So far, this year’s NBA playoffs haven’t disappointed. With the early exits of playoff regulars Steph Curry and LeBron James, this year is truly different. New teams and players made their mark. Two of the most notable perhaps being young guards Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell.
Booker helped his Phoenix Suns sweep the Nuggets in the second round and earn a matchup against a Clippers side going into its first-ever Western Conference Finals. On the other hand, Mitchell and the Utah Jazz narrowly missed out on facing the Suns, losing to the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs. Both played instrumental roles on their teams, being primary scorers and facilitating the offense.
Unfortunately, fans won’t get to see the pair face off in the postseason this year. However, both Mitchell and Booker are just 24 years old and have their best years ahead of them.
Watching the pair’s play this season drew many comparisons, and both players have a case as the superior player over the other. With all their similarities, it’s only fair to compare their abilities on the court.
Before examining their advantages in this matchup, one must acknowledge the pair’s similarities that make the matchup that much more intriguing.
Both were born in 1996, and both are high-scoring shooting guards in the Western Conference. Additionally, both are integral parts of their teams’ playoff runs. Even more coincidentally, the pair each averaged 26 points per game in the regular season. You don’t get more similar than that.
In a less positive light, both players were snubbed from the 3 All-NBA teams named this year. Despite them being key players on 2 championship-contending teams. Mitchell and the Jazz earned the 1st seed, and Booker’s Suns finished in the 2nd seed.
Now for some similarities in their playstyles. Booker gained a reputation these past few years as a lights-out shooter and seemingly automatic scorer. In the past 4 seasons, he averaged at least 25 points per game.
While not as proficient in the scoring department, Mitchell still has outstanding ability. Since his rookie year 4 seasons ago, he has never averaged less than 20 points per game. This year was his best scoring as he averaged 26 in the regular season and an impressive 31 in the playoffs.
Both are great shooters regarding how they score, averaging around 35.5% from beyond the arc on their careers. They also find ways to distribute, averaging a respectable 4.5 assists each. Not bad for natural shooting guards. Please consider that they also have outstanding point guards on their teams in Chris Paul and Mike Conley.
With all their similar qualities, there are bound to be some differences. After all, they aren’t the same player. Here are some aspects of their games that set them apart and give them certain advantages over each other.
It turns out that in terms of statistics, they basically are identical in ability on offense. However, stats don’t tell the whole story.
Booker stands at 6’6, about an average height for an NBA shooting guard. On the other hand, Mitchell is just 6’1, a height better suited for a point guard than a shooting guard. Despite Mitchell’s undersized frame, he may be the better slasher of the 2.
While both can get to the basket, Mitchell’s smaller size gives him more speed and lateral quickness than Booker. In addition, he seems to be slightly more athletic, putting together an impressive highlight reel of dunks over his career. He even won the 2018 Dunk Contest.
With Mitchell’s slight advantage in driving the ball, Booker makes up with his clean jumper and mid-range game. Many even compare the young star’s shooting stroke to the legendary Kobe Bryant’s. After all, he did score 70 points against the Celtics, the 70-point game since Kobe’s historic 81 in 2006.
As for defense, Mitchell has a better reputation on the other side of the ball. Game in and game out, he hustles and intimidates opposing players that he guards. He also backs it up as the Jazz’s defensive rating drops 7 points when he is off the court. This is with 3-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert on the same team.
Meanwhile, the Suns’ rating drops just 4 points when Booker doesn’t play. Despite Mitchell’s perceived advantage on defense, it doesn’t take away from Booker’s defensive ability. He often unfairly gets called out for “bad” defense while still a good 1 on 1 defender.
In the end, it’s still very early to determine the best player. Overall, Mitchell might edge Booker as a better defender and player, but Booker’s natural scoring ability might just be unmatched in the Western Conference. Mitchell has more playoff experience appearing in 4 postseasons, but Booker can definitely close this margin if his Suns manage to make the finals.