Kelsey Mitchell Is the Future of the Fever
By Tyler Berry
Kelsey Mitchell works.
There’s a dual meaning behind that statement. First, it’s already clear that she works as part of this Fever team. Second, the guard is always working when she’s on the court, constantly active on both ends of the floor, with or without the ball.
Coming off her first week as a professional – and first career 20-point night – there’s already a lot to love about her game. Let’s take a look.
This aspect of Mitchell’s game should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen – or at least heard – about her collegiate accolades. As an Ohio State Buckeye, she became the second leading scorer in women’s NCAA history (3,402 points, 24.5 points per game), right behind another 2018 draft pick in Kelsey Plum. Mitchell shot the ball well from all over the court. Her career field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentages sat at 44/39/84, despite garnering so much attention defensively from opponents.
The good news for the Fever organization is that, through her first few pro games, Mitchell has shown a lack of hesitance when it comes to getting her shots. She’s extremely good in transition and loves to get downhill to finish at the rim. That’s been huge for Indiana, a team that has struggled to finish near the rim so far this season.
While her speed and dribbling ability allow her to get into the paint, it’s how she uses those attributes to create jump shots that really stands out. In transition, Mitchell uses her quick motor to often get ahead of her defender, often giving the Fever numbers on the offensive end. This creates multiple avenues for scoring, the deadliest of which is her jump shot. Her shooting arsenal includes a transition pull-up from midrange or the perimeter. Her ability to speed down court, stop on a dime and bury shots is so hard to defend against.
Mitchell is at her best in transition, but has shown a high IQ when creating shots in half-court sets. A clear part of the game plan for Pokey Chatman’s squad is using high screens on Mitchell’s defender, which frees up a bit of space for her to side step – or utilize her crossover -- and get a good look. While they don’t always connect, her release is so quick that defenders have a hard time closing out on the switch. You saw this quite a bit in Tuesday’s game against the Sparks and, while she ended up just 2-of-9 from deep, this type of play will surely be dangerous as the rookie settles down and gets more experience.
Always on the Move
We have already discussed her penchant for pushing the ball in transition and creating shots both at the rim and on the perimeter, but a fascinating part of Mitchell’s game is just how much she wants to run on every possession. Frankly, the Fever look like a different team when she’s running the point. Every defensive rebound, even every inbound after an opposing made shot, Mitchell is speeding down the court, looking to get behind her defender and create a quality look for herself or another solid perimeter shooter like Hind Ben Abdelkader or Tiffany Mitchell.
During a second quarter stretch against the Sparks that saw the Fever cut a 22-point deficit to 12, it was Kelsey Mitchell’s movement with the ball that was the catalyst. She found herself a pull-up jumper in transition, followed by a drive and kickout to Tiffany Mitchell for an easy three. On the ensuing possession, she used a Kayla Alexander screen to create separation and knock down a step-back jumper. Seven quick points created because of her constant motion with the ball.
However, her off-ball movement has been impressive as well, on both ends. Chatman stated before the Sparks game that she was encouraged by the growth she was seeing from Kelsey Mitchell on the defensive end in such a short time. Everyone knew the strength of her game was scoring, but it was good to see her willingness to work hard on D. She’s not an elite defender by any means, but that’s okay. That part of her game should develop with hard work and experience.
What’s important right now is that she clearly has no interest in being hidden on that end. Mitchell has extremely active hands and feet. Sometimes, you will see rookie guards get frozen by opposing ballhandlers, but Mitchell seems unphased, and uses her footwork to stay in front of her opponent. She’s also shown an ability to close out on jump shots without committing bad fouls, something that even the veteran players struggle with at times.
Kelsey Mitchell is an extremely young talent with much room to grow. Her shot selection will improve – she needs to avoid getting in the habit of dribbling late into the shot clock trying to create a jump shot, which is something that can cause an offense to stagnate if repeated too often. She will also get better on defense and develop chemistry with her teammates in the half-court offense.
Regardless, the Fever organization and fanbase have to be ecstatic with how she has looked early in her rookie campaign. She has helped her team fight back from large deficits against veteran squads, has no fear shooting the ball and recorded her first 20-point game.
Kelsey Mitchell works and that is a win for the future of the Fever organization.