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Tony Mitchell: 2013-14 Detroit Pistons Preview

The mid-major big man showcased elite skills on both ends of the floor his freshman year at North Texas but took a big step back as a sophomore. As a second-round pick he is the perfect gamble for Detroit to make and could pay off in a big way ... eventually.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

2011-2013 Years in Review

To say that Tony Mitchell is a gamble is a minor understatement. But he's a smart gamble. He's a gamble when you're playing with house money. He's a second-round pick who might have lottery pick talent. Can he put it all together? Only time will tell, and something tells me the Pistons are going to be patient as they wait to find out.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let us first talk about Tony Mitchell the college player. Normally in player previews, we have reviewed each player's most recent season. That doesn't necessarily work for Mitchell. Instead, you need to look at his full two-year collegiate career.


What you see is as intriguing as it is worrisome. As a freshman, Mitchell posted numbers that would lead a smart team to select the mid-major Sun Belt standout in the lottery. In fact, his production was so off the charts on numbers alone, Mitchell should have been a top-three pick.

But he stayed in school, reportedly because he knew he needed to mature on and off the court. But that maturity didn't show up in year two. Instead, there was a coaching change, friction, and a lack of production. His numbers in his sophomore year are those of an intriguing player you take asecond-round flyer on.

Luckily for Detroit, the Pistons were able to take that flyer and hopefully get a player more like the freshman-year version -- a dynamic athlete who can knock down perimeter shots, finish in the lane, gobble up all the rebounds and be a terror on defense.

Let me turn it over to president of the Tony Mitchell fan club, our own Kevin  Sawyer. Even after his sophomore year struggles, Sawyer (a notoriously hard man to please) had Mitchell rated No. 11 on his 2013 Draft Big Board. Here is what he wrote:

A roll of the dice? You bet. One of the most intriguing prospects in the country after a stellar freshman campaign, Mitchell struggled in every aspect of his game last year. So what do you believe? Did he regress or was it something else?

I'm inclined to chalk it up to an immature player (he lost a season of eligibility to academic issues) dealing poorly with a coaching change. That is, in and of itself, a genuine concern, but Mitchell has also shown that he can be a top five talent. I would have had him at this spot last year in a much deeper draft. Given the available options, I'll give him a mulligan, but he's the biggest boom or bust pick in the draft.

And just in case I haven't ratcheted up expectations quite enough, we will now turn to Jonathan Tjarks of Draft Express and just basket in the possibilities of the piece he wrote about Mitchell before the NBA draft. I quote at length here, but go read the whole thing for some great insight on why Mitchell's sophomore campaign was less successful than his first (hint: it involves unskilled teammates, a new coach and a new system).

"I haven't been exposed to this game as much as a lot of other players and I think I'm already a great prospect with good potential," he says. "Once I get that chance to really get that experience and learn about the game, I think my ceiling is pretty high."

-- Paul George to Draft Express in 2010

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to understand Paul George's confidence. Even back then, he had off-the-charts athleticism and fantastic size for his position -- 6'9, 215 pounds with a 6'11 wingspan. The skills, while still unrefined, were there, too. He averaged 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists on 46/36/81 shooting in his last season in college. However, his talent was overshadowed by Fresno State's 15-18 record, including a 7-9 mark in the aptly named WAC conference.

That leads to natural question, especially in a draft as weak at the top as 2013. Could there be another Paul George out there this season? Just the proof that it can happen has to at least intrigue teams.

How does an elite 6'9+ athlete with a fairly complete skillset fall to No. 10 overall? In George's case, because he was the best player on an underachieving mid-major team, far from the national spotlight. If there's one player in this draft who fits that description, it's Tony Mitchell of North Texas -- complete with two first names.

In person, Mitchell more than passes the eye test. He's 6'9, 235 pounds with a 7'2 wingspan and a 38' max vertical. Look at his dunks from UNT Midnight Madness this season. That's a guy bigger than most NBA power forwards dunking two basketballs at once, catching the ball in mid-air and doing a windmill and I'm not even sure what the last once was because holy s--t. At the combine, Mitchell jumped so high they had to put something under the bar to raise it. If things don't work out for him in the NBA, he can march over to the NFL and be an All-Pro TE for the next decade.

Like George, Mitchell put up some fairly interesting statistics in two years of college. As a sophomore, he averaged 13 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks on 44/30/67 shooting. That's a downgrade from his eye-popping freshman year, when he averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks on 57/44/74 shooting. Right away, you can see his athleticism in his rebounding and shot-blocking numbers. He is still a raw offensive player, as his career average of 1.1 assists to 2.6 turnovers tells you. However, what really jumps off the page are the three-point percentages (48-141 over two years, 34 percent) for a player his size.

George, you'll recall, is the player who just signed a contract extension that could be worth $90 million and catapulted the Indiana Pacers from perennial intriguing fourth seed to legitimate NBA title contender.

After lucking into Greg Monroe (remember, the Pistons really wanted DeMarcus Cousins, who went to Sacramento, and the Golden State Warriors picked Ekpe Udoh), receiving the manna from heaven that is Andre Drummond, to get a potential steal like Mitchell is pure stupid good luck.

But then again, it might not happen. Mitchell might be more sophomore at North Texas than freshman. But even at that level, he could be a rotation contributor in Detroit.

2013-14 Projected Production

And now that I've worked you all into a lather, this is where I try and temper expectations. Mitchell could be a great addition in Detroit. I just don't expect that to manifest itself this year. The Pistons' big man rotation is crowded, and even in summer league there were signs that Mitchell still had a lot to learn about consistent effort and putting any "motor issues" to rest.

Still, this is a great learning environment for him. He can learn from Monroe and Drummond and Smith, and hopefully be part of a winning environment and quality clubhouse. He'll eventually do a couple stints in the NBA D League and absolutely destroy the completion. I just don't see him getting a lot of quality minutes for the Pistons this season.

That could change if they find a way to unload Charlie Villanueva or Jonas Jerebko, but assuming the roster remains unchanged, Mitchell will have to live with spot minutes and a whole lot of learning experiences in practice and on the bench.


7 mpg, 3.5 points, 2 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 49% FG, 36% 3PT, 76% FT