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Should the Knicks make a push to trade for Donovan Mitchell?

There’s something in the water in Salt Lake City.

New York Knicks v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

With Leon Rose gearing up to handle his first offseason on the other end of the proverbial tiny table, the Knicks have a life-sized game of perfection just waiting to pop. The Professional has already stated his desire to ease in to the job and build organically. Measuring twice and cutting once is so antithetical to the franchise’s recent history. How will they #LolKnicks us this time?

Oddly enough for Leon’s slow burn architecture, he has implied a willingness to move the highest paid component of this roster, Julius Randle. Traditionally, that could mean players further down the pecking order might also be on the block. Thankfully, Ian Begley recently took a minute to declare that Leon has mapped out a fjord of safety for Frank Ntilikina. Hopefully Rose can look in the mirror and fully realize that what he has in front of him is a team that hasn’t had any continuity for practically two decades and the three most promising players are still growing into their adult selves at 19, 21 and 22 years of age! The first stepping stone might logically be to build a team that can feasibly reach the 35-win plateau with them. This franchise has crossed the 40-win threshold a paltry three times over the past twenty seasons. Maybe give the kids a chance just this once.

Something that brought the Knicks to their knees game-in and game-out this year was the inability have any consistent perimeter creation, outside of Marcus Morris’ unlikely career year. Certainly entering this draft, a scoring or playmaking guard is a priority. Although perhaps getting that player specifically from the draft isn’t. This is where we mention that Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s 23-year-old springy scoring guard, seems to be at odds with his team’s defensive anchor, Rudy Gobert. Maybe there’s some meat on this bone, and maybe the Knicks ought to chop it up with the Jazz.

It’s a little unclear when the beef officially started to hang over the locker room. Gobert seemed to feel a little left out this season and some folks that were following closely took notice:

His teammates are flat-out missing him on some wide open opportunities. Gobert will be open under the basket with no defender in sight, have his hands in the air and shout, but it just seems to go unnoticed.

[Extreme Foreshadowing] I wonder what that’s about! It may speak to the fits and starts of a team figuring itself out after some offseason restructuring. The sum total of their moves was ultimately exchanging Ricky Rubio for Mike Conley and Derrick Favors for Bojan Bogdanovic. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder definitely tinkered with the lineup trying to find the right chemistry, never quite settling in on anything. The only constants were Mitchell and Gobert. Could it be that Donovan Mitchell is more of a race car driver than he is an offensive engine?

To answer this and so much more, I decided to have a fireside chat with my old pal, Shwinnypooh. Meanwhile our guy in the lab coat, Drew Steele, will work his slide show magic. Cozy up, folks.

Stingy: When we last had a chance to yak about a distressed asset we talked about the Bulls’ awkward misuse of Lauri Markkanen and whether he would help elevate the Knicks. Ultimately, we felt like he’s the kind of guy New York should make a play for, but not at the risk of shelling out for his perceived ceiling. Future flexibility is more valuable than a guy that doesn’t definitively bring you up to a playoff bubble kind of team. Add to that, there is no reason to rush in for a guy that has a contract year hanging over his mean value. Since that time, the Bulls restructured their front office and it seems that Lauri is perhaps further away than he was only last week. What can ya do?

The big difference from Markkanen to Mitchell has to do with how electric Mitchell is as a scoring force from a position that the Knicks might need the most. Did the Knicks and only the Knicks mess up by not drafting Dono when they had the chance?

Shwinnypooh: Yeah, the Knicks messed up not taking Donovan Mitchell. There’s an alternate universe where they do pick him and things are very different from how they actually did unfold.

Instead, Utah traded up from 24 to Denver’s 13th pick, the Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina and everybody was initially mad they didn’t pick Dennis Smith Jr. or Malik Monk — that is, until the 2017-18 season started, Mitchell was better than all of them, and that became the new lament. Shit happens, but don’t pretend everybody knew Spida was a stud who inexplicably dropped to 13 in the draft.

Stingy: If only the draft was an exact science. The real hindsight argument is more likely that all these teams messed up by not taking Bam Adebayo. Which of course includes the Jazz, who clearly wasted this pick on Mitchell. Bam is quite simply that dude! So honestly it’s the Jazz and only the Jazz who have made mistakes. #LolJazz, if you ask me. Unless you count the Nuggets, who traded the 13th pick for Trey Lyles and the 24th pick, which wound up being pure waste of life Tyler Lydon. Supposedly the Nuggets were targeting OG Anunoby, who got nabbed at 23 by the reigning champion Toronto Raptors. Slippery slope!

Be that as it may, there’s a guy that is upset with his team, says his best friend in the league is Frank Ntilikina, is from Elmsford, NY and is potentially available on the trade market. Mitchell was also top ten in the league this year in the following categories:

  • Minutes Played (10th)
  • Points (10th)
  • Field Goals Made (6th) and Attempted (4th)
  • 2-point FGA (6th)

He’s also in a 48-way tie for the fifth-youngest in the NBA at 23. The Knicks do love two-pointers, they do love minutes soakers and they honestly should love potentially adding an aggressive scoring option to their backcourt.

