Like any other sport, it’s not always about landing the biggest fish to make a massive splash. The best teams always find the pieces that fit the overall puzzle and that’s exactly what Davion Mintz’s arrival in Lexington can bring for Kentucky heading into the 2020-21 season.
Mintz, a three-year player at Creighton with 79 career starts, missed the entirety of the 2019-20 season due to a high ankle sprain suffered in the latter portion of the preseason, leading to him using a medical redshirt to preserve his senior season. In late December, right before the turn of the new year, it was made public knowledge that Mintz would be sitting the rest of the season and would continue to practice on the Bluejay scout team.
Creighton finished this past season as the No. 7 team in the nation at 24-7 (right in front of No. 8 Kentucky) and with a healthy Mintz, would’ve possibly been a top-5 team entering conference tournament week before the COVID-19 chaos ended the season abruptly.
On Friday, the former three-star guard from Huntersville, North Carolina announced he would officially be transferring to Kentucky for his senior season, following in the steps of Reid Travis and Nate Sestina as senior transfers looking for that exclamation point on their college careers.
“I chose Kentucky because I believe it gave me the biggest platform to demonstrate my skill set, to lead with and without the ball in my hands,” Mintz told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello after becoming the newest Wildcat.
“I want to use my playing experience there to help have an immediate impact on winning games, enjoying a winning culture. I believe that Coach Cal and his leadership puts me in the best position to have an opportunity to play at the next level.”
With Ashton Hagans deciding to enter the 2020 NBA Draft along with Tyrese Maxey, that leaves just Immanuel Quickley from the three-headed backcourt and for now, it appears he, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards will all follow Hagans and Maxey into the draft. Another mass exodus for a John Calipari-coached rotation leads to an opening for one of the more underrated players in the Big East during his last couple of seasons.
Kentucky has a six-man class, which, barring any changes, will likely be the No. 1 overall class in college basketball next season. The problem for Kentucky, even with another fantastic class, there’s no real floor general on their roster, especially if Quickley does what he’s expected to do and leaves. That’s where Mintz enters the fray.
Davion Mintz in three seasons at Creighton
- 97 games (79 starts), 21.2 minutes, 6.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists per game with a slash line of 40.8/35/73.7 percent.
- .523 TS%, .477 eFG%, .394 3PAr, 18.4 USG% and a box plus-minus slash line of 0.5/1.8/2.3 in those 97 games, including 4.8 total win shares during his three seasons.
Overall, Mintz’s numbers aren’t impressive, but his junior season saw a rise in not only his minutes (started all 35 games, played 1,011 total minutes), but saw him average just a shade under 10 points per game, along with three rebounds and three assists per game. His role fluctuated each year. He was more of a ball-handling initiator during his sophomore season, but played a lot more off the ball during his junior year.
On top of that, not only did he score in double figures in almost a quarter of his 97 total games (24), he emerged as Creighton’s best perimeter defender during his final healthy season, not shying away from tough assignments in the Big East like former All-American Markus Howard. His numbers won’t wow you, but he’s a capable shooter with a knack for his defense and comes with three years under his belt. That’s not something you can say about most point guards at Kentucky under Calipari.
Mintz will be an offensive upgrade as a shooter (and is a willing passer)
The last Kentucky point guard to shoot over 30 percent from 3 — that actually took more than two triples per game unlike Shai Gilgeous Alexander in ‘17-18 — was Tyler Ulis in the 2015-16 season. Ulis shot 34.4 percent from 3 on 160 total attempts during his SEC Player of the year campaign.
Mintz cashed home 71 of his 203 total 3-point attempts in his three seasons for a respectable 35 percent. Creighton’s offense, one of the nation’s better offenses the last couple of seasons, is predicated on generating good looks from the perimeter. The Bluejays shot 37.8 percent from 3 during Mintz’s junior season, while Mintz shot around his average of 35 at 34.7 percent on 3.5 attempts per game.
Mintz won’t be surrounded with great shooting like he was in Omaha, but if he needs to go get his own shot on occasion, he’s not shy of looking for his own jumper and can make them at a more frequent clip than the recent point guards of the past for Kentucky.
During his junior season, Bluejays coach Greg McDermott took the ball out of Mintz’s hands more and put it in 2020 draft entrant Ty-Shon Alexander’s hands more. That allowed Mintz to play off the ball much more than the previous two seasons, leading to more catch-and-shoot opportunities for him on the perimeter.
Like the modern-day NBA offenses, the corner 3 is a crucial part of Creighton’s offensive attack and Mintz will have his chances to knock those down with potentially deadly scorers like BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke in the fold and looking for driving lanes.
A great possession from Mintz ends in him being rewarded with an open corner 3. He attacks the mismatch well on the drive, kicks to the wing and then fades back to the corner to set his feet. Big shot with Marquette on a 9-2 run just outside the U4. pic.twitter.com/lhvorYNpgU— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) April 10, 2020
Kentucky won’t be short of offensive options even if all five of the ‘19-20 starters leave, which is why having a guy with point guard experience like Mintz has can be vital to how far the Cats can go in 2020-21.
