Offseason Debate: Donovan Mitchell or Malik Monk?

Posted on Jul 22 2017 - 10:43pm by Christian Dudley

Though Kentucky’s Malik Monk was selected two picks ahead of Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, which guard will fare better in their rookie NBA season? 

On Draft Night just one month ago, with the 11th overall selection, the Charlotte Hornets were on the clock. They had a difficult decision to make. They were split between two prospects — University of Kentucky’s Malik Monk and University of Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell

To each guy’s credit, Monk and Mitchell had excellent collegiate careers for their respective schools. Both proved to scouts they were true NBA first round talent and should one day make an impact on basketball’s highest stage. 

In the end, Charlotte pulled the trigger on drafting Malik Monk. Donovan Mitchell fell two spots to the Utah Jazz at selection No. 13, still within the NBA’s “lottery” picks. 

The Louisville versus Kentucky, red versus blue, rivalry is as real as it has ever been. Betweeen this and the conflict at the 11th pick, this may only be the beginning of the Mitchell and Monk discussion. They may forever be compared. Regardless, it has already begun. 

Which NBA rookie will have the better first season? 

One immediate limitation for Monk is the Charlotte Hornets already having a veteran backcourt star in Kemba Walker (formerly of UConn). Walker is an NBA All-Star and the franchise’s set-in-stone leader. This probably squashes Monk’s potential of being an early-rising star, though he can definitely be a solid contributor in his first season. 

Aside from Kemba at point guard, Charlotte has a loaded backcourt. The Hornets actually have one of the better backcourts from top to bottom. Take a look at their depth chart at the shooting guard position:

Shooting guard: Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum (primary small forward, secondary shooting guard), Malik Monk, Treveon Graham, Aaron Harrison

It will not be difficult for Monk to get minutes with the Hornets as soon as the 2017-18 season tips off. There is decent talent at the two-spot for Charlotte, and Monk could become the starter by season’s end. For a long-term perspective, a duo of Walker-Monk could be the lite version of the Washington Wizards’ John WallBradley Beal backcourt tandem. 

There are no Summer League statistics to grade Monk because he sat out with a sprained left ankle sustained in one of his pre-Draft workouts. Hornets fans are definitely anxious to see just how NBA-ready MM really is. 

On the flip side, Donovan Mitchell should have less of a challenge breaking into a significant role with his club. Utah is starving for scoring and playmaking potential and would love to luck into satisfying these departments with the addition of the former Louisville Cardinal. 

Luckily for Mitchell — yet unfortunately for the Utah Jazz — Gordon Hayward (formerly of Butler) bolted in this summer’s free-agency period to join Coach Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics. 

Hayward was Utah’s do-it-all small forward. He contributed 21.9 points per game in 2016-17 and now the Jazz must account for that production. The squad also lost starting point guard George Hill (formerly of IUPUI) and his 16.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists to free-agency. Combined, Utah lost a significant chunk of the group who reached the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs after going four seasons without a postseason appearance. 

In Summer League action, with Utah appearing in two different venues, Mitchell remained consistent with his dominance on fellow rookies and others with prior NBA experience. 

Mitchell, like Monk, was a standard shooting guard. However, near the tail-end of his days at Louisville, Donovan Mitchell gained quick experience running the point. His natural game fits an NBA point guard regime. Some have compared DM to Russell Westbrook (formerly of UCLA), but I would not put Donovan’s name in the same sentence as the league MVP quite yet — give it some years. However, this versatility by Mitchell is an amenity for the Jazz. 

From defense, to deep treys, to flashy passes and hustle plays, there is not much Donovan was not able to display for the Summer League audience. This has earned him a top-seven ranking in the NBA’s Rookie Ladder rankings. Honestly, seventh may be too low, despite having a plethora of strong candidates in the mix. 

Mitchell ranked No. 1 in scoring in the Vegas Summer League with 28.0 points per game. He did this on 36% shooting from the field while adding 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Oh, and by the way, he AVERAGED 6.0 steals per outing! 

Though his offense is dazzling, the Rick Pitino defense runs through Mitchell’s veins. He really is a complete package, whether he is playing the point or the two. Jazz fans will find Donovan to be one of their favorites. 

Taking a look at the Utah Jazz depth chart, you will find some solid names, much like Charlotte’s sitation. However, Mitchell will not have a certified All-Star in the backcourt, on the wing, or ahead of him. This is no discredit to Ricky Rubio

Point guard: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, Alec Burks 

Shooting guard: Rodney Hood, Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Royce O’Neale

Utah will be asking multiple players within their backcourt to play various positions on a nightly basis — all depending upon the nightly matchups they encounter on their schedule.

Jazz newcomer Ricky Rubio has not played one game in a Jazz uniform, so it will be interesting to see if he is a good fit. However, Rubio is no All-Star (whereas Malik Monk’s teammate Kemba Walker is an All-Star). The starting guard spots are not solidified in Utah and it could be a revolving door throughout the season. 

Ultimately, Mitchell oozes Rookie of the Year potential and there is no doubt about it. 

It is expected for Donovan Mitchell to have a greater role assigned to him by the Utah Jazz than what Charlotte is asking of Monk. The two rooks ideally have two completely different paths into their inaugural NBA season, enabling Mitchell to jump out of the gate at a higher pace. 

If “Spida” Mitchell continues to impress and remain in the top-10 rookies in 2017-18, we may move from comparing him to Malik Monk and put him head-to-head against another Kentucky guard in De’Aaron Fox, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. For now, the ball appears to be in Donovan Mitchell’s court, even from an unbiased standpoint. He is making 12 other NBA teams rethink their selections — just one month after the Draft. Impressive. 

Overall, this 2017 NBA Draft class is extremely loaded with future stars. This is premature, but if Summer League action is any indication, Mitchell and company will endure illustrious NBA careers. The NBA is in great hands moving forward through the end of this decade. 

Go Cards! 

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