UC Santa Barbara's Ajay Mitchell Could Help Fill An Immediate Need At Guard

Photo Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a debacle in their guard room. Mike Conley will turn 37 in October, Jordan McLaughlin and Monte Morris are unrestricted free agents, and the Wolves are dancing around being a potential second-apron tax team. They must find instant answers because they cannot rely solely on Conley to orchestrate their offense. However, they have a viable option to fix this issue.

There is no better way to get affordable bench contributors than through the draft.

Per the team’s public relations Twitter account, the Wolves have been incredibly busy with draft workouts, bringing in 35 prospects over the last two weeks. However, only one player has been announced for multiple workouts: UC Santa Barbara’s Ajay Mitchell.

Measuring 6’3.5” without shoes and a 6’6.25” wingspan at this year’s combine, the Belgian international has both collegiate and professional experience and offers a lot of intrigue. He has played 22 games with Limberg United in Belgium/Netherlands’ first-tier BNXT League and 91 games (87 starts) in three seasons at UCSB.

Mitchell had a decorated career at UCSB. He was named Big West Freshman of the Year during the 2021-22 season and Big West Player of the Year in the 2022-23 season. He was also first-team All-Big West in 2022-23 and 2023-24 and second-team All-Big West in 2021-22. Mitchell ranks in the top 10 in career scoring at USCB despite only playing three seasons.

Statistically, Mitchell continued growing as a player and scorer from season to season while maintaining impressive efficiency. It led to his impressive junior season, where he put together one of the most efficient high-volume scoring seasons of the last ten years in CBB.

  • 2019-21 with Limberg United | 7.2 PPG 46.4/26.2/73.2 shooting splits
  • FR season at UCSB | 11.6 PPG 53.1/32.7/75.0 shooting splits with 18.6% usage
  • SO season at UCSB | 16.3 PPG 50.6/26.7/81.3 shooting splits with a 25.7% usage
  • JR season at UCSB | 20 PPG 50.4/39.4/85.8 shooting splits with a 31.1% usage

While the level of competition and talent in the Big West is not the same as in high-major conferences, Mitchell’s scoring impact was unique. Stylistically, Mitchell was a three-level scorer in his junior season, effectively scoring from all levels while being the team’s No. 1 offensive option.

  • Shooting 59.5% at the rim on 153 FGA
  • Shooting 44.2% in the mid-range on 138 FGA
  • Shooting 39.3% from three on 84 FGA

Mitchell doesn’t have supreme athleticism to attack the rim, but he uses his body control and effectively plays off two feet. Using his soft touch around the paint and mid-range to get difficult shots to fall. Mixing his patience and touch offers a sense of unpredictability when attacking downhill, something we have seen work for NBA stars like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Brunson, and even Anthony Edwards.

While those are lofty comparisons for Mitchell, being deceptive and controlled is a sought-after trait in young players. By showcasing the ability to get downhill effectively, Mitchell sets up counters, frequently drawing fouls and attempting 8 free throws per game.

While the defenses and rim protection in the Big West and the subpar non-conference teams that UCSB faced, the downhill ability should be the staple part of Mitchell’s scoring. His floater game and ability to not force shots into players larger than him should translate well.

While the inside-the-arc scoring is impressive, Mitchell’s development of his three-point shooting stands out the most. Over Mitchell’s first two seasons at UCSB, he shot a below-average 36/124 (29%) from three. However, he improved to 33/84 (39.3) as a junior last year.

Mitchell’s three-point shooting is much of the reason why he holds a late-first to early second-round prospect tag. It has propelled him into a better prospect standing, but there are concerns about his junior season being significantly better than his first two seasons at UCSB.

The three-point shooting will ultimately determine how far he can get in the NBA. If he continues to improve his three-point shooting or at least stays around league average, it will only positively affect the other facets of his offensive game.

However, Mitchell made 80% of his three-point shots off assists, implying that he attempted many off the catch or maybe off one or two dribbles. While this showcases that Mitchell can be more effective away from the ball as a shooter, he still needs to develop his pull-up shooting and three-point shot creation.

Still, he’ll answer every question if he continues to show that he is a capable three-point shooter.

Offensive fit tends to be tricky for the score-first combo-guard archetype, especially when there are three-point shooting concerns. Jaylen Nowell was a recent example for the Wolves, struggling to find consistent playing time and now unable to find an NBA roster spot.

Mitchell will also need to continue to flash his on-ball ability by being a ball mover and connecting player to be more of a complete team player. Something he is capable of but something we did not see a ton at UCSB because of his role. Mitchell will not be a primary initiator or table setter. Therefore, his feel for the game and overall passing touch, which he showcased through multiple possession types, will be an important portion of his game that he needs to translate to the NBA.

For example, Mitchell must prove his ability to make the read on a drive-and-kick or find the big man on the roll. These are traits that can be seen in more optimal circumstances, though. Going from a 16-15 Big West team to being surrounded by NBA talent will give Mitchell more space to work with and teammates to finish possessions.

Given his usage, it was important statistically that Mitchell had a relatively low TO% of 15.6% and a positive AST/TO ratio. His overall spatial awareness should also help him in this department because, given his athletic limitations, his ability to read defenders effectively will be vital.

The offensive fit and scoring ability would be the leading reasons for Mitchell’s fit with the Wolves. He will be 22 during his rookie season, offering the Wolves another option to draft a potential instant-impact player to fill the back end of their rotation with picks 27 and 37.

While shooting will ultimately decide his ceiling, Mitchell’s driving ability, passing feel, size, and skill should give him a great chance to crack the rotation early in his NBA career. The Timberwolves have done their due diligence with multiple draft workouts; it is now only a matter of time to see if they will call his name next week.

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