Tag Archives: Player Breakdown

My Favorite “Breakout/Sleeper” Candidates (Returning to College)

Last season’s returning college class was great.  There were four upperclassmen taken in the top ten and six taken in the lottery.   Players like Ja Morant, De’Andre Hunter, Jarrett Culver exceeded expectations but were still projected to be potential lottery picks even before the college season started.  Even players like Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and PJ Washington had lottery buzz before the season started.  This years crop of players returning to college as of now is looking pretty…meh.  When looking at NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s 2020 NBA mock draft there are no returning players mocked in the top ten.  Heck, the first college returnee on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft is Tre Jones at 16 and there’s five in total mocked in the first round.  This year’s incoming freshmen/international class is deep in terms of quality NBA starting talent.  There isn’t a generational talent like Zion Williamson but there’s plenty of rotational players with upside. The closest thing to a sure fire number one pick would be Cole Anthony but as of now that’s something that will need to play itself out during the season.

Typically speaking, are all of these highly touted freshmen/international prospects going to have as good of a season as most are expecting?  No.  There are overhyped freshmen every season that fall out of favor when it comes to talent evaluation or physical ability.  Players like Bol Bol, Trevon Duval, Skal Labissiere, Louis King, Luguentz Dort and much more know this fact all too well.  That means either some lower graded freshmen/international player will have a surprisingly good season or a returning upperclassmen has an unexpected breakout season; enough so to launch themselves in serious draft consideration.  

The list of players that I’m about to talk about aren’t the college returnee favorites like Tre Jones, Tyrese Haliburton, Charles Bassey, Jalen Smith, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson or Ayo Dosunmu that are listed highly on NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s mock draft.  I wanted to identify my personal favorite “breakout/sleeper” candidates for the upcoming 2020 season, ones that I’m most looking forward to watch.  Even though I have these players listed under “breakout/sleeper” that doesn’t mean they aren’t on people’s draft radar already.  It just means players who aren’t being heavily considered on current popular mock draft boards (NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com) that have the potential by seasons end to boost their draft stock significantly: 

 

Obi Toppin, 6’9, PF/C, (RS)SO, Dayton, 21.4 years

(ESPN.com: 43, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It’s tough putting Obi Toppin on this list since he’s mocked 43rd on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft.  I guess since I consider Toppin the best returning bigman (only because Killian Tillie never stays healthy) and would mock him in the first round.  He’s also pretty old for a player who only played one season of division one basketball.  I don’t even know if he’s going to have a proper “breakout” season since the offensive system at Dayton doesn’t exactly highlight his skills.  The Dayton offense looks to be a Princeton styled offense which has Toppin cutting most of the time.  Personally I’d like to see him more as a ball screener in a spread offense, whether that be pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.  His screen setting ability does need to improve since he tends to avoid contact and dive early.  He does have great timing on his dives to the rim but hardly ever did I see him delay his roll and break open extra passing lanes.  Still, his length, athleticism, soft hands, touch around the rim and one foot leaping ability help with his overall rim-running prowess.  Toppin actually has a solid intermediate game displaying movement two point jumpers now and again.  I would like to see his decision making improve when being the release value but he still can make plays with his respectable feel for the game.  I would also like to see Toppin spot up more.  He rarely shot from distance and when he did showed capable rhythm and touch.  I want to see him attack closeouts and display his dribble drive game more often next season.  With the offense that’s being run at Dayton I don’t know if Toppin will get that opportunity but on the rare occasion of him doing those actions he looks more than adequate.

On defense Toppin showed his positional versatility being able to bang down low with burly bigs and stay in front of jitterbug guards.  He still needs to gain more muscle if he wants to consistently go toe-to-toe with NBA frontline players.  But his ability to play on the balls off his feet, his lateral quickness, end-to-end speed and length help when defending multiple positions.  For the most part he’s a solid team and on-ball defender.  Nothing special but won’t beat himself. At times he has bit on fakes and lost position but made up for it with great recovery speed.  He’s the type of player who will thrive chasing down blocks.  I would like to see him fight at the rebounds apex more often.  I don’t know if that’s to prevent an injury but sometimes he seems too grounded.  I think he’s being somewhat undervalued due to the offense ran at Dayton and personally have a first round grade for him.  Until Killian Tillie shows me he can stay healthy the best returning bigman is Toppin.

 

Keyontae Johnson, 6’5, SF/PF, SO, Florida, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Keyontae Johnson really is an undersized power forward.  Heck, I think he can play some small-ball center as well.  Even though he’s listed at 6’5 he weighs 225 pounds, has wide shoulders, strong bulky frame, ample butt, lengthy arms and large hands.  He also apparently measured his vertical at 41” but even without that recording his explosion on tape shouldn’t be up for debate.  That explosion and his intuitive ability to track down rebounds helped Johnson post 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, 9.4% offensive rebounding percentage and 16% total rebounding percentage.  His defense was the first thing that I took note of.  He’s definitely a better on-ball defender compared to a team defender.  It’s not like he’a a bad team defender, it’s just that more times then I would’ve liked Johnson was a split second late on his assignments.  Sometimes he’s too locked in on the ball and has to quicken his recognition on back end rotations.  He can cover ground at a fast pace so as long as he aligns his head with his movement Johnson should become a more than suitable team defender.  But his on-ball defense and switchability really stood out. Johnson has a big, muscular frame and is still quick at the same time.  He has decently fluid hips and does a good job staying attached even when he gets beat.  He can be taken to the post by bigger forwards and do an admirable job holding his ground.

On offense Johnson is pretty limited.  He’s more of a straight line driver with little wiggle and finishes most of his drives with jump stops.  He has an average first step but is still able to draw fouls at a fair clip.  Johnson does a good job playing the game low so when he’s able to get a beat on his defender does a good job creating distance with his shoulders and chest and finishing around the bucket.  He has a good feel for off-ball cutting and does most of his damage around the basket.  His jump shot probably needs more extension on his set/release point to raise his follow through.  He did manage to catch-and-shoot at an average clip but anything off the dribble needs to improve.  He’s more of a ball mover on offense but at times has made some nice passes with anticipation.  Johnson probably doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning upperclassmen and really maxes out around high level role player. With a quality freshman class and the transfer of Kerry Blackshear the Florida Gators should be a lot more talented this year compared with last season.  That should only boost Johnson’s role on the team and could be someone by seasons end with more hype.

 

Aaron Henry, 6’6, SF, SO, Michigan State, 20 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ As the season went along last year Henry got better and better.  He ended up starting and contributing for a team that went to the final four.  Henry plays the game with such balance and has a good center of gravity it helps him move about the court with as little wasted motion as possible.  He is a sound defender that plays well on-ball and team defense.  His low defensive stance helps defend 1 through 4 and his communication skills help him process the game.  Having a strong defensive anchor supports his upside as a total package defender.  There is still room for improvement as he can float on defense, ball watch and commit silly fouls.  He was a freshmen under Tom Izzo last year and Izzo doesn’t give much rope.  I mean during Jaren Jackson’s freshman season he barely cracked 20 minutes per game at the end of the season.  Henry should be able to afford more leeway his sophomore season.

Henry impressed me the more I watched him on offense.  I thought he was just going to be a straight line driver and floor spacer but I was pleasantly surprised by his skill set.  For starters his dribble drive game is more diverse than I expected with variations of pivots, jabs, step offs and pump fakes.  He can use this array of set ups while attacking closeouts.  He can finish with touch, hit runners and make jumpers on the move.  Even with all that said Henry is still pretty limited as a live-ball creator but has shown these flashes of skill which is a good place to start from.  He’s not really quick twitch in the lane and is still developing counter dribble drive moves.  His passing is pretty underrated making some pin-point passes right before the play breaks open.  His overall sharp IQ should help in aiding his developmental process.  Henry will be getting a greater opportunity to showcase his skills this season and has a chance to make the sophomore leap. 

 

Nate Hinton, 6’5, SG/SF, SO, Houston, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ I really like Hinton.  The guy is just a good basketball player on both sides of the ball.  His handle in comparison to the other wings on my list (Johnson and Henry) is probably the furthest along in his progression.  He can actually grab-and-go defensive rebounds and jump start the offense.  He has a serviceable go-to live-ball move with a right-to-left push cross, has decent stop and go moves with balance and can accelerate/decelerate in the lane.  This could be a reason why he gets to the line at a good clip with a 32% free throw rate.  With that said he still doesn’t have the most advanced handle and still needs more counters, shiftiness plus more rim attacks.  Also, his first step seems to be pretty average but his solid control and stability help him with downhill speed.  But the bottom line is that his handle and live-ball skills are further along when compared with his peers and gives him a head start with his maturation.  Additionally, he’s growing his off the bounce pull-up game and can make tough movement two point field goals.  That will help enhance his overall scoring ability.  He also has some appeal as a playmaker even though it sparsely happens displaying passes on the move, out of the pick-and-roll and one hand passes cross court.  It kind of feels like a skill laying dormant and could be a huge x-factor in his development.  Maybe he never showcases his passing capability but from what I’ve seen there’s potential gains.

