the screener but over the teammate (the screener’s defender). It’s often used against poor shooters handling the ball in the pick and roll/pop. Many of the perimeter players on the Jazz are good to great shooters, but you’ll see how it worked okay this time. 

In this instance, Clarkson is so far away from the basket, near the fringe logo part of the court, that it’s acceptable to shoot the gap against him. It’s unlikely he is going to launch from that distance even if open. Incidentally, the Jazz wanted to run a double drag here. That is two screeners on top of each with one popping and one rolling. The Kings play it well in my opinion. Davion sticks with Conley who is also guarded in drop by Holmes. Bagely covers Gobert on the roll. That leaves Paschall, the popper, open on the wing and Clarkson logically passes to him, but Bagley closes out effectively. As a bonus, we see Clarkson ineffectively go one on one against Mitchell for the brick.

Sink

A sink happens when a defending big on the block leaves his man to help against penetration. The perimeter defender nearest the big man on offense sinks into him to discourage the pass to the inside. The first example is not technically a sink but applies the same principles; the second is.

Gobert sets a screen in side pick and roll and Holmes decides to show for some reason (I saw this another time so it must have been directed). Gobert correctly slips to the block to get the pass and easy dunk. Instead, Davion Mitchell, ostensibly guarding the man in the weakside corner, has sunk into Gobert, knowing the skip pass to the weakside corner is exceedingly unlikely. The double team and Mitchell’s presence make it too much for Butler to make the pass, and the Jazz reset. This is not a traditional sink, but I feel it’s similar enough to place it here.

Here is a traditional sink. Bogdanovic drives in and Len moves to trap the box, leaving Whiteside alone. Mitchell chooses to sink into Whiteside. If Bogdanovic saw it he could pass to an open Clarkson in the weakside corner. But whether MItchell saw it in his head or more likely just knew it from experience, a relatively open Clarkson corner 3 (relatively open since Davion would closeout) may be a 45%-50% shot yielding about 1.5 points while an open Whiteside 1-foot shot probably has a 90% chance of connecting for 1.8 points with a potential and-1 as well. 

Ice

Ice is a pick and roll defense that discourages the ball handler from curling to the middle and therefore encourages him to move along the sideline. The ball handler’s defender, hearing from the screener’s defender that the screener is coming, gets perpendicular to the ball handler and backs into the screener to move the ball handler toward the side. He must rearview pursue for a bit, but with the added defender of the sideline, it often works out better for the defense. 

I can’t tell for sure but it looks to me like the Jazz are trying to set a double drag for Mitchell to head middle. Davion can see O’Neale coming up on his right and moves his feet to discourage Donovan from going middle. Donovan follows through while Whiteside starts to set the second screen but bails early as the action had ended anyway. Donovan goes in to the rim and misses. 

You can see that Davion moves his left foot to cut off Donovan from going middle. I would guess he knew Whiteside was coming due to a shout from Len. Donovan crosses over and heads down the side. Len is right there to discourage penetration. There might be a problem if Whiteside could pop for a three. But he cannot. So Mitchell passes it off. 

X-Out

This is an interesting one. It involves two off-ball players, who both help at different times. In the prototypical example, the two players are on the weakside, one guarding the offensive player on the wing, and the other guarding the player in the corner. As the ball handler penetrates, the weakside corner defender sinks into the big man on the block. A skip pass to the weakside corner offensive players requires the weakside wing defender to switch onto that man while the former corner defender makes for the wing offensive player. If you saw this on a diagram, the criss-cross paths of the defenders would form an X on the court. This is easier with an example. 

In this one, Mitchell is guarding the weakside wing and Davis is on the man in the weakside corner. Donovan successfully drives against Haliburton forcing Len to trap the box and help. This causes Davis to sink into Whiteside. Donovan sees this and passes to O’Neale in the corner. Davion closes out quickly, discouraging the three, so O’Neale drives in. He misses but Whiteside gets the board for the putback. 

Fill

To fill means for an off-ball defender on the wing to drop back to keep an eye on the ball and other players that he might have to close out on or defend against their cuts. I find it to be a nebulous concept that is a little hard to spot, but I think I have one example with Mitchell here. 

Donovan is trying to go to work against Fox with dribble penetration while Davion kind slacks off of Clarkson to hang out around the elbow. Fox with quick hands pokes the ball free, and Mitchell snags it for the transition opportunity. Fox gets credit for the steal but if Davion had not been in that general area, Donovan may have been able to recover the ball. 

Tag and Close-Out

When the big in pick and roll goes hard to the basket on the roll, the closest perimeter defender on the side the big is now on has the responsibility of “tagging” the big, moving to him and touching him briefly to discourage the pass for the dunk or layup. The tagger must leave his man to do that and if that man is passed to, the defender must close-out to prevent the triple. 

Whiteside sets the screen and starts his roll. Davion is heading on his way to tag Whiteside, but Donovan fires a quick pass to Clarkson on the weakside wing. Davion does a great job closing out quickly while not leaving his feet to let Clarkson reset for an open shot. 

Here Mitchell is hanging around Gobert on his roll and closes out quickly to Clarkson when he receives the Conley pass.

Post Defense

Crowder rebounds the ball off a Sacramento miss and decides to take it up court himself. In the confusion of transition, Mitchell ends up on Crowder, not his usual cover. Crowder has about five inches and 33 pounds on Mitchell so he decides to post up. What strikes me here is how Mitchell is lightning quick in seeing which way Crowder starts to go. He ends up shooting a tough turnaround fadeaway for the miss. 

2.9ing

2.9ing is a very basic fundamental defensive action based on the rule that a defensive player cannot remain in the paint for three seconds or longer without being within arms reach of an offensive player. Accordingly, teams have off ball players stay in the paint for - you guessed it - 2.9 seconds or less to discourage paint penetration. 

Mitchell, guarding the man in the weakside corner, creeps into the paint while Booker is making his drive, trying to discourage penetration. You can see that Mitchell is about to dart back out before the three seconds is up as the foul is called. 

Transition Hustle

Finally, we come to a straight up hustle play. On this turnover that starts out as a 2 on 1 in favor of Phoenix, see how Mitchell sprints from where the wing meets the corner on the Kings end to discourage and prevent the pass to Bridges for the easy deuce. Davion displays defensive awareness in many gifs throughout this post, but this one is sheer grit and the most impressive to me. 

That’s all I have for this one. Hopefully it was fun to see a variety of under the radar defensive actions where Mitchell performed well. He definitely is a solidly good defender already and having just finished only his fourth game in the Association, I expect we’ll see some improvement still. 

If you spot any errors in this post, that would make sense as I don’t know much yet. Please feel free to point them out with the correction as I would really appreciate your help. 🙂


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