The NBA’s Rising Stars on Social


Donovan Mitchell is a shoo-in to win or finish as runner-up for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. He was drafted to a Utah Jazz team with relatively low expectations and proceeded to lead them to a five-seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Off the court, he has shared almost 600 posts on Instagram and Twitter since the season tipped off.


U T A H?

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

Mitchell is a case study for the role of social media in the modern era of athlete marketing. Relying strictly on accolades is no longer an option for athletes aiming to build their brand beyond the lines of their sport. This season, Mitchell showed us that athletes can perform on the court while providing fans with social channels that mimic the quality and activity of a major publisher or media company.

Mitchell added more than 830 thousand followers during the 2017-18 regular season.

The Utah rookie’s approach worked like a charm. His on-court performance and standout social strategy helped him build his audience by more than 830 thousand followers on Twitter and Instagram in under six months.


Posts Per Day


Social Follower Growth (1st in NBA)


Instagram Engagement Rate (2nd in NBA)

opendorse measured activity, engagement, audience, and growth to find the league’s rising stars on Instagram and Twitter.

Mitchell killed it, but he’s one of many NBA players actively using social to build their brand. Measuring the same success metrics that defined Mitchell’s rise — activity, engagement, audience, and growth — we found the NBA’s best brand builders on Instagram and Twitter from the 2017-18 regular season.


Joel Embiid remains King of NBA Instagram. His consistent activity, high-quality visual content, and unbelievable amounts of thrown shade allow “The Process” to maintain incredible growth and engagement levels for a user with over two million followers.


Tough loss #TheProcess

A post shared by Joel “The Process” Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Following Embiid is Mitchell, whose engagement and growth are unmatched on Instagram. Robert Covington makes the list with one of the NBA’s highest engagement rates and a rapidly growing audience. Tristan Thompson and Jimmy Butler both continue to grow and engage their already impressive audiences.


With daily posting habits, 306% follower growth, and a top ten engagement rate among all NBA players, Mitchell led the way for regular season performance on Twitter. Beyond the metrics, His GIF-game is All-NBA-level strong.

Mitchell isn’t alone in rookie excellence on the platform. Fellow first-year players Kyle Kuzma and Jayson Tatum joined him as they built their brands from collegiate success to NBA stardom.

Gordon Hayward experienced significant growth upon joining the Boston Celtics and, after losing his season to injury, spent the following months sharing glimpses into his rehab alongside athlete-driven partners like The Players’ Tribune.

Finally, what NBA social media list would be complete without Joel Embiid? The big man led the Sixers to the playoffs and continues to be the toast of NBA Twitter. Whether he’s welcoming teammates back to the court or joking about an injury, Embiid is a savant at bridging the intersection of sports and social media culture.

As the playoffs tip off tomorrow, opendorse will be here to share the athlete-driven highlights along the way. Follow @opendorse to stay up-to-date through each round.

Related Content

The State of Sponsored Social

Get the full breakdown on 36,000 branded Instagram posts published on behalf of more than 3,200 sponsors in sports