He should improve upon his 33.7% three point shooting percentage this season.  Mechanically speaking he does dip the ball down pretty low at times but has a quick trigger with his follow through.  Developing core strength and getting stronger in general should help with power and accuracy which should improve his shot.  His 85.7% free throw percentage is a fair indicator of potential shooing success in the future as well.  On defense Hinton plays with energy and hustle.  He’s a hard nose defender using his brawn and leverage to body up his man.  Off-ball he can get his assignments mixed up occasionally but overall has a manageable IQ plugging up the gaps and shrinking the court.  It also helps that he has good timing in the passing lanes and creates events on defense.  Overall Hinton has two-way wing ability.  His role should expand with Houston and so to should his draft stock.  

 

Paul Reed, 6’9, SF/PF, JR, Depaul, 20.3 years

(ESPN.com: 51, NBAdraft.net: 36)

~ It’s funny.  Out of Toppin, Johnson, Henry, Hinton, Reed and Pickett, Reed is probably the player I favor the least but is still mocked on both ESPN.com and NBAdraft.net.  Go figure.  I debated even having Reed on my list since there’s nothing “sleeper” about him at this point in time.  I’ve been a fan of Reed for a while and think he has major upside nevertheless.  So to keep in theme of upperclassmen that I favor for next season Reed would have to be on that list.  The very first thing that stood out about Reed is his long limbed profile.  His height, length and athletic ability really does fit well with the modern NBA.  Depending on how his skill set develops he could play small forward all the way up to center.  He does have to get stronger if he wants to absorb the heavy blows at the next level however.  I personally would’ve liked to see Reed involved more as the screener in pick-and-roll’s since he can be a devastating dive man and can function better with more space popping out from a ball screen.  He can drive in a straight line and spin back to the basket in the lane.  Most of his live-ball moves are pretty sluggish.  I mean, he does have a crossover but it’s pretty slow.  He has good overall touch, solid leaping power, body control exploding off one foot which makes for efficient finishing.  He didn’t shoot that many three’s but has a high release point along with solid touch gives Reed sufficient room to improve.  He’s more of an extra pass type of player but has made drive-and-kick passes on occasion.  Although he can be a black hole on offense and get tunnel vision.  He needs to do a better job taking advantage of his scoring ability and create for others.

Reed is a mixed bag on defense.  You see his potential and upside as he can traverse through large swaths of ground at a brisk pace.  He displays great creation skills and sports solid block and steal percentages (2.3%steal, 6.8%block).  But the guy just has poor fundamentals.  He can’t flip his hips on defense which hurts defending at the point of attack.  He plays back on his heels too often and needs to play on his toes for better mobility.  He commits careless fouls which can be highly frustrating.  He goes for the ball instead of staying sound with his responsibility which ends up knocking himself out of position.  He has underwhelming recognition skills on defense.  He can make the initial rotation but struggles to cycle through multiple rotations.  Reed is by no means a terrible defender but just infuriating to watch someone with such defensive upside be prone to that lack of detail.  He has the baseline ability and tools to become a lottery pick but until he establishes better habits his future might restricted.         

 

Jalen Pickett, 6’4, PG/SG, SO, Siena, 19.8 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It feels like most people following the NBA draft knows Pickett by now and the term “breakout/sleeper” really doesn’t apply to him.  I just think there’s a very good chance by season’s end Pickett will have first round draft consideration.  I had to put him on my list especially since Pickett isn’t mocked by either ESPN.com or NBAdraft.net.  Does this mean I like Pickett more than other returning guards like Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson and Ayo Dosunmu?  Well, yea.  You can make the argument that those four other point guards have better first steps, better athletic ability and higher ceilings.  But they all have their question marks as well. Lawson is taller but I don’t trust his touch, Hagans and Dosunmu have quick first step’s but need to be a better shot makers and Jones can’t shoot threes.  I guess I favor Pickett more because of offensive versatility.  I think Pickett has more potential to become a Fred VanVleet type combo guard in the NBA in comparison to the others.  Pickett can set firm screens, move well without the ball, make tough movement shots, catch-and-shoot and make good decisions attacking closeouts.  

Pickett might not have a swift first step and top notch athletic ability but is a good leverage scorer using his butt, base, shoulders and footwork to create scoring angles.  He then takes these scoring advantages and uses them to support his ability to create for others.  He does need to tighten his handle as it can be high at times and he needs to finish with his left hand more often.  His long distance shot has a high release point but has a slight hitch in my opinion.  As long as he buffs that out then I think he can raise his three point percentage especially considering he has solid touch and a good unassisted make rate.  His mid-major competition level might be covering up some of his defensive capacity since Pickett doesn’t have explosive athletic ability.  He gets by defending with his strength, broad shoulders, long arms, functional movement and processing speed which helps create on defense.  Those traits will have to carryover at the next level if he wants to be a plus defender. Pickett doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning guards but his game could translate better to an ever growing versatile league.  

 

DEEP SLEEPER 

Kessler Edwards, 6’8, PF/C, SO, Pepperdine, 19 years

(Not even close to being mocked anywhere)

~ He’s probably more likely to be a four year player than a second year breakout candidate.  Still, even after his senior season at college I don’t know how credible an NBA prospect he will be then.  He’s definitely a long shot to make the NBA.  But after watching some games from his freshman season there is a slight chance he becomes draft relevant.  For starters his physical profile is the most NBA ready quality about him.  He’s long, with good explosion and closing speed.  He can also cover ground in a hurry.  His overreliance on his athleticism to make plays is a problem though and he needs to develop better functional speed.  On defense his hand eye coordination is probably his best trait.  Add that to his long arms and he creates defensive events at a solid rate.  His defensive footwork is sloppy, his IQ is maybe average and he needs to be more focused off ball.  With that said he did show pick-and-roll versatility, doing an admirable job switching, hedging and recovering, and downing the roll.  That skill alone is in demand around the league and could be what propels his career.

On offense Edwards was mainly a spot up shooter.  He has a low set/release point but since he’s long armed and tall he gets his shot off over most defenders.  Developing core strength will be important to quicken his release over time.  Probably the next best thing he does on offense is diving off pick-and-rolls.  Being a great rim-runner makes sense with his athleticism, length, hand eye coordination, leaping power and touch around the basket.  He doesn’t really have a handle, mostly will attack a closeout with a 1-2 plant and release.  But his overall shot creation and live-dribble game is pretty much non-existent at this point.  I admit this is a long shot but it’s fun following prospects throughout their college career.

 

Honorable Mention

Anthony Lamb, 6’6, SF/PF, SR, Vermont, 21.6 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Good leverage scorer; dips shoulder into defender, strong base and smooth footwork to create scoring angles.  Promising long distance shooting traits that should help translate to the NBA.  I’d say he’s an average NBA athlete with a strong frame and board shoulders.  Nice touch around the rim, gets to the line at a fairly high clip and makes tough movement two point jumpers.  Average to above average IQ on defense.  Needs to improve processing speed if he wants to consistently defend at the next level.  Overall by years end could be regarded as a second round prospect.  He’s more of an undersized power forward and his role in the NBA could be bench/rotational scorer.

 

Devin Vassell, 6’6, SG/SF, SO, Florida State, 19 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Vassell didn’t play that much this season, only played in short spurts.  Has a long limbed frame that needs to fill out over time but solid NBA athleticism.  He was mostly a catch-and-shoot three point shooter on offense for Florida State but shot well from deep overall.  Most everything about his game seems at least average: vision, team defense, on-ball defense, finishing and handle.  His shot creation and off the bounce game are probably his bigger question marks.  Overall he looks like a potential 3-and-D wing in the NBA.

 

Quintin Dove, 6’8, SF/PF, SR, UT-Martin, 21.2 years

(Not even close to being mocked)

~ He’s another long shot to make the league like Kessler Edwards.  He transferred from a community college last season so he only has one year division one under his belt.  He’s a questionable defender, extremely foul prone and needs to tighten up his decision making.  So yea, long shot.  I guess what intrigued me about Dove was his physical profile, offensive rebounding, active hands on defense, he’s really good around the rim, actually has somewhat of a straight line handle, got to the free throw line at a good rate, shot 81% from the line, made some difficult shots and his jump shot looks to be translatable to the next level even though he hardly shoots any threes.  He really has to pop on defense, foul less and shoot more threes to get on any draft radar.     

