You can be forgiven if you don’t know much about Akil Mitchell other than the fact that he is a forward who plays for Virginia. In his first two years in the ACC, Mitchell was a role player backing up and complementing a veteran frontcourt stacked with the likes of Mike Scott and Assane Sene. He played 22 MPG last year and averaged 4.1 PPG and 4.4 RPG. Those are decent numbers and all improvements over an even smaller role in his freshman year. However, with the departure of star player Scott, Mitchell has stepped into the limelight and performed magnificently. In 28 MPG this season, the 6’8″ forward is averaging 13.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG with a pair of assists and a steal a game thrown in for good measure. This is a remarkable improvement and currently Mitchell sits at fourth in the ACC in rebounds per game while he is just outside of the top 10 in scoring average. What makes this achievement all the more impressive is the tempo at which Virginia plays.
As in recent years, Virginia plays at a mind-numbingly slow pace. There are only four teams in Division I that play slower than the Cavaliers, and Tony Bennett‘s team is clearly the tortoise of the conference. So what? This means that Mitchell’s per game production actually underrates how good the forward has been for his team. He’s a top five player in the conference in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage as well as a top five player in offensive efficiency for players who use at least 24% of their team’s possessions. This isn’t an issue of a player who just needed more minutes or a more featured role: Mitchell took a big leap this year, improving in all of his tempo-free metrics even as he took on more responsibility for the offense.