Not only is Mintz a capable shooter, he’s a reliable hand with the ball in his hands. His minutes increased from 21.1 to 28.9 per game from his sophomore to junior seasons and even though his turnovers increased (1.1 to 2.2 from ‘17-18 to ‘18-19), his last turnover count was 1.2 less per game than Hagans’ 3.4 of this past season.
When you watch some of Creighton’s action, you can see flashes of where Mintz can fit, like here against Georgetown for example from his junior season.
This is basically a Spain clearout lob with Mintz picking up an easy assist off the dribble handoff, baseline curl with a pindown screen on the high left block and a screen flash with a roll from the big fella. Kentucky killed Vanderbilt in particular twice last season late in the game with Spain actions involving Hagans, Quickley and Richards.
The pieces may change, but with a steady presence at the point, the results probably won’t.
I pictured this two-man game off an opponent’s miss with Mintz and KBJ for Kentucky and I like it. pic.twitter.com/bIUjGXBTJ7— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) April 11, 2020
Against Georgetown, Mintz brings the ball up the floor and as usual, Creighton gets into the offense quickly, along with a ball reversal, a side screen and then a two-man game with Mintz and Toby Hegner that results in a corner 3 for Mintz.
Instead of Hegner, picture Keion Brooks Jr. as the 4 on the floor running this with Mintz in the place of Immanuel Quickley as the corner specialist. Simple execution and good basketball IQ can help a young team like the Cats will be next season.
Defensively, he’s not Hagans, but his work rate will draw comparisons
Ashton Hagans departs Lexington as a two-time member of the SEC’s All-Defense Team, the 2018-19 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the national defensive player of the year this past season. He’s arguably the best defender at the point guard position that Calipari has coached in Lexington. In my own personal opinion, he holds that title.
Mintz isn’t on that elite level as a perimeter defender, but when you put Creighton games of old on, he stands out and that’s a good thing for Kentucky.
One sequence in particular should show you the kind of effort Mintz gives on the defensive end and it came in one of Creighton’s matchups during Mintz’s sophomore season against the Villanova team that won the national title.
With Creighton trailing by four down the stretch of this overtime win for them at home, former national player of the year Jalen Brunson drove down the lane right past two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khyri Thomas. On the drive, Mintz rotated down into the lane off his man to help stone Brunson and then flew back out to close out on Donte DiVincenzo, the Final Four’s most outstanding player that season, while almost causing a turnover at the same time.
His closeout attempt almost gave DiVincenzo a driving lane, but the quick pressure almost forced him to dribble the ball out of bounds, too. If you compare this to some of the closeout attempts Kentucky’s guards have made in the last couple of seasons, you’ll take this effort.
Mintz also made one of the better defensive plays of the game on a Phil Booth drive attempt that led to a transition 3 for Creighton.
I’ll have more on Mintz over the weekend with some writing, but this was probably my favorite sequence involving him from this game: pic.twitter.com/v0qMSKSCP8— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) April 11, 2020
Even in games where it felt like he was getting cooked — for example, the 53-point game Markus Howard had against Creighton two seasons ago — he still found ways to contribute. In Howard’s big game, 31 of his 53 were scored on Mintz on 13 total attempts with Mintz as his primary defender, while shooting 10-of-14 overall from 3 alone.
Offensively, Mintz had his best shooting game of the season, scoring 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting with five triples on eight total attempts.
It’s hard to fault a guy when he’s defending like this and Howard still continued to make shots:
Are you kidding me? If I’m Mintz at this point, I just throw my hands up at McDermott and shrug.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) April 10, 2020
This is also the second time in the game where Howard hit a 3, Mintz answered and then Howard hit another. pic.twitter.com/pYlEILIYYA
Not only did Mintz contest all 13 of those shots, he forced Howard into four of his game-high nine turnovers.
Good talk from Mintz to obviously make the switch and he forces another Howard turnover. (He’s also prepared to guard in his stance. It’s a little thing, but I like it.) pic.twitter.com/XjU8x4R6k3— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) April 10, 2020
One thing that Mintz doesn’t lack is fight. He plays hard, especially on the defensive end. You can see the change in his intensity when he’s guarding in a stance or in the thick of madness at the end of tightly-contested game like the ‘Nova game was.
Not only does he almost come away with a steal on current Phoenix Suns wing Mikal Bridges, he battles for the missed shot and somehow knocks the ball right to Thomas, who could’ve put the Bluejays up three with two makes at the line.
This sequence before overtime came was nuts. Mintz found himself right in the thick of it all, too. He’s not short on effort. pic.twitter.com/81S7dFZDNH— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) April 11, 2020
The excitement level isn’t as high as John Wall or De’Aaron Fox’s arrival in Lexington to play point guard, but with Mintz, you get a steady, experienced head that the coaching staff feels can succeed as a bit smaller of a fish in a big pond. That’s a win in itself already.