2019 NBA Draft Reactions

I’m going to go through certain drafts that standout to me for good or bad reasons:

 

Atlanta Hawks: De’Andre Hunter (4), Cam Reddish (10), Bruno Fernando (34)

~ Would’ve it been better to keep the 8th, 10th, 17th and 35th picks in the draft compared with the 4th and 10th?  Yes, in terms of value the Hawks definitely could’ve done better.  I still like what the Hawks did though when it comes to system fit.  I had Hunter ranked 7th, Reddish ranked 14th and Fernando ranked 31st on my big board.  Ever since General Manager Travis Schlenk took over the Hawks they’ve had a concise plan with a blueprint to follow.  Whether it will work is a different discussion but the overall competence Schlenk has displayed is impressive.  Hunter and Reddish project well as 3-and-D switchable wings with Reddish possessing more upside with Fernando projecting to be an athletic rim-running big man that has room to grow on defense.  The upside of a unit that includes Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Bruno Fernando, Omari Spellmen and John Collins will be a super fun story line to watch next season.

 

Brooklyn Nets: Nicolas Claxton (31), Jaylen Hands (56)

~ I had Claxton ranked 13th on my big board and didn’t even contemplate ranking Hands.  The Nets might look drastically different next season and the fit between Claxton and Jarrett Allen is interesting.  Nevertheless, Claxton selected at 31 is one of my favorite value picks in the draft.  The defensive upside he brings alone makes the pick worthwhile and there is untapped, raw offensive potential just waiting to be developed.  I think the Nets have shown they can develop raw talent well.

 

Boston Celtics: Romeo Langford (14), Grant Williams (22), Carsen Edwards (33), Tremont Waters (51)

~ I had Langford ranked 12th, Williams ranked 11h and Edwards ranked 38th.  Clearly, I really like this draft for Boston even though there were still some players left on the board at 14 that I rather have over Langford.  The Celtics have a ton of options this summer so it’s too early to tell what exact roles these rookies will have.  Langford gives them another big switchable wing, Williams gives them a skilled big and Edwards could be their backup scoring guard.  With Al Horford and Kyrie Irving leaving, the Celtics ended up finding solid young replacements that fit the bill.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland (5), Dylan Windler (26), Kevin Porter jr (30)

~ I had Garland ranked 9th, Windler ranked 24th and Porter jr ranked 10th on my big board, so I obviously should love this draft for Cleveland, right?  I get what the Cavs are trying to do.  They are a team in total rebuild mode so just getting as much talent in the door as possible is priority number one.  The issue turns into a question of fit.  Does Garland, Sexton, Windler and Porter jr fit?  What system will they run?  Who will be the primary ball handler?  In terms of talent and value I should love this draft but I just don’t see a blueprint.  The Hawks are following a blueprint in their rebuild.  The Grizzlies are following a blueprint in their rebuild.  Whether or not it works isn’t the question, it’s the fact that plans and strategies tend to mitigate mistakes.  I just don’t see a plan with the Cavs.  Now that doesn’t mean it won’t work, like I said in terms of talent and value the Cavs did a great job.  I’m just curious how they’re going to put this together.

 

Dallas Mavericks: Josh Reaves (Undrafted)

~  The Mavericks didn’t have any picks but still did a good job.  Reaves is my 26th ranked prospect.  I thought he might go undrafted since he wasn’t on many media sites mock drafts.  I like his fit with the Mavs.  A 3-and-D wing that plays off of Luka Doncic and can playmake in a pinch.  I think Reaves has practical fit on the Mavs as a solid rotational piece.

 

Denver Nuggets: Bol Bol (44)

~ This was interesting.  I didn’t have Bol Bol ranked in my top 40 due to medical concerns.  I’m just a guy that watches a lot of basketball, I don’t have inside sources.  So when I saw Bol Bol fall I guess I turned out to be right, the league must have the same concerns or he’s medically red flagged.  Denver doesn’t exactly need Bol Bol.  They have Nikola Jokic and Micheal Porter jr has their frontcourt but the potential to get a player with lottery talent this late in the draft is too hard to pass up.  It’s a good gamble by Denver.

 

Golden State Warriors: Jordan Poole (28), Alen Smailagic (39), Eric Paschal (41), Dedric Lawson (Undrafted)

~ I had Jordan Poole ranked 36th on my big board and I thought I ranked him too high.  Most media sites didn’t have Poole ranked that high so I thought I was overrating him.  As it turns out the Warriors apparently overrated him too.  I don’t hate the pick but I just would’ve drafted other players like Kevin Porter jr, Keldon Johnson and Nic Claxton.  He’s still a great deep range shooter, very quick and has touch around the rim.  I just don’t get why they aren’t addressing a two-way big wing that can replace Iggy as he retires.  Is that supposed to be Poole?  Jacob Evans who they drafted last season?  Then they get three more players, all of whom are frontcourt players.  I’m assuming that means Kevon Looney is gone?  Smailagic has potential as a skilled big but I question his mobility.  Paschal could end up being a nice fit next to Draymond but at that point in the draft why not go for Bol Bol?  Ever since Travis Schlenk left to go to Atlanta in 2017 I’ve started to double guess the Warriors draft moves more often.

 

Houston Rockets: Shamorie Ponds (Undrafted)

~ Again, another team with no draft picks but I still come away loving what they did.  The Rockets had one of the better undrafted rookies last season with Gary Clark and they look to duplicate that success with Ponds.  Ponds was ranked 30th on my big board and I was pretty surprised he didn’t get drafted.  Ponds is someone who can create his own shot, play on or off-ball and can playmake in Mike D’Antoni’s system.  He might not have excellent size but he’s very skilled with a solid IQ.

 

Los Angeles Lakers: Talen Horton-Tucker (46)

~ The Lakers who didn’t have any picks to start the night ended up trading back into the second round.  I had Talen Horton-Tucker ranked 16th on my big board, so this draft pick gets a thumbs up by me.  The only thing I question is potential fit issues.  He isn’t a shooter and the Lakers are in desperate need of shooters.  Still, Horton-Tucker is one of the youngest players in the draft, has good touch around the rim and has a decent IQ.  I guess he fell due to conditioning concerns?  That was one of my worries when I wrote up his overview but thought that with better diet and an NBA training staff he could work himself into better shape.  Maybe it has something to do with his body type and teams were concerned he’d never be in shape.  Horton-Tucker still can create his own shot, has good feel for the game and has solid fundamentals on defense.  I’m iffy on the fit with Lebron and Anthony Davis but still like the value and his upside due to age and skill.

 

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant (2), Brandon Clarke (21)

~ Do I even need to say anything?  I had Morant ranked 3rd and Clarke ranked 6th on my big board.  The Grizzlies are now in full rebuild mode after trading Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.  The future trio of Morant, Clarke and Jarren Jackson will be one of the most interesting subplots to the NBA season.  The amount of athletic ability and frontcourt defensive prowess is remarkable for such a young group of players.  This could end up being a draft that transforms their franchise for the next decade.

 

Minnesota TimberWolves: Jarrett Culver (6), Jaylen Nowell (43), Barry Brown (Undrafted), Naz Reid (undrafted)

~ I was a big fan of the job the TimberWolves did in last years draft by selecting Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop.  They’ve definitely outdone themselves this year.  Culver was my 2nd ranked prospect. All it took was the number 11 pick and Dario Saric to get draft Culver at 6.  His offensive game will take time to develop in the league but could be a day one defensive plus player.  Nowell didn’t make my top 40 but let’s just say he was ranked 41st.  He has a good frame and athletic build and nice potential to be a tertiary playmaker.  Then Minnesota signs undrafted Barry Brown jr from Kansas State who is one of the better defenders in this draft.  To top it off the TimberWolves signed undrafted Naz Reid who I’m not a fan of but still has a ton of upside as a big man who can maybe space the court and take it off the dribble.  I really like what the TimberWolves are trying to build around Karl Anthony-Towns.

 

New Orleans: Zion Williamson (1), Jaxson Hayes (8), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17), Marcos Louzada Silva (35), Zylan Cheatham (undrafted)

~ The New Orleans Pelicans draft boils down to what did they put around Zion?  I personally have always envisioned Zion being a small ball five. That’s why I’m on the fence about Hayes.  Hayes was my 19th ranked player on my big board and he has rim-running, paint protection potential.  He actually had a good free throw percentage and touch around the rim so maybe he develops an outside shot but until that happens he mostly gets his points in the paint.  I like the thought of Hayes and Zion together defensively but wonder how will it fit on offense?  Nickeil Alexander-Walker was my 21st ranked prospect but more importantly he is a good spot up jump shooter and will be a much needed floor spacer.  With the 35th pick the Pelicans took Marcos Louzada Silva.  I don’t know much about Silva outside of his Hoop Summit performance where he looked like a potential 3-and-D wing with solid physical tools.  Cheatham was my 35th ranked prospect and to get him as an undrafted rookie is good value.  He projects to be a backup swing big.  Only time will time how well the Pelicans do supporting Zion.  As of now I don’t hate what they did but don’t love it either.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Darius Bazley (23), Luguentz Dort (Undrafted)

~ Bazley was my 5th ranked prospect on my big board which should tell you all that is needed to know.  I’m clearly much higher on Bazley than most draft sites and the Thunder share my sentiment.  As long as Bazley becomes a respectable three point shooter then the fit with Russell Westbrook and Paul Gergoe will work.  I’m not the biggest Dort fan either but to sign him undrafted is terrific value. Dort and Bazley both fit the mold of Thunder players: long and athletic.  I think Bazley in the right environment could be one of the steals in this draft.

