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Backcourt reunion: what Justin Simon and Donovan Mitchell could learn from each other

There could be a two-way benefit between the St. John’s guard and the star NBA rookie.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-St. John’s vs Xavier Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, redshirt junior guard Justin Simon worked out with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. Just two NBA-level athletes getting after it in the long days before their respective seasons/ training camps start.

Simon and Mitchell played in the same Brewster Academy backcourt and graduated in the same 2015 class. That fall, Simon attended University of Arizona and Mitchell attended the University of Louisville.

After two years playing for the UofL Cardinals, Mitchell became the steal of the 2017 NBA draft, and Simon finished sitting out his transfer year at St. John’s.

While their careers took them to different geographic regions at this point in their careers, both are very talented. And we took a moment to consider what the former high school teammates could learn from each other (feel free to add more things in the comments).

Comfort shooting the three

Simon was one of the most efficient three-point shooters on St. John’s last year, as he led the team in three-point field goal percentage at a rate of almost 42%.

However, Simon took only 1.1 three-point attempts per game last season, ranking 7th on the team, tied with forward Tariq Owens.

In contrast, Mitchell lead the Utah Jazz in three-point attempts last year with 7 per game, albeit at a lower success rate (34%). He has a far quicker release and was more comfortable taking the deep shot.

While it would be expected for Simon’s three-point shooting percentage to decrease if he increases his attempts per game, it would likely be beneficial for the Red Storm to show more of an outside threat, so long as his shooting percentage stays above or matches Mitchell’s three-point shooting percentage from last season. For Simon’s pro future as a guard, looking more comfortable shooting from the outside is a must.

Sharing the basketball

The knock on Mitchell coming out of Louisville was that he lacked instinct as a passer, perhaps not an uncommon knock for Louisville guards.

Mitchell averaged 3.7 assists to 2.7 turnovers in his rookie campaign. Even in his last season at Louisville, Mitchell only averaged 2.7 assists to 1.6 turnovers per game.

Mitchell’s assist numbers in his last two season suggest he could benefit from some time with Simon.

Simon, alternatively, led St. John’s in assists last season with 167, and over five assists per game, good for 5th and 2nd in the Big East, respectively. Simon racked up these assist numbers while only turning the ball over just under 3 times a game.

With all the scorers on St. John’s roster next year, we will hopefully get to see Simon’s continued growth as a passer. He has good vision and aggressive ideas — though some of those get him in position to turn the ball over.

Defensive excellence

Despite both Simon and Mitchell’s strengths and weaknesses offensively, both excel at the defensive end of the floor.

Of those that played more than 5 minutes, Simon led the Red Storm in Defensive Rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) at 96.2.

Simon also averaged 2.5 steals, which led the team, and 2.7 personal fouls per game last year.

Mitchell also produced on defense last season for the Jazz. While Mitchell did not produce a high steals-or-blocks to fouls ratio, Mitchell did have a Defensive Rating of 105. To contextualize that rating, the NBA leader in Defensive Rating was Detroit Piston’s Andre Drummond at 99, and a Defensive rating of 103.9 or better would have put Mitchell in the NBA top 20 in the category.

Simon could certainly learn tips from Mitchell, who defends some of the world’s best and smartest athletes on a game-to-game basis.


Both athletes have room to improve in their offensive games. While the NBA and the Big East are vastly different in terms of talent level, both high-level athletes brought something to the workout to make it more than simply a high school reunion.

What do you think the two could learn practicing against each other?