In terms of impact on the court, let’s take a look at Donovan Mitchell’s single-season RAPM and Luck-Adjusted RAPM for his career, as well as Frank Ntilikina’s. I was actually quite surprised to see that Mitchell, despite being on a legitimate playoff team in the West, had a negative all-around impact to the Jazz this past season compared to Ntilikina, a player on team that played odd rotations and, well, sucked. Don’t get it twisted, Mitchell is the better player by quite a margin (and multi-year RAPM backs this up). With that said, trading your best assets for a primary offensive option and a perimeter defender who is coming off a season where he was a negative impact on the court in arguably the most important role of a team is beyond stupid.
Drew Steele

All told, it seems like Mitchell was a bolt of lightning for the Jazz, but he hasn’t exactly struck with the same precision as he did in his rookie year. The question just becomes how snug of a fit would Mitchell be if the Knicks took a swing at nabbing him in trade?

Shwinnypooh: I don’t think fit is really much of a concern for Mitchell in New York, or on almost any team. Perimeter creators with gravity off-ball are usually good bets to figure it out wherever they wind up. So yeah, if the Knicks traded for him he’d be snug as a bug; that shouldn’t be a point of concern, definitely not for our hometown heroes.

Mitchell’s a dynamic young guard who has exhibited stretches of high-level shot creation, and even led his team to a first-round upset of the Oklahoma City Thunder as a rookie. However, the discussion around where he stands as a player in the NBA is an odd one.

The bottom bro is Mitchell, while the top and middle are both on lottery-bound teams, or at least were before the ’rona hit. Guess who they are.

The top row is Devin Booker and sandwiched in between is Zach Lavine. Both talented and productive in their own right, but far more scrutinized and criticized for the holes in their game than Mitchell. Is that because they are “empty stats” guys, or are their stats empty due to the teams they’ve plied their trade for? Is Mitchell considerably better than either of them? Can you make an argument that, adjusting for the team environment, they’re better than Mitchell? I’d also note that I’d put Booker ahead of Mitchell in the tier of rising young star, with Lavine lagging behind, more in the category of solid player languishing in an outsized role.

I just wanted to provide some context of Mitchell’s individual production in comparison to his contemporaries that are scoring guards in the league. So, Stink, my question to you is: What is Mitchell worth in a trade? And is the price it’d take to pry him from Utah one worth paying for the Knicks?

Stingy: Good grief. All that bad company. I think you’re right that their surroundings and their roles have a huge hold over team success, or lack thereof. So I have to wonder, are we looking at a situation where Rudy Gobert’s contributions actually seem to be the difference-maker for Utah? When I think about Zach LaVine, interior defense has just never come into the frame. LaVine also likes to take shots and ask questions later, so his stats have been empty while his pockets have embiggened. With Devin Booker, the scoring has always been a cinch, and the rim protection is slowly fomenting in Phoenix, which has allowed the Suns to start getting a peek at what it’s like to be a troublesome team to match up against.

If that is in any way true, I have two big wonders. Firstly, what is Mitchell Robinson ultimately? Can he become Rudy Gobert, or, dare I say, become better than Gobert?

Here we have Mitchell Robinson’s and Rudy Gobert’s numbers from their respective second seasons in the NBA. The values here are strikingly similar, with one player having better stats in certain metrics. Gobert was the better defensive rebounder, but he turned the ball over a lot more than Robinson, for example. Robinson’s ideal ceiling of “More Athletic Rudy Gobert” isn’t necessarily as farfetched based on the numbers; however, Robinson needs to cut down on the fouling and learn to make actual contact on screens before he ever reaches that ceiling.
Drew Steele

Secondly, if a player whose core (practically sole) value is shot creation, are they irreplaceable enough to need to get this one in particular? By some strange accounts the Knicks should just purge all the assets Utah asks for and throw “the kitchen sink” at the Jazz to get Mitchell because he scores a lot and because the six degrees of Kevin Bacon game is super easy to play with him.

Mitchell is from Westchester County. His father, Donovan Mitchell Sr., is an executive for the Mets. Mitchell has yet to sign his max rookie extension and only has one year left on his contract with the Jazz. There is also the undeniable tie to New York: Mitchell is represented by Creative Artists Agency, whose former CEO, Leon Rose, just left to become Knicks president of basketball operations.

Now I wouldn’t be so certain about chasing this slider. On one hand, I don’t think Donovan Mitchell represents an immediate rise to contention, so the Knicks trading all of their future first round picks, some mix of players and maxing him would actually appear to be pretty damaging to me. On the other hand, if he has such deep roots in the city, why wouldn’t the obvious track be that the Knicks bank on his ties in an effort to sign him outright rather than trade for him? They aren’t winning a championship next season simply by adding Mitchell, much less with Mitchell and without their cache of picks and players.

If the Jazz have to trade one of Gobert or Mitchell, I’m just hard-pressed to see why the Knicks should feel the knife edge of this stick up. If you really want Donovan Mitchell, you should simply wait.

Granted, maybe they think it’s too iffy to wait a season and risk the Jazz matching their offer or trading him to a contender where he becomes too content. Nevertheless, I just don’t like the gambit of being held hostage by your own thirst when there will be plenty of watering holes.