 

Orlando Magic: Chuma Okeke (16), DaQuan Jeffries (undrafted)

~ This one is weird for me.  I had Okeke ranked 17th and Jeffries ranked 23rd on my big board.  I clearly like both players but I just don’t know if I would’ve drafted Okeke this high especially with the players that were still left on the board.  I get that the Magic didn’t have another draft pick until 46 and he might not have been available.  It’s just that all I heard pre-draft was Okeke projected to be an early to middle second round pick.  There could’ve been a chance he was still on the board when the Magic picked next at 46.  With that said, I really like the player.  He has to be redshirted for a season but when healthy has 1st round upside.  If Okeke ends up playing well and becoming a starting caliber player than this pick looks terrific.  At the end of the day if you like someone then go get him and that’s what Orlando did with Okeke.  I think the Magic got great value with Jeffries.  He is projected to become a 3-and-D swing forward and a nice complementary piece.  My biggest cause for concern is that the Magic don’t have the best track record in terms of player development and they already have a decent amount of long wings in their pipeline.  My worry is Okeke and Jeffries deal with a logjam and don’t develop properly.  I like the draft by Orlando in terms of talent but I’m apprehensive about the player development situation.  What the Magic do in free agency and how they mold their roster will matter heavily.  

 

Portland Trail Blazers: Nassir Little (25), Jaylen Hoard (Undrafted)

~ I had Little ranked as my 15th best prospect.  I still have my reservations when it comes to Little developing into a positive on-court impact player but the value and fit are amazing.  Portland does not have many ways to upgrade their roster due to salary cap implications.  They were in need of upgrading their wing position with limited options.  What so happens to fall in their lap?  A potentially two-way big wing scorer who will be on a cost-controlled contract for the next four seasons.  Little might take a while to develop and might not be on the same timeline as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum but this just made way too much sense for Portland.  

 

San Antonio Spurs: Luka Samanic (19), Keldon Johnson (29), Quinndary Weatherspoon (49)

~ Keldon Johnson was my 20th ranked prospect and Quinndary Weatherspoon was ranked 33rd on my big board.  I don’t know much about Samanic outside of the NBA combine but he did look to have some big man floor spacing ability with mobility.  I can see the upside with that pick.  I think Johnson has 3-and-D starting wing potential and Weatherspoon has backup scoring guard potential.  The Spurs have an interesting young nucleus of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans, Jakob Poeltl, Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson and Quinndary Weatherspoon.  The Spurs are one of the best when mining and developing talent and this draft could be a continuation of that success.

 

 

Scouting Report: RJ Barrett (Rank 8, Tier 3)

Scouting Report:

RJ Barrett (Rank 8, Tier 3)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

6’7/6’10 wingspan/202 pounds/19 years/FR

I guess I have some explaining to do.  Typically every year there’s at least one overhyped prospect and my choice this draft is RJ Barrett.  I understand that he might not have been in the best situation at Duke since they didn’t have much shooting so let’s just focus on the facts.  Barrett shot 30.8% from three, 66.5% from the free throw line and excluding post-ups 52.2% around the basket.  He wasn’t a particularly good off-ball player posting a .952 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot chances which ranked 41st percentile, .689 points per possession on “off-screen” situations which ranked 22nd percentile and .949 points per possession on all “cut” plays which ranked 24th percentile.  So he wasn’t a good shooter, has questionable touch and can’t do much off ball?  Basically he better be the primary creator on whatever team he goes to because if not I question what role he’s going to play.  I guess either people are just hoping for substantial improvement or they really think the Duke situation was that bad.

So let’s go over the tape.  One of Barrett’s skills are his playmaking ability.  He uses his height to look over the defense and toss skip, pocket and over the top passes around the floor.  He’s pretty solid at the two-man game between ball handler and roll man.  Though I wouldn’t call him a primary ball handler but more of a tertiary ball handler due to his average feel and problems with misdiagnosing plays.  He’s decent at live-dribble but he’s not really a shifty ball handler.  He can use euro steps, cross steps and behind the back dribble drive moves but make no mistake Barrett is a power driver. He has long, strong strides on his drive and can dip his shoulder into the defender to dislodge for space.  His hips aren’t that fluid and he tends to straight line drive in the paint with his left hand.  A lot of times on layups he would switch the ball from right to left hand while midair wasting motion in this manner.  I guess he doesn’t trust his right hand all that much yet but that will be a problem if not remedied.

On defense he’s a decent on-ball defender, a questionable team defender and below average at defensive creation.  He’s best when on-ball locked in, sitting down in his stance and remaining balanced. He’s listed at 6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan and a good not great athlete.  That physical profile helps him well defending dribble drive moves. Although at times his positioning and footwork would be off giving Barrett a tough time to adjust on the fly.  He can make initial rotations weak side and help defense but struggles to process the next move.  He’s slow to identify his man off a scramble, will lazily fly by for closeouts at times and get lost looking for his matchup while defending early offense.  He has average instincts on defense and isn’t much for creating events.  He averaged 1.5 blocks+steals per 40 minutes.  Not impressive numbers for an NBA wing.

One of the reasons why I like Jarrett Culver so much is growth potential.  If you look at his high school senior season, freshman season and this past season he grew exponentially.  If you look at Barrett since the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2017 how much has he grown since then?  He’s pretty much the same player while Culver was the 43rd ranked shooting guard in ESPN’s 2017 class and now he’s a possible top five pick.  I just think this is who Barrett is. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but I just think at pick three you want more growth potential.  I mean he’s still in my top 10 so it’s not like I’m going overboard with criticism…I think.

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech and Hoop-Math*

Scouting Report: Darius Bazley (Rank 5, Tier 2)

Scouting Report:

Darius Bazley (Rank 5, Tier 2)

6’9/7’ wingspan/209 pounds/19 years

~ Sometimes you have to put your name on a couple prospects.  Especially in a draft as uncertain as this one there seems to be a few potential gems hidden outside the lottery.  That’s where Darius Bazley steps in for me.  He was the 13th ranked player coming out of high school by ESPN and decided to skip college and play in the g-league.  For whatever reason, he changed his mind about entering the g-league and planned to work on his body and skills leading up to the draft.  I obviously didn’t know much about him until I saw his performance at the NBA combine 5-on-5 scrimmages portion.  What really impressed me was the fact that he was 19 years old, hasn’t played organized basketball in over a year going up against a bunch of players who were 19-23 years old who just played college basketball 2-3 months prior and became one of the standouts nonetheless.

He stands in at 6’9 with a 7’ wingspan and an impressive 8’11 standing reach.  He also proved to be a bouncy athlete with a 37 inch max vertical and quick change-of-direction potential sporting a 2.95 shuttle run which was sixth best.  The thing that got me to start taking Bazley more seriously was his handle.  He had a pretty low, tight and in control handle with combo dribble drive moves.  He took players off the bounce with either a pump fake or decently quick first step.  He made turnaround two point jumpers, one dribble pull-ups and and-1 buckets.  He was quick off his feet for offensive putbacks, reverse layups and one-legged lay-ins.  His passing ability took me by surprise too.  It wasn’t all good with some forced passes and misguided transition throw aheads but he did make some standout plays.  One of them being an off-the-dribble behind-the-back pass to Ignas Brazdekis and the other being an off-the-bounce drop off pass to the man at the dunker spot.  When I watched some of his high school tape he showed pretty solid passing skills, it’s the instincts that need to improve.

His left-handed long distance shot looked workable.  I watched some of his high school games at Princeton (OH) and his mechanics have definitely improved since.  In high school they were really slow, his elbow had inconsistent arrangements and the shot came out at an angle.  His shot at the combine was quicker, his elbow placement was much smoother and the shot was actually lined up with the basket.  Obviously he still needs to tinker with his mechanics but making progress at this young of an age is a positive indication of shooting success.

He was a decidedly better on-ball defender than team defender.  At times he missed rotations, misread angles and lost his man.  His ability to cover ground in a timely fashion does give Bazley upside as a developing team defender and considering this was his first organized game in over a year it’s tough to judge but questioning his feel for the game is an inevitable concern.  On the other hand he was defending smaller, quicker players well, had a solid time playing different pick-and-roll coverages and was able to defend in the post. His long lanky legs gave him a big base to work with and his wide shoulders shoulders should fill out over time.  Add that to his length and athleticism and we’re talking about a potentially versatile swing forward on defense.  There was one play where he pressed the ball handler on a side pick-and-roll, the ball handler threw a pocket pass to the screener slipping, Bazley recovered well, picked up the screener at the free throw line and contested a post attempt for a miss.  That one play alone showed why I think he has tremendous upside on defense.

