Davion Mitchell Is the Latest Example of an Emphatically Great NBA Rookie Class

At 27-49, the Sacramento Kings currently have nothing worth playing for. Just don’t tell that to Davion Mitchell.

As another forgettable Kings season comes to a close, Mitchell is taking it upon himself to end the year on a high note. The former Baylor Bear has long been a defensive threat but is now discovering his underrated scoring touch.

In any other year, the 23-year-old Mitchell would be considered one of the best rookies in his class. But this season, the ninth-overall pick is one in a long line of impressive first-year players ready to take over the NBA.

Davion Mitchell has proven himself to be a starting-caliber NBA guard

Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 guard from Hinesville, GA, turned heads at the beginning of the season after shutting down a few of the league’s top guards. Yet his offense wasn’t quite up to snuff, averaging 8.9 points in 25.2 minutes on 37.4/27.3/60.9% shooting through his first 20 games.

The high-intensity point guard had all of one start through Sacramento’s first 49 games, serving as the primary backup to star De’Aaron Fox. Yet even with the fifth-year guard ahead of him on the depth chart, Mitchell found a way to earn minutes in Alvin Gentry’s (and previously Luke Walton’s) rotation.

But over the last several games, Mitchell has gone from a defense-first backup to a true scoring threat.

“Off-Night” has averaged double-digit points in all but one of Sacramento’s last 10 contests. Once Fox went out with a hand injury, the rookie entered the starting lineup on Mar. 18 and exploded, averaging 21.6 points and 7.2 assists in 41.0 minutes while shooting a much-improved 46.2/39.3/91.7%. The only rookie to average more in that span is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann (21.8).

Thanks to his torrid stretch, Mitchell is averaging 11.0 points for the year. That makes him one of 11 rookies averaging double figures, with 2021 top pick Cade Cunningham (17.2 points) leading the way for the Detroit Pistons.

Mitchell joins a long list of impressive rookies

It’s certainly too soon to say whether the 2021 rookie class is on par with 2003, the draft headlined by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. It might even be premature to compare it to 2018, a more-recent draft class that produced many quality players including Luka Doncic and Trae Young.

But Mitchell is now another featured member of what looks like a strong rookie class — one that boasts an impressive combination of future stars, quality role players, and second-round steals.

The players that went early on in the draft have more or less been deserving of their spots. Cunningham leads all rookies in scoring and is quickly approaching superstardom thanks to an impressive second half. Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green, the draft’s second pick, is evolving into a star before the year wraps up.

Yet one could argue that neither Cunningham nor Green is a Rookie of the Year frontrunner, as Cleveland Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley and Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes are showcasing their above-average abilities on both ends of the court.

Mitchell, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey, and Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner are three other top-10 picks who have bright futures. The same can be said about OKC’s Mann and Denver Nuggets guard “Bones” Hyland, two late first-rounders who have earned more and more playing time over the last few weeks.

That’s not even getting to a pair of second-rounders — New Orleans Pelicans forward Herbert Jones and Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu — who have gone from marginal role players to flat-out starters for large parts of the season.

From Cunningham’s high ceiling to Mitchell’s quality performance to Dosunmu’s surprising upside, the members of the 2021 rookie class will look to be making a league-wide impact for quite some time.

Who will be the best of this rookie class five years from now?

Mitchell is proving that when given an opportunity, he’ll make the most of it. So could an expanded role next season make him one of the best overall players of this draft class?

At this point, it’s still hard to see that happen. Especially when you factor in the ages of some of these impressive young stars dominating on a nightly basis.

Take Green, for example. The start of his career was simply horrendous, marred by inefficiency and non-existent defense. Yet he has already taken massive strides, averaging 21.5 points in the last week alone. By the way, it’s worth noting that he just turned 20 last month.

Cunningham was in a similar position. The 20-year-old couldn’t buy a bucket to start his Pistons tenure. Yet now, he’s aligning himself with Michael Jordan in the record books.

Barnes, Mobley, and Wagner are all just 20 years of age as well, while Giddey is still only 19. Their ceilings aren’t going to be hit anytime soon, which might serve as a stark contrast to the 23-year-old Mitchell.

Whether it’s led by Mitchell, Cunningham, Giddey, or whoever, the 2021 NBA Draft class is setting up to be one of the best ever.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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