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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Catching Up With Tony Mitchell

Much has been made of Tony Mitchell's slow start so far this season. Coming off a game where he only got off one shot, many people questioned how that was even possible.

I watched tonight's game, the game after his one shot performance, and he scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting. It was a solid performance for Mitchell as well as his team, who managed to hang in with St. Louis until the buzzer, losing 67-63. Mitchell had 14 first half points then had to sit out much of the second half with foul trouble. Once he was inserted back into the lineup, his teammates didn't even look to get him the ball.

Sort of perplexing. North Texas as a whole is perplexing. Heading into this game, they were shooting 26% from 3-pt range yet fared better against zone defenses.

I had two hypothesis for this - one is simple, the more inferior teams on North Texas ran zone against them in attempt to limit Mitchell. This makes plenty of sense.

The other could have to do with the amount of double teams Mitchell receives. Whenever Mitchell gets the ball in the post, he is automatically doubled - creating open looks for teammates outside the arc. So North Texas may actually get more 3-pt looks against man to man defense.

Fascinating.

More fascinating may be how first year North Texas coach Tony Benford has used Mitchell - or hasn't used him. It is tough being a coach of a lottery big man on a team of below average, shot happy guards. There is a lot of pressure to feature Mitchell, but it is something that also would help the team win.

Another thing Benford has to deal with is his center - Tony Mitchell - preferring to showcase his small forward skills to NBA scouts. Or his lack of them. You know what they say about guys trying to prove they can do something: they usually prove instead that they can't do it.

Mitchell may have another reason however of floating outside. The double teams. Mitchell can't show his post game because he is swarmed after each touch. When Mitchell parks himself in the post, you can tell it is hard for him to stay in the game mentally. Not only because of the double teams, but because of his teammates' idolization of their own offensive games.

And so is it best to park Mitchell down there? Sure he creates open looks, but he doesn't get to shoot himself. And as mentioned before, North Texas can't hit threes.

So that is what brings Mitchell out around the perimeter. Its a big conundrum and it wouldn't be a problem on a more talented team.

Mitchell faces tough defense off the ball all game and doesn't know how to get open off the ball. He gets some 3-pt shots by trailing in transition and popping on pick and rolls. He gets some putback attempts and throws down some alley-oops. And then there are the times he tries to create offense for himself - a very mixed bag.

His offensive game is somewhat like Andre Roberson's. Both are athletic freaks trying to prove themselves on the perimeter, yet have terrible footwork and decision making skills on the perimeter. They both shuffle their feet, rethink every step, and rely on their first step completely. And both of them can actually hit the 3-pt shot, although it can be ugly. The 3-pt shot gives them better driving opportunities due to strong defensive close outs.

Besides Roberson being 4 months older, Mitchell also is the better prospect because of his strength and his mid-range game potential. Mitchell's frame is much better than Roberson's and allows him to finish in contact and also work more inside. Mitchell's mid-range game actually looks good, as he is creative with his dribble and his jumpshot looks much better from 18 feet in. Mitchell has much more of an offensive mindset than Roberson and thus has more potential in the area. He can be dangerous setting up from the mid-range area with both the jumper and the drive. Mitchell can also post up, but his footwork and balance in these situations make for some ugly looking shots at time.

Mitchell's play pick up once conference play starts and his guards get to face competition more of their level. Same deal I said for Robert Covington who has struggled early. Mitchell's stock has taken a slight dip since the season has began, but he is one of the best athletes in this very weak draft. Believe it or not, he still could even have an outside shot at the #1 pick. His potential is that high.

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