The transition to the NBA will take time.  His last taste of organized basketball was a year ago in a high school gym.  It’s probably going to take him at least a season or two to acclimate to pro speed.  On a few instances during the combine it looked like he was averse to the physical nature of the game.  Gaining strength and bulking up will be very important for Bazley.  He did just turn 19 years old.  As long as the franchise who drafts him is patient then they could reap major benefits.  Is ranking Bazley at five too high?  Probably.  But with so much skepticism towards this draft a player who is long, active with quick feet, has a budding shot, solid handle and passing skills…well, that sounds like a player to take a risk on.

Scouting Report: Darius Garland (Rank 9, Tier 3)

Scouting Report:

Darius Garland (Rank 9, Tier 3)

6’3/6’5 Wingspan/175 pounds/19.4 years/FR

 

Darius Garland tore his left meniscus five games into his freshman season.  That was unfortunate since he was on a roll offensively through four games.  It’s frustrating to grade him with the lack of game tape.  At times I think he’s a top five talent due to his shooting skills but other times I question his defense and wonder what role will he have on a championship caliber team.  He’s listed as 6’3 with a 6’5 wingspan and weighs in at 175 pounds.  A meniscus tear isn’t an athleticism altering injury but if Garland’s frame can’t mange NBA punishment that’s a long term problem.  Just like with most smaller stature players, Garland will need to add strength and bulk up.  Since he’s super agile and fast with solid quick twitch reactions he will need to be careful with paint drives and laying out his body on finishes.  Smaller players bodies tend to break down fast in the NBA and hopefully whoever drafts Garland will properly monitor his conditioning.

The main reason why he’s ranked number nine on my big board even though he’s only played four games has to deal with his shooting.  Unlike Ja Morant and Coby White, Garland has a more capable translatable shot.  His mechanics are the most natural out of the three guards; nice quick motion, power comes from the lower body and hips, loads up off his toes, set point has variances but seems high enough and solid touch.  He shot 47.8% from three and 1.441 points per possession on all jump shots which ranked 99th percentile albeit on a small sample size.  He was deadly off the dribble shooting 56.2% on his two point jumpers.  He can step back off either foot, sharp pull up, side step and pull back with nimble shake to his rhythm.  He can use change-of-pace dribble moves to influence defenders habits and dictate which angle to exploit.  His abrupt stop-and-go movements off the bounce and combo dribble drives moves help create separation for himself.  He also can use his shooting gravity off-ball, cut off screen and make movement three pointers.  That’s something I want to see more of in the NBA.

Entering the paint is one of Garland’s pluses but his finishing ability needs some improving.  He isn’t terrible around the rim sporting a 60% field goal percentage but the physical nature of the middle modifies his timing and power around the rim.  It felt like he would short arm some lay in’s and mostly jump off two feet around the hoop not trusting his body control on one legged leaps.  I also think he’s a better playmaker than he gets credit for.  He had a 13 assist to 15 turnover ratio and sported .647 points per possession on passes out of the pick-and-roll which ranked 9th percentile.  He clearly looks for his shot first, has tunnel vision and can’t identify the simple pass in a timely fashion.  The numbers don’t support his playmaking ability and the tape doesn’t either but in spurts I’ve seen good creation.  A lot of that has to deal with keeping his head up, trusting his teammates and not over dribbling.  Sometimes he will pick up his dribble too early if he sees a second man come his way.  Continuing his dribble and prolonging the play will also help in terms of playmaking.

His defense is somewhat concerning.  Obviously his frame doesn’t do him any favors, his on-ball defense waivers even though he has lateral quickness and his team defense is still a question mark.  I sometimes wonder how much of a difference there is between Garland and Carsen Edwards due to the fact they have similar builds and offensive styles.  Ja Morant is an elite play maker and Coby White is 6’5 with some play making ability.  On the other hand if Garland can’t playmake at the next level why is he ranked so much higher than Carsen Edwards who he compares well with?  That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with and I always fall back to dribbling ability and lateral movement.  I also can’t get the 2018 NBA combine scrimmages out of my head when it comes to Carsen Edwards.  He didn’t play well in a simulated NBA environment and became a motive for him to return for his junior season.  I trust Garland to be that much better of a shooter, scorer than Edwards as well.  Still it’s a valid question and part of my concern with Garland’s value.

 

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech and Hoop-Math *

Scouting Report: Coby White (Rank 4, Tier 2)

Scouting Report:

Coby White (Rank 4, Tier 2)

6’5/6’5 wingspan/191 pounds/19.3 years/FR

 

Coby White is one of my biggest movers on this ranking.  A lot of that has to do with his scoring prowess.  For this draft class Coby has top level scoring instincts, can shoot threes in a variety of ways and is an improving play maker.  Being long, athletic with a good frame is great for potential but if you can’t dribble, shoot and create for yourself then that potential’s value is cut in half.  Even though Coby is listed at 6’5 he doesn’t have that big of a frame.  His shoulders are pretty slight with average size hands and a build that might not fill out.  The hope is that over time he will develop strength albeit with a slender frame.  His physical advantage is speed and quickness.  Coby might even be faster than Ja Morant but doesn’t have the vertical explosion to match.

Coby might not be an above the rim player but has craft and touch in his arsenal.  He shot 67% on all his attempts around the rim and only 17.9% of those were assisted.  He can change hands mid air on lay up attempts, go up-and-under for stealthy finishes and put soft english on the ball to fit over longer players.  He’s a decently versatile leaper around the rim with same foot, same hand lay in’s but tends to jump off two feet around rim.  I think as soon as he gains longer body strength he should use one footed leaps around the rim more frequently.  He has a quick first step with speed down hill with a multitude of hang dribbles, push crossovers, behind the back moves and hezi jimbos.  His sudden stop-and-go movements get defenders leaning and his blazing speed gets himself into the lane.  When he gets into the lane he likes to use a left-to-right spin move for separation and uses his momentum wisely to carry his body in space creating angles whether that be on step-backs or fallaways.  Unfortunately his handle can be too high, leaving the ball out in front exposed for deflections.  He needs better control and a steadier center of gravity.  Moving side to side can be an issue as well as White can be loose with his dribble.  As I said earlier, the hope is that additional core strength will improve control.

White is a score first guard that needs to see the court better but can make plays off the pick-and-roll since the game is slowed down.  Possessions that include passes off the pick-and-roll, White sported a 1.407 points per possession which ranked 97th percentile.  When he gets sped up White doesn’t see the court as well as he could but with a ball screen he does a good job looking for cutters and weak side action with one handed skip passes on occasion.  He can turn the corner off a hedge even with a dribble that’s high but what’s most impressive are his splits through doubles or hedges.  That was probably one of the first things I noticed about White, his ability to split pick-and-roll coverage’s.  That’s such a useful move to get the offense a 5-on-4 advantage on his way to the rim.  Although when he did split the coverage when he pulled up off the dribble White sported a .629 points per possession which ranked 27th percentile. Having better shot selection, more strength and body control should help with his off dribble game.

Just like with Ja Morant, White has a lower release point.  White had an inconsistent release point though and at times it was as low as his chin and as high as over his head.  Having a fluid set point definitely quickens your shooting mechanics but unless you get the ball high enough on the follow through and develop core strength then the shot may be prone to contests.  Luckily for White he does a good job of step backs, pull ups and momentum altering shots that create space to get the shot off.  He also sported a 1.339 points per possession on catch-and-shoot situations which ranked 93rd percentile.  Even in a limited fashion at North Carolina White displayed good instincts off-ball.  He set good cross and up screens plus pin-downs using his shooting gravity at times to distort the angles of the court.  He was more active off-ball than Morant and it’s something that I think is underrated when talked about Coby White.

White also tried on defense unlike Morant did this past season.  Coby isn’t the biggest, strongest or most vertically explosive player but he gave multiple efforts, fought over screens and used his quickness to his advantage.  Yes, when he did get caught up in a screen it took him time to recover but remarkably White did a solid job whipping his inside foot over screen setters to get skinny over screens.  He would then stay attached to the ball handler and hustle even if he was behind some.  White was actually a decent team defender collapsing middle on drives, walling off weak side attacks and cutting off drives at the nail then recovering back to his own.  Sometimes after making the initial rotation Coby would get stuck in the muck and at times he missed his sink-and-fill assignments but overall Coby was an above average team defender.  His quickness allowed him to stay in front of players but at times he over gambled and lost position.  Playing on his toes more, working on his lower body and strengthening his butt would help in terms of on-ball defense.

The importance of creating a shot for yourself can’t be understated.  It’s obviously important to have other skills and a baseline of NBA athletic ability but during the playoffs players who can’t dribble, shoot and create buckets for themselves are impossible to play.  White got better as the season went on and considering we’re talking about ACC play that was highly impressive.  I don’t know if White will ever be a starting point guard on a title team but can he be a highly productive rotational piece on a title team?  I think so.

