Donovan Mitchell and D’Angelo Russell are both easily considered rising stars in the NBA. Mitchell has become a leader for the Utah Jazz after a surprising rookie season last year. Russell has had tougher path after the Lakers drafted him with the No. 2 pick in 2015 and then traded him to Brooklyn prior to his third season. He has since become an All-Star and has led a young Nets squad into the playoffs.
So who you would rather have on your roster? Andrew Sharp and The Washington Post’s Ben Golliver debate and talk about the progress of both guards.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: What do we think about D’Angelo Russell and Donovan Mitchell after the playoffs?
Ben Golliver: Mitchell to me was a victim of his own hype and actually you could say the same thing about Russell because the hype came this season. But Mitchell just punched above his weight class in last year's postseason there's no doubt about it. Like that did not feel sustainable at the time and that's why it was so much fun at the time. It was just like ‘holy cow this this guy is incredible. He's so young. Who knows if he's going to be able to do it again like this. You know every single year going forward.’ But what a remarkable story.
I don't even know how much credit we give to Houston's defense but I think 64 points on 64 shots and the turnovers have been a huge issue. He missed the big three pointer at the end of Game 3, I don't think we should hold that against him. I actually really liked what Kyle Korver said after that game about basically stepping up for Mitchell and saying he carries himself with class and dignity and he's accountable and you know that's just one shot in his career don't overreact to it. I thought all that stuff was right. But he's been thoroughly outplayed. There's no doubt about it.
He's come crashing down to Earth there's no doubt about it. But I still think he's been a lot better than D'Angelo Russell. I mean, I think Russell is like bottom five in the entire playoffs in plus minus even though that series has been somewhat close at various points. I have not been impressed by his overall offensive impact and then defensively I mean we know what he is there. So to me if you're saying compare and contrast these twos, I'll still take Mitchell over Russell really no question about it. And I also think Mitchell's had a tougher strong first-round opponent than Russell has.
Andrew Sharp: Yeah and I think on the D'Angelo front, I again want to double down on arguing that the Harden comparisons are not crazy because aesthetically their games are pretty similar. The key difference is that Harden gets the line 10 times a game. D'Angelo Russell is almost never at the line and that's a skill that I'm not sure you can teach because Harden was getting to the line at abnormal rates even when he was coming off the bench for Oklahoma City. So some guys either have that or don’t.
Golliver: Harden is built like a full-back and Russell is built like a punter.
Sharp: Exactly yeah. And that's part of the story and part of what you have to consider when you think about what he can be. The other thing with Harden and D’Angelo is like both of them go through games looking like they're playing at like half speed and Harden can throw some passes that can look kind of lazy where he's just kind of like flinging it across court but those passes are really effective. Whereas D'Angelo Russell has a lot of plays like that that are lazy and are sloppy and so he needs to tighten a lot of that up if he's going to actually be good in the NBA and his shooting needs to get better obviously.
Golliver: I mean Russell is what is like a multi-tasking James Harden right? it's like he's scrolling through Twitter on his phone while he's trying to run the offense that's what he looks like.
Sharp: It's tough because I think there are definitely times where it looks like that. Like his vision is real and he can be kind of a nifty creator but he needs to sort of again just tighten up his game.
Golliver: I hear you because at the same time he's forcing things to Jarrett Allen late in that one game and the other game he's just stepping out of bounds on an inbounds pass because they're throwing it to him and he's not actually getting himself open you know what I mean?
Sharp: I don't know what he's shooting. It can't be much higher than 30% in this series, which isn't good enough—the same is true with Donovan Mitchell. Obviously we're like he's a guy who if you tell me he's going to shoot 40% from three for the rest of his career or even like 36 or 37% like he will be good and he finished this season really, really strong for Utah and was great for them but I don't trust his jumper at all.
Like, I think the key difference between Westbrook and Lillard is that Lillard has gotten incrementally better at everything he struggled with through the first four or five years of his career and that's why right now he is like head and shoulders above Westbrook in this series because Westbrook has never been able to address his flaws.
With Donovan Mitchell and D'Angelo Russell I think they're both have shown enough early on to convince teams to believe in them but they're also pretty far away from where they need to be if they're actually going to be superstar point guards who can carry a contender. It'll come down to which one of them recognizes that and how effectively they're able to kind of address their weaknesses and we'll see.
I believe in Donovan Mitchell I think like he has all the intangibles but I think he might actually be kind of less likely to succeed D'Angelo Russell because he's not a natural shooter whereas Russell I think is.