What’s the next step for Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum?

PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 20 : Donovan Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 20 : Donovan Mitchell /

Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum are each coming off of spectacular rookie seasons, and yet they’ve each learned valuable lessons in these playoffs.

For Simmons, he was everywhere in Philadelphia’s opening round win over the Heat, only for the Celtics to then slow him and the 76ers down in the second round by exposing the biggest weakness in his game. While Mitchell had more postseason success than Simmons, he also struggled in the second round when the Jazz went up against the No. 1 seeded Rockets. Tatum is the lone Rookie of the Year candidate still standing — an impressive feat considering the cards he and the Celtics were dealt — though context is important when comparing him to Mitchell and Simmons.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what Mitchell, Simmons and Tatum can take away from these playoffs to build on their impressive rookie seasons.

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell is a pull-up jump shot away from being one of the scariest scorers in the NBA.

Skill isn’t the problem for Mitchell. Not only did he make more pull-ups than any other rookie in the NBA this season, he made an impressive amount compared to the rest of the league. According to NBA.com, the Connecticut native was one of eight players to knock down at least 100 2-point pull-ups and 80 3-point pull-ups during the regular season. It put him on the same page as some of the best shooters in the league: CJ McCollum, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Lou Williams, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Damian Lillard.

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The difference between them and Mitchell was consistency. He made 2-point pull-ups at a decent rate but converted only 29.2 percent of his 3-point pull-ups in the regular season and playoffs. Since those shots made up nearly a quarter of his total field goal attempts on the season, it contributed to him being one of the less efficient volume scorers in the league.

With Mitchell already being a crafty finisher around the basket and a capable playmaker when defenses collapse on his drives, he’ll be almost unguardable if teams have to respect his pull-up, as he displayed against the Pelicans on Dec. 1. After confidently stepping into a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter, Mitchell used the threat of his pull-up to draw DeMarcus Cousins away from the basket and create a wide open 3-pointer for Joe Ingles, followed by an uncontested layup for himself on back to back possessions.

It was the type of sequence you’d expect to see from a superstar, not a 21-year-old rookie who was selected with the 13th pick in the NBA Draft.

Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons also needs to work on his pull-up, although he’s not working with the same foundation Donovan Mitchell is. According to NBA.com, Simmons attempted 108 shots from mid-range in the regular season and made 30 of them.

Not being a scorer outside of the paint didn’t prevent Simmons from joining a list of Hall of Famers in averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game, but it did become a problem in the second round of the playoffs. In addition to his numbers falling to 14.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, the 76ers were 19.7 points per 100 possessions better offensively when he was on the bench in the series.

Despite there being few teams with the size and athleticism to match up with Simmons in the way the Celtics did — Al Horford and Marcus Morris split responsibility of defending the Rookie of the Year favorite — it’s hard to see Philadelphia competing for a championship if teams can neutralize him by clogging the paint.


Simmons doesn’t have to extend his range to the 3-point line. It would help him live up to the LeBron comparisons if he did, but developing a reliable pull-up from mid-range would give him an answer to teams that defend him in the way the Celtics did in the playoffs. Simmons knows it, as does 76ers head coach Brett Brown.

Jayson Tatum

Jayson Tatum didn’t enter the season with the same opportunities Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons did. Whereas they became the first or second option on their respective teams by the turn of the New Year, Tatum shared the court with two established All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, as well as Jaylen Brown, the third overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

For that reason, Tatum settled into more of a supporting role for most of the season, with close to a third of his shot attempts being made up of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and nearly a quarter being made up of 2-point pull-ups. Even though he rarely guarded the opposing team’s best scorer — that assignment went to Brown or Marcus Smart — Tatum became a disruptive help defender with his athleticism and long arms. It gave him a bright future as a 3-and-D wing on a team that figures to be in the running for a championship in the years to come.

Then Irving underwent season-ending surgery, and Tatum saw his usage rate explode from 18.7 percent to 24.5 percent in the final 13 games of the season. He carried it into the playoffs with a usage rate of 23.9 percent, the highest on the team.

With how successful he’s been as the No. 1 option for the Celtics in the playoffs, the next step for Tatum is proving he can take on more responsibility in the regular season. The Celtics don’t need him to dominate the ball in the same way Mitchell and Simmons do to reach their full potential as long as they have Irving, Brown, Horford and Gordon Hayward on the roster, but Tatum’s development into a go-to scorer makes them contenders sooner rather than later.

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It’s ultimately why the Celtics traded the No. 1 pick to get him. Tatum’s floor makes him a valuable piece on a team loaded with talent and his ceiling makes him an MVP candidate. He’s shown that this season.