 

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech and Hoop-Math*

 

 

Maxi Kelber: Another Post About A Role Player

You might be thinking to yourself, “What the heck are you doing Old Man?  The Warriors are imploding, Jimmy Butler was traded to the Sixers, Lebron has been awesome leading the Lakers and teams like Boston, Houston and Utah are having disappointing seasons.  With all this going on in the NBA today why the heck are you writing about Maxi Kelber?  Who’s Maxi Kelber and why in the world is he worth my time.”  All valid questions.  Let me explain myself.  It all started when I began watching Mavs games this season.  Like most basketball fans I wanted to see whether Luka Doncic was the real deal or not.  News Flash: Luka is the real deal.  But with every Mavs game I watched there would be this other player that kept standing out.  He was long, active and seemed to be in the right spots always.  In the early going I dismissed this player and was fixated on Doncic. Stringing together some well played games early in the season isn’t going to grab my attention just yet.  However game after game I was continually impressed by this random player I knew little about.  

It wasn’t until the 11th game I was getting the feeling this was becoming a trend.  So I decided to check his on/off court efficiency numbers.  Even though these numbers are imperfect they would give me some sort of context regarding his on-court play.  And sure enough he lead the team with a +5.5 on-court while the team was a -9.9 with him off the court.  That’s a +15.4 swing whens he’s on and off the court.  The bench in general has better on/off court numbers compared to the starters but Kelber was still +4.1 over the next Mavs player on/off court efficiency (JJ Barea was next with an +11.3 swing).  As of me writing this article before the Mavs next game Wednesday versus the Rockets Kelber is currently a +12.2 while on-court and a -5.1 off-court.  That’s a freaking +17.3 swing when Kelber plays and doesn’t play.  This won’t last forever.  A lot of that success has to do with JJ Barea and Dwight Powell having good seasons off the bench too.  Probably even after the Rockets game those numbers will decrease significantly.  But we’re 18 games into the season and this doesn’t feel like a fluke even though his on/off court numbers will eventually regress to the mean.

Maxi Kelber is averaging 6.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game on 45.1% from the floor, 32.1% from three on 18.6 minutes per game.  Kebler is 6’11 with his last known wingspan measurement being 6’11 in 2012.  This is his second season in the NBA from Germany, is 26 years old, plays PF/C and went undrafted.  Kelber isn’t going to be an all-star player, that’s not what I’m getting at.  Heck Kelbers floor is out of the league next year.  Instead what I’m trying to imply is his usefulness as an utility player.  He is becoming a glue guy that every title contender needs to bond together star players talents.  I also like acknowledging good role players like Maxi Kelber and Gary Clark because their contributions tend to be minimized by the mainstream.  Considering Kelber has been amazing at doing the little things this season I wanted to put into words my appreciation for the player he is becoming.

I’ll start with the weaker of his game: offense.  For starters his handle is almost non-existent.  His live-ball skills revolve around looking to pass it off immediately.  He might take a dibble or two to give himself a little room to operate and if given space on the perimeter Kelber will attack the rim in a straight line at times.  When he does pick up his dribble Kelber can get into trouble if the defender pressures him causing a turnover in the process.  His passing skills aren’t anything special either and he’s more of a ball mover.    Every now and then Kelber will make a good read for an assist but usually after he passes the ball off the offense tends to reset itself.  Kelber has minimal post skills for a big-man utilizing over the shoulder or fade-away moves mostly.  If the shot-clock is running down or Kelber has a smaller player on his hip then he’ll take it to the post.

His screen setting game is pretty good.  He rarely pick and rolls to the rim since a good portion of his playing time is with Dwight Powell and Powell is the more athletic rim-runner.  Kelber will instead set good off-ball screens whether that be seals, pin-downs or flare screens (Kelber is #42): 

On offense Kelber is mostly used for his floor spacing ability: 

Even though he is only shooting 32% from three Kelber has a smooth looking jump shot with a high release point: 

Kelber does need to quicken up his mechanics somewhat as that could be an issue behind his inconsistency from deep.  Kelber might not dive off of screens much.  That role is reserved for Powell on the Mavs.  But the Mavs make good use of his shooting ability and stretch the court horizontally with his pick-and-pop game: 

The Mavs telecast announcers, Mark Followill, Derek Harper and Jeff Wade, routinely talk about how much work Kelber put into the off-season working on his jump shot.  Kelber understands if he wants to stick in the league he’ll have to be consistent from three. He seems to be making incremental improvements from deep and in turn opposing defenses have given Kelber more respect from long distance giving the Mavs better floor balance.  Lastly on offense Kelber has a pretty solid IQ off-ball attacking rebounds in the air, angling up or down with the ball, relocating out of the paint when a pick-and-roll occurs and making well timed cuts for safety valve passes: 

Kelber has a lot to improve on offense that’s very clear.  Even his strength of shooting needs to be developed.  As of now the threat of his stretch ability as a big-man and high IQ gives Kelber enough offensive value to be passable on-court.  But overall his defense was the primary reason why I decided to write this post.  I started watching Mavs games for Luka but came away impressed by Kelbers defensive prowess.  Kelber currently sports a +1.52 defensive real plus/minus which ranks 19th among power forwards.  It’s hard to tell just by looking at Kelbers physical profile but deceptively Kelber is a plus athlete surprising players on switches and recovery contests. Look at how Kelber deals with cross matches on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jae Crowder and Terry Rozier: 

Kelber does a good job sitting in his stance, sliding his feet, keeping his core balanced and contesting from behind.  Kelber fits in with modern day “bigs” defending pick-and-rolls with versatility. Whether it be switching, showing or dropping, Kelber has the athleticism, size and fundamentals to maintain all pick-and-roll coverages.  Kelber also does a nice job straddling between ball-handler and roll-man on pick-and-roll “drop” coverages: 

He uses his sneaky good and well timed hops to blow up lob passes or runners defending downhill actions.  Kelber also uses his deceptive athleticism in the post defending quicker “bigs” like Al Horford: 

Kelber doesn’t lose his discipline on Horford’s fakes, stays low and forces Horford into a tough fade-away that’s well contested.  As an on-ball, point of attack defender Kelber is more than adequate in that regard but still can be susceptible to counter dribble moves by crafty ball handlers.  Another skill that Kelber seems to possess is verticality.  Whether it be in transition or on a cross-match Kelber does a solid job going straight up-and-down and not giving the refs a reason to blow the whistle: 

Kelber might be at his best on help side defense.  Just like on offense Kelber has a high defensive IQ that he uses to snuff out rim-runs: 

To protect the paint: 

And to rotate weak side: 

Overall Kelber has the team defense skills that is a must for any big-man in today’s NBA.  Kelber does a good job tagging cutters, stunt-and-recovering, bumping the roll-man while doing it physically enough and yet not commit a foul.  On the other hand Kelber isn’t perfect on defense and sometimes will ball watch, over help and misdiagnose pick-and-roll coverages with a teammate.  But if we’re to deconstruct Kelbers game then by far his most advanced aspect is defense.

Even after writing this whole article you still may think this wasn’t worth my time.  And that may be true as I’ve stated earlier Kelber could be out of the league next year if things don’t work out for him this season.  However currently as we speak that’s not the case. The Mavs player development system is working in full force with players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kelber.  So the Mavs early season success is definitely a full team effort.  I’m not trying to make the case Kelber is the sole reason why the Mavs are playing so well.  The Mavs have a strong bench, a young star in the making and one of the best coaches in the league.  What the overarching point of this post was deals with Kelber and his value.

Kelber will be a restricted free agent this summer and to rebuilding teams he might not carry as much value compared with contending teams.  Presently Kelber is making only the veterans minimum and probably won’t make that much more on the open market due to lack of production.  So to some random contender out their looking for a bargain value contract like PJ Tucker, don’t look no further. Kelber could be a cheap, affordable contract for any cash strung contender and out play the worth of his contract.  If I were Houston, LA Lakers, Golden State, Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto or Milwaukee then I’d try to undersell the value of Kelber to the Mavs, steal him now, and obtain his restricted free agency this upcoming summer.  There’s little risk involved with Kelber and if he doesn’t pan out the cost to acquire him was minimal.  Kelbers role player ability could be what unlocks a new exciting lineup for one of these contenders and maybe another step towards title relevancy.