So I guess I haven’t exactly answered your question, but I think the premise of his value is that it’s definitely going to be too rich for the Knicks’ blood. Especially when there are teams out there like the Sixers, who have that need and can absorb the loss. Or, oh I don’t know, the Nets, who might be willing to sell off their whole-assed rotation, which is already a level above what the Knicks are working with. They may also add picks because a team like the Nets must live for today, if tomorrow is never promised (which is what Kyrie Irving texts Sean Marks every day at 11:11 AM and PM). That could be enough to satiate Utah, who have a little history of suddenly trading their prized possessions to Brooklyn. So the Knicks would have to go over the top of that, and then what? There’s no one around to wash all those dirty dishes.

If it were my call, I’d sooner draft the best player available in this draft, put them in the lineup and see what happens over the course of the season. I can’t justify risking the immediate future on securing Donovan Mitchell one year before he enters free agency. It’s just too dumb. It’s a smaller-scale version of Carmelo Anthony all over again. There’s even some crazy type of lock out!

When we look at players under 25 with a similar role as Donovan Mitchell, we see that his numbers do not have the same impact in both raw plus-minus and box plus-minus, a stat that’s literally based on box score output. Mitchell is right there with Zach LaVine and Carmelo Anthony, and he’s nowhere near as good as Anthony was. Unless Mitchell takes a rather unprecedented leap next season in terms of his statistical output positively impacting his team on the court, don’t expect this to drastically change.
Drew Steele

Shwinnypooh: Carmelo was a superior player to Mitchell when we traded for him, but we know now, regardless of how we felt at the time, the trade gave us such a limited margin for error in building around him that it was a mistake. There were other mistakes before and after, but making that trade really accelerated the timeline, while adding extreme levels of risk to get a maybe 1-2 year window of contention.

The circumstances aren’t the same in this scenario. The Knicks don’t have a potential long-term injured albatross of a contract like STAT. They are operating from a pick surfeit surplus, not a deficit. Even after a trade, they’d still have some rookie-scale contract young players on the roster.

But how are they going to actually become a contender?

If the baseline level of a deal is, let’s say, RJ Barrett and the Knicks’ unprotected 2020 and 2022 first round picks, that eliminates two of the Knicks’ three best trade assets, and probably three of four. So if that alone gets Mitchell, now you’re banking on some late firsts, a 2021 lotto pick potentially, and the allure of Don Mitchell, Mitch Robinson and Ntilikina (lol) to land Giannis in 2021 free agency to become a contender.

I don’t see the viable path to contention over the next 3-5 years after making that deal if it doesn’t involve landing Giannis or an equivalent MVP-caliber free agent — good luck figuring out who that even would be — during that window. It’s a path fraught with peril that’s repeating Knicksy mistakes of the past. You’d be giving up the goods for a top-25ish level player with some upside, but not even clearly the cream of the crop for his age or position. That’s a real shitty bet to make.

Mitchell is better than what the Knicks have right now. I would very much like to have Mitchell on the Knicks. Getting Mitchell at the price it would cost now is very stupid. I mean, shit, if you’re going to pony up for Mitchell, at least go see what else is available to you on the trade market, right?

Stingy: No question. If you can snare Donovan Mitchell without leveraging all of your youth — both in tow and incoming — it’s probably worth a shot. Although I don’t think I really want RJ Barrett as an enemy, he’s a worthy sacrifice. I just can’t see the Jazz thinking that’s remotely enough, even with two or three picks attached, because it means altering course so drastically that a playoff team with legitimate title aspirations (however lofty) is basically uprooting their team, now with Barrett and a probably-anxious Gobert turning unrestricted in the 2021 offseason.

Here we have the Box Plus-Minus figures for all players 25 and younger who averaged at least 25 points per game, 55% true shooting, and 30% usage. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that LeBron James and Michael Jordan have had the most impact on their teams. If you keep looking all the way near the bottom, you will eventually come across Donovan Mitchell’s name. Not great company. It might seem that these graphics are purposely slandering Mitchell, which isn’t the intent at all. Donovan Mitchell is a good player and if the Knicks traded for him, I would be happy. However, the Knicks should not in any fashion give up RJ Barrett and multiple unprotected picks for Mitchell, because that doesn’t move the needle for the Knicks long-term. It leaves Mitchell with a worse version of Gobert, Bogdonovic, and Conley. That doesn’t help the Knicks whatsoever. Now, if the Knicks want to give up the Dallas picks and this year’s pick, and possibly Knox and Smith, for example, by all means. The Knicks should be using the excess amount of picks they have towards a young, promising player.
Drew Steele

If the Knicks could get him, Mitchell can spearhead your offensive attack, and lord knows Julius Randle needs to get in line behind a more impactful shot maker. With Donovan Mitchell, New York would have someone to go to every night at the end of games, but they still wouldn’t have the requisite shooting and defending to elevate what he brings to the table. Much like the 2017 Draft, I wish we could use hindsight to get a real handle on this. I have the sneaking suspicion that Leon Rose just won’t be able to resist making a big splash.