       

Season In Review: Jontay Porter

Jontay Porter,  Missouri,  Freshmen

PF/C,  6’11.5”,  7’0.25” wingspan

9’1” standing reach,  236 pounds,  18.8 years old

 

After last season Jontay Porter decided to enter the NBA draft and participate in the draft combine.  He ended up withdrawing his name from the 2018 NBA draft and returning to Missouri for his sophomore season.  During the pre-draft process many NBA draft websites had Porter as a first round selection, some even lottery bound.  Now that he’s projected to enter the 2019 NBA draft these same websites have Porter as a lottery selection in what amounts to a potentially weak draft.  I really didn’t watch Missouri games last season except for the Michael Porter games, so my level of Jontay Porter knowledge is novice like.  With so many draft websites that I respect having Porter as a 2019 lottery pick I decided to go over as much game tape as possible, breakdown Porters abilities and determine if he really warrants a lottery selection next draft:

 

Jontay Porter has good not great length for a center standing at 6’11.5” but with a 7’.025” wingspan.  His 9’1” standing reach could be his most important physical attribute since it helps him cover ground best in comparison to his lackluster athleticism.  Porter has a 13.85% body fat percentage worst at the 2018 combine.  Porter was out of shape as a freshmen and is partial reasoning as to why he didn’t play more minutes.  Draymond Green serves as a good example of a frontcourt player who suffered from weight issues and redefined his body at the pro level.  Reportedly Green lost about 20 pounds from his rookie to sophomore season with the Warriors (Link).  Green was also a senior when he came out of college and Porter will be a sophomore giving more time for Porter to make enhancements to his diet and exercise.  

Porter is going to need to be in better shape at the next level if he wants to make up for his lack of recovery speed.  Porter was in last place at the 2018 combine when he ran a 3.40 three quarter sprint. Testing his foot speed Porter ran the eighth worst lane agility test at 11.90 seconds.  Porter did score well at the shuttle run so he does have solid body control and change of direction.  To cap off his below average athleticism Porter had the worst max vertical with 31”.  Porter is subpar when it comes down to lower body explosion, back foot burst and lateral movement.  Porter is another candidate for functional athleticism versus actual athleticism.  Clearly not every great basketball player was a great athlete.  Testing well at the combine versus game speed aren’t mutually exclusive abilities.  However the danger lies in the fact that the position of center is increasingly becoming harder to play if you lack actual athleticism.

Even though I have Porter listed as “PF/C” it would be in his best interest if he played center at the next level.  As a center shooting is becoming more relevant in today’s NBA and Porter looks to become apart of the growing trend.  He shot 36.4% from three, 75% from the free throw line and posted a 1.153 PPP (points per possession) at all half court jump shots which ranks 88th percentile.  His shooting mechanics for a bigman are very encouraging; shoots lefty, feet are tilted on the load and sways on the follow thru to generate power, doesn’t strain shoulders for distance, dip is pretty quick around the stomach area at times, inconsistent set point and follow thru.  Sometimes the set point will be below the eye and the next it will be above the eye, needs to find a repeatable spot.  His follow thru is either an extended upwards release or a short choppy wrist motion. As soon as he finds harmony on those motions Porter should become an even more reliable shooter.  

He doesn’t have a face-up game or can create for others off live dribble yet.  His handle is actually solid for a man his size using crossovers and spin moves off the bounce but he doesn’t bend the defender with his live dribble.  61.7% of his shot attempts came from spot-up, post-up or roll-man type actions.  He’s a good screen setter that doesn’t shy away from contact.  Tends to pick-and-pop mostly, rarely dives.  Out of 66 roll-man shot attempts he finished on a dive only 9 times.  Since he doesn’t have lower body explosion, a quick second jump or a large catch radius he becomes more planted on his roll attempts.  He has to use his timing and manipulate the gaps between the ball handler to his advantage if he wants to become a good roll-man at the next level.

If he has a mismatch on a roll or switch he will instantly get the smaller player on his hip, seal the player and take them down to the block for post entries.  When in the post he uses over the shoulder flick shots, hook shots, dropsteps and fadeaways but can become too left hand dependent at times.  He uses pivots and pump-fakes to create separation in the post sporting a 1.114 PPP on all post-up attempts.  But he’s not very good around the basket (not including post-ups) sporting a .911 PPP which ranks 18th percentile. The problem I’ve noticed is that he will scrunch his shoulders, narrow his body and act smaller then what he actually is due to overusing pump-fakes.  He doesn’t have much lift or a quick jump so he tries to get his man off his feet first before he goes up.  He definitely needs to get stronger, use his shoulders and the rim as his protection.

His specialty on offense is by far his passing and high IQ.  He uses his basketball IQ at passing from all angles on the court and will make incredible one handed pocket passes in transition.  When in the post he will read the double or dig and kick it to the next man on the swing.  He reads the weak side tag-man so well and kicks it to the opposite corner as soon as he notices the defender motion middle. He’s great at high to low post feeds and hardly ever catch-and-holds the ball; is a willing ball mover.  He also uses his IQ reading a defenders actions; cuts to the rim as soon as his defender turns his head or slips the screen on a switch.  Porter is also a great rebounder attacking the ball mid-air.  He may not have the hops but times his jump and fights for position before the opposition gets set.  He is a hustle player that produces second chances.  Porter is the kind of player that even though he didn’t grab the rebound himself his attack of the glass or box-out will lead to one of his teammates getting the board.

Even though we have established that Porter is a below average athlete he was a plus defender his freshman season.  He still has his defensive flaws like not being able to contain penetration, lacks lateral movement on switches, can be too grounded at times and isn’t versatile at pick-and-roll coverage; overuses drop coverages.  Those are definite question marks when talked about at the next level.  But there still is a lot to like.  For starters his communication is amazing being able to point out actions, direct players on rotations and sniff out any misdirection.  Porter may be prone to getting beat at the point of attack but if he can sink his hips and stay with the ball handler since he has enough change of direction ability to distort angles and contest drives at the basket.  He does a fine job staying in an athletic, low stance with good balance at all times.  Sometimes he needs to do a better job closing air space on the perimeter attacking closeouts; can be late on rotations due to lack of quick twitch movement.  He does a good job walling off drives, helping the helper and staying vertical.  He uses his great hand-eye coordination and anticipation on weak side blocks and well timed swipe downs resulting in 4.1 total steals/blocks per 40 minutes.  However he can get too handsy at times and will overextend himself on shot attempts fouling 4.8 times per 40 minutes.  His upside might be limited on defense but uses his IQ and functional athleticism to defend at a high level.

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So now that I had time to digest my breakdown do I think Jontay Porter is a projected lottery selection for this upcoming draft?  If he had come out this past draft the answer would be no.  This upcoming draft on the other hand looks to be weaker than normal.  Porter looks like a Kelly Olynyk type of player: an unathletic big who can shoot threes, pass, screen, dribble hand-off and be sound on defense.  Although I think Porter has more upside then Olynyk the fact is they are solid glue-guys and role players.  As of now the 10-20 range is probably where I have him spotted.  But there is a new crop of players coming in and random prospects always pop up out of nowhere.  This is a discussion that’s tabled for now and will be re-examined for another day.

Scouting Report: Jerome Robinson

 Jerome Robinson                                                                                                Boston College                                                                                                                 Jr.                                                                                                                                                    SG                                                                                                                                                6’5”                                                                                                                                                6’7.25” wingspan                                                                                                                  8’2” standing reach                                                                                                              188.4 pounds                                                                                                                           21.6 years old

Ever since the draft I really wanted to do a legitimate scouting report for Jerome Robinson.  He was the biggest reason why I didn’t like the Clippers draft and yet I’m a huge fan of Shai Gileous-Alexander.  I thought there were better players to draft at pick 13 and wondered if it was a wasted opportunity.  Robinson wasn’t a player I took into consideration for my top 20 prospect rankings so I didn’t do my due diligence properly and knew very little of him to begin with.  I want to do a more comprehensive breakdown so I can give a more informed guess as to what I think he could become.  As of now I think the Clippers should’ve drafted players like Miles Bridges, Lonnie Walker or Zhaire Smith over Robinson.  After this scouting report I’ll decide whether I still agree with that sentiment and how I feel about the Clippers draft now that I’ve broken down his tape some more:

 

To start off with his physical profile it may be average or even below average.  It’s never a good sign that a projected late first round or early second round pick doesn’t go through the athleticism testing portion of the NBA combine.  For instance Robinson’s agility, shuttle run and 40” vertical could’ve validated the perception around the league that he isn’t a good athlete.  But from what I’ve seen on tape he does actually have surprising hops for intended alley-oops but overall displays average at best foot speed, recovery time, burst and length.  Being an amazing athlete isn’t the end all be all for NBA success but it sure does help when you’re on an island defending top notch isolation players with no help behind you.  The way players like Robinson without a great physical profile make it through the NBA is high IQ, fundamentals and functionality.  Robinson will be a nice litmus test when comparing functional athleticism and actual athleticism.  Robinson might not perform well when it comes down to athletic testing but that doesn’t exactly mean he won’t display quality game speed at the next level. 

On offense the first thing you have to start with is his shooting.  I’m assuming that’s one of the biggest reasons why the Clippers drafted him shooting 40.9% from three his junior season and 1.066 PPP (points per possession) on all jump shots off the dribble which ranked 91st percentile.  His shot mechanics are sound for the most part; dips around the waist, dead eye set point, nice sway, with some inconsistencies involving his follow thru motion.  At times it will be an extended upwards release with a high point, other times it will have an “out” motion with more wrist action.  He did shoot 33% from three his sophomore season so being as consistent as possible with his follow thru will be key moving forward.  To step into his shot he uses the hop or 1-2 but mostly uses the 1-2; will that affect the timing of his release at next level?  He’s a well versed shooter at pull-up, off dribble, catch-and-shoot (1.186 PPP, 77th percentile) or spot-up jump shooting.  He doesn’t use his all-around shooting skill to his advantage off-ball as much as he should though.  He does a good job relocating off ball and filling the gaps for extra passing angles but doesn’t use his gravity to affect spacing whether that be off screen, cutting or being the screen setter.  When a defender lock-and-trails his off ball movement Robinson will use head fakes or hand swipes to create more distance between the two but due to his lack of strength/athleticism needs to be more concise with his footwork and actions to use his off-ball gravity to his advantage.

Robinson will utilize pump fakes the most while attacking closeouts but uses a variation of pivots, rip thrus, step-backs and pull-backs to create separation.  When Robinson drives the lane he narrows his hips and becomes more shifty then one would expect with average athleticism using hang dribbles, crossover moves, in-and-out dribbles and a behind the back handle creating shots for himself in the process.  He needs to develop more combo moves after his initial counter if he wants to get his man leaning for a beat.  He lacks a quick first step off the bounce and can be sloppy with his handle not being precise with his motion.  His handle needs to improve in transition also.  He’s more of a straight line driver when it comes to transition, when a defender walls off his fastbreak lane he struggles to side or euro step.  Would like to see him use jump stops more often.  Robinson has shown trouble dribbling versus length and athleticism but is pretty proficient with either hand helping add to his shimmy.  

As a pick-and-roll ball handler Robinson was one of the most efficient players in college basketball last season sporting a 1.041 PPP on those type of plays which ranked 94th percentile.  He did a good job reading weakside coverage looking for lobs, over-the-top and pocket passes.  Sometimes though he will keep his head down and get stuck baseline with nowhere to go forcing a mid-air jump pass back out.  On pick-and-roll drives he will pick up his dribble getting stuck in no mans land as well, needs to keep head up and continue his dribble as much as possible.  Even though he isn’t the greatest athlete Robinson can create off the bounce using his change-of-pace, change-of direction dribble moves looking for dump or drift passes.  Robinson will take some risky passes, overall he had a 1.14:1 assist-to-turnover ratio for his entire college career which isn’t amazing but solid.  Robinson needs to add more finesse to his around the basket game with more inside hand, inside foot layup attempts to get defenders off rhythm.  Adding floaters, reverse layins, finger rolls, push-shots and hook shots to is game will be paramount for finishing against NBA length.

Defensively Robinson really is a mixed bag.  He’s does a fine job reading weakside pick-and-roll coverages by bumping the roll-man and recovering to his own on time.  Although on his closeouts he needs to be more balanced with better angles taken due to his lack of quickness.  From time to time Robinson will float on defense and lose track of his man; needs to stay focused of his man off-ball.  Robinson is a little too flat footed on rebounds, doesn’t attack the ball while it’s in the air or fight for position; tends to run back more often.  Robinson might have on-ball defensive troubles at the next level.  As soon as Robinson’s hips open up guarding the dribble it’s tough for him to recover because lack of physical profile.  His ability to switch will be questioned as well.  Can he stay with quick point guards?  Can he guard bigger wings?  Can he bang with frontcourt players?  He needs to get stronger if he wants a chance at that plus fighting thru screens wasn’t a strong point of his either.  When Robinson is at his best defensively he gets his butt underneath him, arms balancing his core, not reaching and sliding his feet with anticipation.  Still, an argument can be made that out of the three seasons Robinson played at Boston College only this past year did he show he can defend at an NBA level.

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Now that I’ve had time to thoroughly breakdown Robinson’s game do I still think the Clippers should’ve drafted Miles Bridges, Zhaire Smith or Lonnie Walker?  My answer is yes.  Robinson doesn’t offer the two-way potential with switch ability and pick-and-roll coverage versatility that those other players do.  Do I still think dislike the Clippers draft?  Even though I still would’ve taken a bunch of players over Robinson, doing this scouting report makes me understand why the Clippers drafted him in the first place.  His pick-and-roll skills, ability to shoot off the dribble, passing, three point shooting and high IQ on defense makes me change my mind towards my original assessment about the Clippers draft.  I’m obviously still skeptical of the Robinson selection but there’s less doubt today than there was yesterday.

*All Stats Provided By Synergy Sports Technology*

2018 Prospect Watch: Futures/Raw (continued again)

De’Andre Hunter, SF/PF, Virginia, FR(RS)

6’7/222 pounds/7’2 wingspan/20.3 years old    

~ Get to know the name De’Andre Hunter.  He is currently the darling of the scouting community and for good reason.  At 6’7 with a 7’2 wingspan, solid jump shot and great defensive prowess he has all the makings of a modern day NBA swing forward.  When I first saw him play against West Virginia I thought he had great length and potential but for the most part was a three to four year project.  He had no consistent jumper to speak of, a rigid handle and was learning his defensive assignments.  During non-conference play Hunter only made 3 three point shots, played in 4 games of at least 20 plus minutes and scored double digits 3 times.  He was someone to keep tabs on for the rest of the season but I wasn’t expecting much from the redshirt freshmen.  What a difference three months makes.  

During conference play Hunter is shooting 47% from three and is averaging 18.9 points, 7.7 rebounds per 40 minutes.  He only averaged 22.8 minutes per game during conference play but has played 25 plus minutes five of the past eight games.  Considering Virginia is deep with good upperclassmen players there has to be more built in trust for Tony Bennett to play Hunter extended minutes.  Hunter has made so much progress from the first game of the season to now.   

His jump shot is still pretty inconsistent even for shooting 47% from three in conference play on only 1.9 attempts per game.  The mechanics on his shot need some tweaking; his set point is above his head, sometimes two ball lengths above his head, then has an “out” release flattening the arc on the ball.  The accuracy is fine but the arc isn’t consistent.  He needs to lower his set point to his forehead and have an “up” follow thru on his release.  That would put more arc on the ball and have a consistent high release point.  Overall as a catch-and-shoot player Hunter is a 1.098 PPP (points per possession) which ranks 64th percentile and a 1.00 PPP at half court jump shots which ranks 65th percentile.  Messing with shot mechanics is a dangerous game but it’s worked for Kawhi Leonard and Jayson Tatum at the next level.  Even though his three point percentage for this season is 38% and his conference percentage is 47%, his mechanics and small sample size say he needs to alter some things slightly on his jump shot.  

His ball handling is dependable but both hands could use some work to be more secure.  As an isolation player Hunter has a 1.13 PPP which ranks 87th percentile.  He can drive left or right and finish thru contact at the rim.  Shots around the basket (not including post-ups) Hunter is a 1.233 PPP which ranks 70th percentile.  He isn’t an offensive pick-and-roll player just yet and that’s something I’d like to see him develop next season.  He needs to be a sturdier screen setter, better rim-runner and more proficient pick-and-roll ball handler.  As of now he is more of a spot up jump shooter, who cuts and works out of the midrange.  He likes to use a variety of step-backs, jab-steps and pull-backs to create space when he’s operating out of the midrange.  Before he can enter the draft he needs to become a better well rounded offensive player. 

Defense was the very first thing that excited me about Hunter.  Even back in non-conference play Hunter used his length and quick feet to switch 1 thru 5, hedge hard and promptly recover and make on a string rotations.  He has blossomed as one of the better defenders in the country during conference play.  He’s done an excellent job of slowing down pro prospects like Marvin Bagley, Josh Okogie and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.  As a one-on-one defender Hunter can guard multiple positions, move his feet, get low and shut downs angles in a hurry.  He isn’t an amazing athlete like Hamidou Diallo from Kentucky but Hunter is still a very good athlete.  He will have an occasional lapse on defense, miss an assignment or miss read a pick-and-roll coverage but overall he has everything scouts look for to be a premier wing defender at the next level.    

In my opinion he needs at least one more year of school to sharpen up things defensively and to develop more pick-and-roll skills offensively.  I read columns stating that he should enter the draft this season and that’s a possibility depending on how the tournament goes for him.  It could catapult his stock into the lottery since the wing depth is poor this draft and the NBA in general.  Mikal Bridges from Villanova is an example I always go back to.  He was a redshirt freshman himself, developed more skills the next two seasons and now is a possible lottery pick this draft.  Hunter is further along than Bridges was but the same theory applies.  Next years draft is looking pretty weak and if Hunter rounds out his game than I wouldn’t see why he can’t be a lottery pick next year.  Keep an eye on De’Andre Hunter come march madness, the rest of the scouting community will be too.  

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology *