Dancing With Noah

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Category Archives: memphis

Scouting Dump #4, Part III: Only the Cream of the National Prospecting Press Need Apply

I wasn’t sure we’d get here and thought about throwing in the towel numerous times, but against better judgment, I’ve spewed out a few thousand more words on a particularly curious set of players and in the process realized that I’ve mis-ranked probably close to half of these players. I’ll let my mistakes sit plain in the light of day, free to be criticized, ridiculed, laughed at. Alas, even the Mona Lisa is falling apart ..

Parts I and II can be found here and here. 11 games were scouted and the previous players ranked as such:

  1. Usman Garuba
  2. Deni Avdija
  3. Kira Lewis Jr.
  4. Aaron Nesmith
  5. Theo Maledon
  6. Grant Riller
  7. Jahmi’Us Ramsey
  8. Devon Dotson
  9. Precious Achiuwa

TIER 4

10. Kevin McCullar, Texas Tech, trending up, Tier4:

I saw McCullar for the first time in March and it wasn’t love at first sight or anything, but it was a pleasant surprise in the sense of discovery that accompanies something new and unexpected. I tuned in to watch Jahmi’Us Ramsey and walked away semi-smitten with the 19-year-old redshirt frosh, McCullar.

Listed at 6-foot-6, 195-pounds, McCullar appears a bit bigger and plays bigger. He’s flashed strength in contested rebounding situations and shown a range of defensive versatility; able to toggle between guards and forwards without giving away advantages. And where I saw evidence of Ramsey struggling to smoothly integrate into Texas Tech’s defensive scheme, McCullar seems like a natural, a fish in Chris Beard’s water if you will. He’s rarely out of position, is quick to help and switch, and some of that may be attributable to him being in Lubbock a year ago and having familiarity with the program.

Offensively, he’s purely a supporting player with little actual offensive responsibility and this presently suits him fine. While just a 28% shooter from three and 30% from the corners, his ability to stretch the floor isn’t as good as it needs to be for him to be an optimal supporting piece. Like other non-shooters, he finds ways to contribute without adding floor space. He’s comfortable roaming the baseline, often ignored because he’s not a threat from distance, and flashing into space. From there, he’s able to quickly diagnose the floor and attack the rim with quick load time and enough strength to finish through contact or dump off ahead of rotations.

He’s not flashy, but with a near-4% steal rate and 58 TS, he brings a lot to the table without taking much away.

11. Malachi Flynn, San Diego State, trending up, Tier4:

My primary in-depth experience with Flynn was a shoddy 6-20 shooting night where he forced up one contested pull-up jumper after the next, hitting just one of his first 10 attempts, but of course that performance was highly irregular and untimely for Flynn and SDSU.

His Synergy profile is excellent with a nearly synchronistic relationship between effectiveness and frequency – IE; he was relatively most effective (96th percentile) as a P&R ball handler and 40% of his possessions came there.

Even in his struggles as a shooter against Utah State, his precision as a P&R maestro was evident. His timing was exquisite: in the clip below, he takes an extra dribble which creates the desired time and space to complete the pass. He shows a plus-vision and awareness in both P&R and open play situations.

And despite a poor shooting effort, Flynn was able to create good looks and spacing. He has a small but strong build accompanied by a tight handle, and good power that allows for balance and body control. He has touch in the paint as seen on a 68% shooting at the rim, but I worry a bit about his ability to finish over size and length in the NBA.

Flynn is a good guard I need to spend more time with. I slot him behind Grant Riller and Devon Dotson, but don’t believe there’s a massive gap between these three players. A person could place them in any order of three and easily make a rational case to defend their ordering.

12. Matthew Strazel, ASVEL, trending up, N/A:

Strazel is just 17 with an August birthday and isn’t draft eligible for a couple years yet, but he already has 16 high-level Euroleague games to his credit. I tuned in for his club’s match against Euro powerhouse, Real Madrid and if we’re being honest, I should have Strazel as an incomplete, but I enjoyed the feisty guard enough to share some thoughts.

As mentioned in my Theo Maledon write-up, he looks like the younger French cousin of Tyus and Tre Jones with a similar skin tone, torso-to-leg ratio, and over-exuberant on-ball defense. In a chicken/egg scenario, I’m uncertain if Strazel has always played an aggressive, reaching defense or if he’s a product of ASVEL’s Nolan Richardson-styled pressing. The source partially matters, but against Madrid’s Facundo Campazzo, he was an unrelenting pest, applying pressure to the older guard for 85 feet of court without any letup. The result was a persistent foul trouble on unnecessary reaches, but with good footwork, strength, and lateral movement, it’s easy to see an effective defender in Strazel as he fights through screens, exhibits consistent effort, and is able to cover ground laterally while continuing to apply pressure.

When able to dictate the game with the ball in his hands, Strazel’s speed and quickness are most evident and his greatest strength. For some younger guards, this is easier to see in transition when they can build up speed, but Strazel’s able to exhibit quickness and burst off a standstill and repeatedly beat Madrid’s seasoned defenders off the bounce and with direction changes; the 29-year-old Campazzo looked like he was standing in mud trying to keep up with the younger Frenchman. He showed touch around the rim (clip below) and competence running pick-and-pops (they didn’t run much P&R with Strazel at point). There was a lack of improvisational creation which isn’t to say it’s not there, but it wasn’t emphasized. Over 47 games in multiple leagues, he’s averaging around three assists to every 1.5 turnovers.

I’m intrigued to watch his development, but I do hold the small stature (6-0, 178-pounds) against his longer-term prospects. Even two inches taller would go a long way given his quickness and touch.

13. Saben Lee, Vanderbilt, trending up, Tier4:

I first saw Lee in November of 2018 and was immediately captivated by his speed and pop. Finding out his dad is former NFL running back, Amp Lee, only ratcheted up the intrigue. Lee the younger is 6-2, 183-pounds of lean muscle who could be better-designed for football than basketball.

And yet, he plays somewhat like a football player, almost with a Dwyane Wade-ish carelessness for his body which careens around the court from one end to the next, faster than everyone save Kira Lewis Jr. and impressively strong given his lean build.

In 96 career games, he’s produced a FTr of 55% and was one of just three players 6-2 or shorter this season to attempt at least 29 dunks, per barttorvik.

I think, in part at least, I’ve been blinded by the electric athleticism and the thumper-like ethos with which he attacks the game, but basketball life is more than violent dunks.

Lee’s shown an ability to create for others and led Vanderbilt with a career-best 32% assist rate against a career-low 16% turnover rate. His judgment and decision making improved over his three seasons at Vandy, as did his shooting which peaked this past year with a 58 TS. His offensive skill developed in tandem with the improved stats. He’s shown good vision in the half court and is able to find the open man on drive-and-kicks, which is frequently an option given his speed and ability to get past the first defender. Passes zip off his fingers and are typically on-target, but he still has a propensity to get out of control on drives and/or strap on blinders for the basket. With the speed and quickness, he mixes in hesitations that are somewhat unguardable given the acceleration off the pause. He’s also shown an ability this season to link together more than one move at time – crossover into up-and-under with a head fake and necessary footwork.

His shooting (33% on 265 college threes) leaves something to be desired, but if he can continue to develop his ability to run the pick-and-roll and potentially use his strength/athleticism to defend both guard spots (will be a stretch against bigger twos), he’s athletic enough with just enough skill to carve out a spot in the league. Key for him, like a lot of college guys, will be figuring out how to remain effective with fewer opportunities.

14. John Petty, Alabama, no change, Tier4: no updates from 2/28 post

15. Jared Butler, Baylor, no change, Tier4: no updates from 2/28 post

16. DJ Jeffries, Memphis, no change, Tier4:

Obviously he didn’t appear in the Memphis/Houston game on March 8th, but I wanted to note my fondness all the same and if we’re being honest, this is probably a bit of an over-reach for Jeffries, but as we say, the heart wants what the heart wants … even if the mind knows better. Jeffries turned 20 in December which, among 158 freshman birthdays I have in my “database,” ranks as the 15th oldest. I don’t believe age alone can or should deep six a prospect’s status, but if he was 19 in December, I’d be even more confident in his development.

Jeffries is a big 6-7, nearly 230 pounds and had his freshman season limited to 19 games due to a partially torn PCL. In that time, he showed effectiveness as a rim protector (4.2% blocks) and shooter (39% on 41 threes). He finished well around the rim (72%) and was sound (74%) from the line at an anemic 22% FTr.

Stats and rates aside, Jeffries compliments his size with a good motor. He goes hard on both ends and is able to anticipate particularly well defensively. At times that same energy works against him as it feels like the game can get going too fast. This was less evident as the season went on, but it still cropped up with the occasional forced play, pushing the ball against a disadvantage, or firing up an air ball in transition.

As I look back over my notes from EYBL, I see the same propensity to rush the jumper or force plays on offense. He had more playmaking opportunities with his Bluff City Legends team, but showed passing vision and improvisational ability passing off the live dribble.

He kind of reminds me of a harder-playing, smaller version of Naz Reid with more defensive ability and commitment, but like Reid, an offense that needs to mature before he can reach his potential.

17. Nate Hinton, Houston, trending up, Tier4:

Like Strazel, Hinton, a 6-5, 210-pound sophomore should probably be an incomplete, but damn it, we must, at times, rush to judgment, however rash it may be.

Hinton’s a bit tricky in that he played big on a small Houston team and had the mentality and physicality to pull it off. As a 6-5 forward, he led Houston in rebounding and snagged nearly 16% of all available rebounds. With strong hands, active ball pursuit, and a willingness to mix it up for contested rebounds, he can out-rebound his size and position. These same traits are prevalent in his defensive makeup. Hinton can guard against a range of perimeter players and is able to get low into a defensive crouch and harass with active hands without committing fouls. In my limited viewing, he didn’t spend time defending Memphis bigs, nor does he project as a rim protector with just eight blocks in 68 career games at Houston.

On the attack side, Hinton’s profile inspires a bit of meh. He’s a shooter, but not a knockdown kind of guy: 39% on 119 threes this season and 44% on corner threes. In the game I watched, he made six shots and five were off-the-dribble pull-ups; primarily long twos. This was an aberration from his season where the bulk of his spot up possessions (61.3%) become no dribble jumpers, per Synergy, and this is what he’s good at with 1.16 points/possession against .79 ppp on pull-ups. I didn’t witness him attacking the rim much, but he’s just average there hitting 55% of his shots at the rim per barttorvik.

Hinton is a good intangibles player with ability as a spot up shooter and above average effectiveness as an on-ball and team defender. If he can hit the three at a similar rate in the NBA and defend well against much better players, he can stick in the league, but the lack of finishing and the jump in competition level give me pause. If I re-ranked these players, he’d likely drop a tier, but not a ton of spots.

Tier 5: more ranking, less writing (not sure if my audience is saying this or if I’m saying it to myself)

18. Lester Quinones, Memphis, no change, Tier5:

I wrote the below about Quinones back in November and while I still subscribe to those comments, I want to add that he’s a super smart player, is able to direct teammates into position on both sides of the ball and carries himself as a leader. There’s a lot of polish needed though and I’m not convinced Memphis is the place for that.

6-5, 220-pound combo guard. I’m not convinced he’s actually 220, but he wears short shorts and goes BTTW. Strong lower body, makes hustle plays, competes, likes to shoot (24% on 5 3pas/gm), 14-15 from line (93%), touch comes and goes.

19. Scotty Pippen Jr. Vanderbilt, trending up, Tier5:

I saw Pippen Jr a few times with Sierra Canyon and always thought he could play as he has good feel, high BBIQ, and plays at a controlled pace, but suspected his slight frame would hold him back and in some cases (defensively, particularly against quick guards and finishing at the rim – just 51% per barttorvik) it has, but Pippen was extremely effective as a freshman with a beastly 68.7% FTr. He was one of four players in the country and the only from a P5 conference with an FTr above 65% and assist rate over 25%. Once he gets his dad’s growth spurt, it’s on. In hindsight, I’d likely bump him up two to three spots.

20. Terrence Shannon Jr. Texas Tech, no change, Tier5:

6-7 lefty forward, plus athlete (see clips), probably thinks too much at this point, and even when effective (see clips), it’s sometimes in spite of questionable choices. Needs to develop better instincts and applicable fundamentals, improve decisiveness and focus. Good shooter from the line with a 52.5% FTr who has NBA potential.

21. Kai Jones, Texas, trending up, Tier5:

Consensus top-50 recruit at 6-11, 212-pounds. Skinny kid spends lot of time on perimeter for Texas and has a decent looking jumper despite poor percentages (7-24 on threes, 3-15 on non-rim twos). Flashes of creation off dribble (see clip) so there’s some potential attacking closeouts. Has some perimeter defensive mobility and was deployed at times as the tip of the spear on Texas’s press. Nearly 7% block rate.

22. Jaden Shackelford, Alabama, no change, Tier5:

Something to be said for guys who can miss five in a row and chuck without pause on the sixth. That’s Shackelford and Alabama with Nate Oats as coach is the perfect spot for him. Surprised he had a 31% FTr; one of four players in country (Markus Howard and Anthony Edwards included) to attempt over 230 (235) threes with FTr that high, per barttorvik. And, to his credit (I think?) did it with a 21% usage rate compared to the 29% and higher from the other qualifiers.

23. Udoka Azubuike, Kansas, trending up, Tier5:

Huge (7-0 with 7-7 wingspan, listed at 270-pounds) with improving mobility and doesn’t turn 21 until September. Shot 41.6% on 315 free throws in four seasons, shoots no jumpers. Can he purely be a roll man and rim protector? Age is in his favor and he’s shown a lot of development since arriving at Kansas, but anything more than a rotation big-to-spot starter seems like a reach. Probably deserves to be higher, but in this same tier.

24. Sam Merrill, Utah State, trending up, Tier5:

6-5ish with a solid build and 47-42-89 shooting splits for his Utah State career (759 threes and 503 FTs), finished career with 62 TS in 132 games. Turns 24 in mid-May, has lightning quick release and range, can make basic reads. Lacking in burst both vertically and laterally. Missed his only dunk attempt in college career. Seems like a stretch to stick in the NBA, but between shot, quick release, and size, it’s possible.

25. Marcus Garrett, Kansas, trending up, Tier5:

Kansas’s best initiator and best defender; a 6-5 near-200-pound combo guard. Struggles shooting (33% on 52 attempts this year, 61% on 92 FTs), but has made strides since freshman year (27% on threes, 49% on FTs). Lot of craft with the ball that I fear will be underutilized until he can shoot at a better clip. Is he good enough as an initiator and defender to sacrifice spacing in a second unit? It’s doubtful, but can he be a fifth man as a secondary initiator with a shooting unit? Perhaps.

TIERS 6 & 7: 20-man lightning round

26. Boogie Ellis, Memphis, trending down, Tier6:

Smallish (6-3, 175-pounds) combo guard who gets after it defensively and shoots a pretty shot, but can’t make shots (33-32-68).

27. Ochai Agbaji, Kansas, no change, Tier6:

6-5 wing with 6-8 wingspan, has bit of handle/wiggle, but always fades to background with this Kansas group. Nothing bad, but nothing stands out either.

28. Christian Braun, Kansas, trending up, Tier6:

Solid build/shoulders as 6-5, 205-pound frosh who turns 19 in mid-April. Deliberate with exaggerated and effective ball fakes; can shoot it off catch (44% on 72 3pas) or attack off dribble and get to rim or make pass. Per Synergy, 94th percentile on spot up possessions (71 total possessions) and 99th percentile as P&R ball handler (18 total possessions). If I re-ranked, I’d likely slot him between Pippen Jr and Shannon Jr. I like Mr. Braun.

29. Camren Wynter, Drexel, trending up, Tier6:

Saw him by chance while watching Grant Riller. Decent size as a point guard (6-2, 175), but he plays both on and off-ball and shows good instincts in both positions. Lot of cuts and setups for cuts – fake towards ball and when defender momentum shifts with him, bursting the opposite direction. Probably not good enough shooter (35% on 190 career threes, 72% on 190 FTAs) to get by with average size and athleticism. Probably closer to the 36-37 group in this set.

30. Andrew Jones, Texas, trending up, Tier6:

Blown away by how good he looks as a 22-year-old sophomore who battled leukemia over the past two years. Former top-25 RSCI, got better as season went on including three-game stretch averaging 18p/game while making 11-19 threes. Showed lot of craft attacking off the bounce, able to get his own shot or drive-and-kick/dump. Partial to seeking out his own shot at this point.

31. Donovan Williams, Texas, no change, Tier6:

Gangly freshman wing averaged three points/game on 37-24-70 shooting. Wears knee-high socks that make him look even skinnier like Elliot Perry used to do. Potential to be blown away by strong wind although listed at 180-pounds with a 6-6 frame, excellent as a leaper, but struggles with strength and contested rebounds/loose balls. Can make basic reads and the shot isn’t broken. Ultimately needs to develop core strength and is over-ranked here.

32. Dylan Disu, Vanderbilt, trending up, Tier6:

6-9 freshman shooter/floor spacer, shot 29% on 173 threes in 32 games (over five 3pas/gm); 75% 3PAr. Two stocks/game with 2.2% steal rate and 3.7% block rate. Appears to have good length and standing reach, shows ability to anticipate on defensive side. Uncertain about athleticism, but needs to develop offensively or at least get better shooting it.

33. Quentin Grimes, Houston, no change, Tier6:

True sophomore doesn’t turn 20 until May; has good size at 6-5, 210-pounds with square shoulders. Had shown ability as a playmaker/passer in high school, able to see and think the game, but something or other happened in Lawrence and his confidence appeared to fracture. Form on jumper is still clean, but release looks a little awkward at times, like his wrist whips out to the side. Looks the part with the frame, shot, and clean handle, but there’s an edge that’s missing or was lost along the way.

34. Tyson Etienne, Wichita State, trending down, Tier6:

No clue what went wrong for the Shockers this year, but they’ve had something akin to a mass exodus and as of this writing, Etienne is still there. Is cousin of DeAndre Jordan and nephew of Marcus Camby. Good shooter from distance (39% on 160 tries), but struggled mightily from two (35%) and at the rim (46%). More of an off-ball player, but at 6-1, despite a muscular upper body, it’s hard to see his game translating at NBA levels unless he can finish better. Has some burst and makes basic pass reads, but shooting is his calling card.

35. Neemias Queta, Utah State, trending down, Tier6:

The only Portuguese prospect on this list, Queta is 7-feet-tall with a 7-4 wingspan, inconsistent footwork, a lack of mobility and flexibility, but surprisingly impressive passing ability including some watered down Wilt Chamberlain-esque passing to cutters out of the post. Not all 7-footers are adept as rim protectors, but in the Mountain West, Queta is effective both blocking shots and generally protecting the goal/acting as a deterrent (9.4% block rate over 57 career games). He’s not the quickest or most agile and against SDSU, struggled to contain 6-11 Yanni Wetzel. He’s probably better than he was as a freshman, but improvements around the margins (passing, reading the floor, free throw shooting) while he continues to lumber and be a slow load big aren’t enough to enhance his pro prospects.

36. Dexter Dennis, Wichita State, trending up, Tier6:

Good NBA body at 6-5, 207 with definition and some bulk; utilizes effective footwork with pivots and patience to find openings on offensive end. Capable attacking off bounce and enough strength/body control with touch to finish over size/length. Inconsistent to poor finding bodies to box out on the defensive glass. Was 37% on twos and 45% at the rim (per barttorvik) this past season. That’s not good.

37. Davide Moretti, Texas Tech, trending up, Tier6:

22-year-old 6-3 junior shooter probably destined to excel in Europe (he’s Italian and has played in FIBA events since 2013) unless he gets an unlikely growth spurt. Career shooting splits: 49% (twos), 40% (threes – 416 3pas), 90% (FTs – 235 FTAs), and 62 TS. Scraps and doesn’t shy away from contact, but size and athleticism will be massive hurdles to overcome at NBA level.

38. Chris Clarke, Texas Tech, no change, Tier7:

Odd player, kind of hunched over, plays low to the ground at 6-5, 215. Above average passer and rebounder; has plus-strength, hands, and strong base which he utilizes defensively. Likes to use off arm while dribbling almost like a stiff-arm to hold defenders at bay. Reads and anticipates game well on both sides of ball. Dennis Rodman-like aversion to shooting (seven FGAs/40min) and not particularly good at it (2-12 from three, 48% on twos, 56% at the rim, no dunks). Made 14 of 33 threes (42%) as a junior at Virginia Tech, but was 4-21 (19%) in previous two seasons.

39. Marcus Sasser, Houston, no change, Tier7:

Strong-built combo guard at 6-1, 200 is nephew of SMU’s Jeryl Sasser and Texas Tech’s Jason Sasser. Those Sassers combined for over four-thousand career NCAA points. Sasser the younger doesn’t project to be that type of scorer (eight points/game on 36-35-76 as a freshman), but I like the physical frame combined with competitive, rugged defense and a decent shot from three (73% 3PAr). If I re-ranked, he’d be closer to #50 with Will Baker and Clarence Nadolny.

40. Caleb Mills, Houston, trending down, Tier7:

Leading scorer for a 23-win Houston team, Mills, like Sasser, is a smallish (6-3, 165) combo guard. Unlike Sasser, he’s of slight build and erratic shot selection. He’s a gunner whose go-to shot/move is a one-legged fade/drifting jumper. Despite a smaller frame, he’s strong enough to absorb contact (61% at the rim) and carry a 29% usage rate. Shows some ability in the drive-and-kick game, but is extremely partial to getting his own shots even though he’s only 33% on non-rim twos (on 180 attempts). Would bump up to #34 in a re-rank.

41. Courtney Ramey, Texas, no change, Tier7:

Not really sure how I feel about Ramey. As a freshman, I thought he looked smaller than his listed 6-3, but as a soph, I noted he looked taller. Players grow, but like the Geto Boys, I feel like my mind’s playing tricks on me. Paranoid confusion aside, I liked Ramey more as a freshman when he appeared to play a greater role as an initiator and shot the three better (38% against 31%). He can still create his own looks and has decent form on his pull-up, but the BBIQ I saw frequently as a freshman just wasn’t there with regularity. Some of that could be adjusting to the switch from Kerwin Roach to Jones or just non-linear development. After all, his free throws and non-rim twos improved significantly.

42. Yanni Wetzell, San Diego State, trending up, Tier7:

Fun New Zealander at 6-10, 240, but all out of eligibility after this season. Was more than able to hold his own both laterally and vertically against the higher-ranked Queta; able to beat him on contested boards and beat him with quickness/decisiveness out of the post. Plus effort and IQ, but not great length (from my eyeball). Needs to shoot it better than the 28% on 56 career threes in order to go from G-League prospect to NBA cup of coffee.

43. Herb Jones, Alabama, trending down, Tier7:

Weird to think this is a guy who I first saw making life difficult for Trae Young back in early 2018, but here we are and while Young’s star as ascended, Jones’s flattened out to the point that he’s probably underrated/underappreciated. He has size (6-7, 206) and length to hover around two stocks/game for his nearly-100 games at Alabama, but an inability to improve as a shooter was compounded by a wrist injury (and a shoulder as well, I believe) to completely kill off any shooting progress in his junior season (1-14 from three). He can pass and make semi-advanced reads, but despite a 59% clip at the rim, he doesn’t exhibit good touch there. With his size, decent athleticism, and ability to impact a wide range of scenarios on the defensive side, he should be better than he is. And if I’m being honest, even though his junior season was frustrating, his probability of getting to the pros isn’t any worse than Camren Wynter, Andrew Jones, or Donovan Williams.

44. Freddie Gillespie, Baylor, no change, Tier7:

Thick but undersized as a center (6-9, 245), Gillespie has a little jumper outside the paint and while he plays his ass off, he doesn’t consistently move well enough laterally to guard in space or have the strength to bang with big true fives. He’s kind of a poor man’s Xavier Tillman.

45. Dejon Jarreau, Houston, trending down, Tier7:

Jarreau has positional size to play as a lead guard at 6-5, but beyond the size and ability to make basic reads, he’s unreliable as a shooter with somewhat pedestrian athleticism. He can get to the line (~50% FTr over 91 career games), but made just 7 of 40 threes this past season.

TIER 8: Still awake?

46. Mark Vital, Baylor, no change, Tier8: no change from 2/28 post

47. Matthew Mayer, Baylor, trending down, Tier8: no change from 2/28 post

48. Tristan Enaruna, Kansas, trending down, Tier8: has size and length, doesn’t turn 19 until June, I get the potential, but at some point I need to see flashes of it and I haven’t.

49. Matt Mitchell, San Diego State, trending up, Tier8: beefy with a good jumper, likes to dribble.

50. Will Baker, Texas, trending up, Tier8: skilled big, can shoot, pass, and handle it a bit, but took a while to settle into frosh season. In perfect world, he probably would’ve redshirted this past year.

51. Clarence Nadolny, Texas Tech, trending down, Tier9: Looked better against Mega Bemax back in August 2019 than he did in Big12. Potential for mini-leap in sophomore season.

52. Erik Stevenson, Washington: transferring to University of Washington, part of chaos at Wichita State, good athlete who goes balls to the wall, has sound BBIQ, spent lot of time as a soph playing completely out of control.

53. Grant Sherfield, Nevada: transferring to University of Nevada

54. MaCio Teague, Baylor, trending down, Tier9

55. Mate Okros, Drexel, no change, Tier9: British/Hungarian kid; shot it well as a freshman (44-41-79), started all 33 games, low-impact (less than .5 stocks/game), but competent team defender.

56. Alex Lomax, Memphis, no change, Tier9: smart college PG and much-needed stabilizer on young Memphis team, but frequently cooked by bigger players at NCAA level.

57. Damion Baugh, Memphis, no change, Tier9: Smart and versatile, but refuses to shoot and when he does shoot, misses a lot: 44-29-56.

58. Jaime Echenique, Wichita State, trending up, Tier9

59. Russel Tchewa, Texas Tech, no change, Tier10: large, 20-year-old freshman from Cameroon, plays hard, sets a good and effective screen, currently has poor hands and should not dribble the ball.

60. David McCormack, Kansas, trending down, Tier10: stubborn sophomore big and former McDonald’s All-American, has legit size and some touch, but just insists on shooting and dribbling regardless of dis/advantage.

61. Matt Coleman, Texas, no change, Tier10

62. Isaiah Moss, Kansas, no change, Tier10: 23-year-old grad transfer for Kansas, game looks better than he produces.

63. Oton Jankovic, Vanderbilt, no change, Tier10

64. Malcolm Dandridge, Memphis, trending down, Tier10: Memphis had wanted to RS him, but with Wiseman gone, he played and wasn’t ready. Team-worst 38% turnover rate, but 64% FTr, 64 TS, and 76% at the rim. He can do some things, but like lot of Memphis players, has to polish, develop, and fine tune. Absent a dedicated film study, covid-19 is going to make development for these players harder than it would be in normal circumstances.

65. Justin Bean, Utah State, no change, Tier10: smart and savvy passer, somewhat of a rebounding savant who seems like he could’ve played in the 60s. Numbers exceed eye test.

66. Kyler Edwards, Texas Tech, trending down, Tier10: 40% from field, 32% from three, but those numbers drop down to the 20s when I watch.

 

Incompletes for DNPs: Gerald Lidell, Jericho Sims, Tyreek Smith

Incompletes for lack of opportunity: James Butler, Jaylen Forbes, Javian Davis-Fleming, Silvio De Sousa, Kamaka Hepa, Mario Nakic

 

 

Scouting Dump #4, Part II: You have tools, but do you know what to do with them?

I had intended this to be just a two-part dump, but here we are, nearly three-thousand words on five players who fill me with uncertainty and maybe even doubt, well yes, lots of doubt.

Part I can be found here and includes the 11 games that were scouted during this dump. Through nine players, here’s the overall ranking:

  1. Usman Garuba
  2. Deni Avdija
  3. Kira Lewis Jr.
  4. Aaron Nesmith
  5. Theo Maledon
  6. Grant Riller
  7. Jahmi’Us Ramsey
  8. Devon Dotson
  9. Precious Achiuwa

5. Theo Maledon, ASVEL, trending up, Tier2:

As a narrow-shouldered 18-year-old playing among grown men in the competitive world of the Euroleague, Maledon exhibits a remarkable poise, maturity, and leadership. In my viewings, he’s shown himself to be surprisingly capable and competent as an on-floor communicator willing to direct older teammates into position on both sides of the ball which speaks somewhat to what I heard an announcer earlier this season describe him as having “a certain arrogance, confidence.”

Moxie matters and it translates to a calm, evenly paced style the 6-foot-5 18-year-old plays with. Positionally, he has great size and on the defensive side, he knows how to utilize it. Against Real Madrid, it was fun to see the contrast in defensive approach between Maledon and ASVEL’s younger Matthew Strazel. Strazel, a 17-year-old who looks like he could be the French cousin of Tre and Tyus Jones, played up in the jersey of Madrid’s veteran Facundo Campazzo with overactive hands bordering on recklessness while the more seasoned and mature Maledon opted for effectively sliding feet and bodying up the smaller Campazzo. ASVEL as a team plays a full court, aggressive defense that Maledon appears to be more than willing to adapt to. His defensive effort: moving his feet, sitting in a stance, navigating screens, are all present. I wonder about the long-term defensive upside given his slighter frame and OK quickness, but the effort and size will help.

Offensively, he plays a mostly clean game with a fluid handle, understanding of how to utilize screens and angles, and an ability to make basic, pre-packaged reads. He incorporates subtle hesitations and unexpected crossovers that help to keep defenders off-balance. Off these dribble moves, he’s adept at driving and kicking to open teammates. His ability to keep defenders guessing on ball screens is one of the more impressive traits I’ve seen. He’ll go away from screens with a quick first step or setup opponents one direction against a screen before hitting them with change of direction on compact crossovers. There’s something unorthodox to some of these directional changes and I wish I would’ve recorded a couple of them.

In my limited sample, he’s shown touch around the rim and ability to finish over length. I haven’t seen him play through contact as much, but he’s consistently operated around 40% FTr and is at 36% this season.

His catch-and-shoot three is more of a toss than a good, tight snap off the wrist. Off the dribble, his form looks more natural, but at present he’s just an average-to-below-average shooter which is fine given he’s not even 19 yet. Across 162 games in Europe and FIBA, he’s shooting 34% on nearly 500 threes.

The size and ability to change speeds remind me somewhat of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but the three-inch difference in wingspan, the strength, and shooting all lean heavily to SGA’s favor to the point that comparison doesn’t add up. Per ESPN, his physical profile is similar to Delon Wright’s and I can see potential similarities there, although Wright was 23-years-old as a rookie and Maledon will be just 19. That four-year difference is massive and speaks to the Frenchman’s upside as a potential low-end NBA starting point or combo guard.

6. Grant Riller, Charleston, trending up, Tier3:

The 6-3 Riller is a better pro-ready prospect than Maledon, but he’s also more than four years older. With all due respect to Aaliyah, age is more than a number and thus Riller is behind young Theo.

Like watching N’Faly Dante devour 6-7 Terren Frank in EYBL competition, Riller the senior just seemed a class above his Colonial Athletic Association opponents. And as such, it created a handicap of sorts when checking in to see him cook on a nightly basis. For the game viewed here (hosting Drexel on Senior Night), Riller nonchalantly kicked ass in myriad ways: NBA range threes, head fakes, spin moves, pull-up jumpers, threes on the move, running jumpers, slashing with efficient angles, post-ups, side-step step backs, floaters, rinse, repeat ad infinitum. The breadth of unforced offensive skill was something to behold and the ease with which he fluidly read and reacted to the defense was surgical. Between catching the ball and shooting it, Riller has as much craft as anyone I saw in college basketball this year and some of that is out of necessity. He has a good frame at 6-3, 190 pounds with good shoulders and lean muscle, but he’s not a twitchy athlete. He’s not blurring past opponents like Kira Lewis Jr.or bulldogging defenders like a focused Anthony Edwards. The combination of handle, deception (via fakery), shot/touch, and understated strength/body control are deadly and Riller knows this. He plays to his strengths; which is a lot easier to do when your strength can be described as just getting to your spots.

In my viewing, Riller has shown himself to have some ability to read the floor and create for others, but it’s nowhere near as natural as his scoring instincts. His ability to anticipate and make advanced reads is heavily skewed towards scoring the ball. Some of this can be attributed to team need: in most scenarios, a look from Riller is more efficient than anything else Charleston is getting. He has a high basketball IQ, it’s just a matter of spreading it beyond scoring.

Defensively is where I was least impressed with him and where the level of competition appeared to be most evident. Against Drexel, he seemed put out at having to defend, was caught ball watching, and wandered off his man without communicating to teammates. His IQ and ability to anticipate plays was evident as he had a highlight help block thanks to an early rotation, but overall the effort uninspiring. In a small sample, it’s hard to hold this against him, but it was by far his least impressive attribute.

He’s not the player or shooter that CJ McCollum was in college, but he looks to be from the same family tree of undersized scoring twos/combo guards.

7. Jahmi’us Ramsey, Texas Tech, no change, Tier3:

The 6-4, nearly 200-pound Ramsey has a June 2001 birthday and in terms of age, would slot perfectly into the high school class of 2020. Instead, he’s a young freshman with buckets of talent on a team with an outsized role, and a misunderstanding of how to harness said talent in said bucket.

I first saw Ramsey as a junior in 2018 going head-to-head with Cam Reddish, late of the Atlanta Hawks, and walked away thinking of him as a twitchy defender, a competitor, a secondary initiator, an ultra-confident player capable of falling back on his physical ability if the world otherwise tipped sidewise.

Then the Mega Bemax pre-season game happened and Ramsey dropped 44 on the Serbian club made most noteworthy for producing Nikola Jokic and Goga Bitadze. This game and Tech’s faulty roster funneled Ramsey into the role of primary scorer, a role he wasn’t, and probably shouldn’t have been plugged into.

Scout: good length and athleticism for a two-guard, but probably lacking in height which, in some situations, he can make up for with his athleticism, particularly vertical. He’s twitchy, he’s strong, fluid as an athlete. Capable as a shooter (42% on 141 threes), handler, and passer including out of the pick-and-roll despite not-so-good Synergy numbers; vision translates in transition and half-court; lot of drive-and-kick to his game. Seamlessly and effectively utilizes head fakes and shot fakes as part of offensive attack. BBIQ is strong with improvisational give-and-go’s, flare outs off screens, and dump-offs/wraparounds off penetration. Some truly awful decision making on pull-up threes. For a 42% three-point shooter, it’s remarkable how many bad shots he takes. Some of this I attribute to shouldering too great a role in Tech’s point guard-lacking roster. There was no reliable creation for Ramsey or Davide Moretti. Senior Chris Clarke was their best passer, but as a non-shooting initiator off the bench, his creation ability was under-utilized. This lack of creation put the ball in Ramsey’s hands more than it should’ve been and the result was a lot of J.R. Smith-type shots.

Despite physical tools, appears to have struggled to maintain focus in Texas Tech’s defense. When engaged, uses length as a defensive cushion, moves feet well, can anticipate and help accordingly, strong hands to strip on digs, good timing as help side shot blocker (2.5% on steals and blocks). When floating mentally, which is often, he helps too far off shooters which is either a bad habit, lack of awareness, or too much trust in ability to help and recover; gets lost or confused in TT’s switching schemes, despite showing lateral flexibility and a willingness to embrace contact, is beaten off dribble far too often as he opens his hips. Some of the latter could be scheme, but too often there’s no help.

If Ramsey can comfortably adjust to lower usage (team-high 26% with TT) and improve his defensive focus, he can be a positive NBA player. Not just can, but should. If I was re-ranking, I’d probably move him above Riller based on age and upside. Arbitrary stat: Ramsey was the only player in D1 to have both steal and block rates 2.5% or higher while attempting over 135 threes and making at least 40% and is one of just 12 players in barttorvik’s database dating back to 2008 to accomplish it.

8. Devon Dotson, Kansas, no change, Tier3:

Dotson isn’t a player I’m terribly high on. His strength is overwhelmingly strong: quickness. It’s flirting with Kira Lewis Jr.levels of quick and destabilizes defense in the open or half court. Dotson is more physically developed than Lewis and nearly two years older. He can attack with either hand, although he seems partial to the left, can change direction at speed, finish with both hands, and finish through contact. But beyond scoring, penetrating, and just out-quicking opponents, his game is somewhat unremarkable.

As a passer, I haven’t seen much beyond basic reads. His 22.5% assist rate is likely bolstered (like the rest of his teammates’) by Udoka Azubuike. The whole team, rightly so, has a habit of using the seven-footer as a release valve of sorts and when there’s no other option available, toss it up to Udoka because even if he doesn’t score, he’ll at least catch it. I’m not going to knock Dotson for taking advantage of a weapon, but rather believe he could’ve taken even greater advantage in setting up the big man for more lobs or dump-offs; or anticipating help rotation, drive-and-kick with greater frequency. That being said, per Synergy, his P&R decision making (as shooter or passer) ranks in the high 70s to low 80th percentiles. I’ll give Dotson some grace in their preference for Marcus Garrett’s creation to Dotson’s. The presence of Garrett over two seasons has reduced the need for Dotson’s creation and limited his in-game reps. It’s a theory, at least.

As a shooter, Dotson was 31% from threes and just average on catch-and-shoot threes (one point/possession, per Synergy). He shot 32% on 53 attempts at Under Armour in 2017 and was 36% on 91 attempts as a freshman. All told that’s 33% on 267 tries in an 83-game sample. His mechanics are mostly unmemorable – for better or worse, which is ultimately a good thing. He’s been an 81% free throw shooter at Kansas and, with time and work, he should be able to strive for average from behind the arc. He’s not bad enough that teams can completely play off of him. Even at 32%, he can attack closeouts and utilize his speed. That said, even as a freshman when he shot 36%, Ashton Hagans sagged off and dared him to shoot. Given his speed and untrustworthiness from three, this will be an NBA thing as well.

On the defensive side, I don’t have nearly the sample of notes as I do on Dotson’s offense. His speed and reaction time is enough to create disruption and his 2.9% steal rate over 66 games evidences that, but in the game against Texas Tech when he matched up with Davide Moretti, he was awkward and uncertain. I wasn’t watching specifically for his defense, but it became something unavoidable.

Like Ramsey, Dotson operates from a solid foundation of physical tools, but unlike Ramsey, I believe his strong skills are less valuable and his compatibility narrower. Tune in in June when I talk myself into Dotson being the better prospect.

9. Precious Achiuwa, Memphis, trending up (but probably shouldn’t be), Tier3:

I’ve probably seen more games of Achiuwa than any other player on this list which probably says more about my ability to prioritize than anything else. Also, after writing about him, I’d probably drop him down a few slots, but we’ll let the record stand and fix it in a future amended board.

More than any other Memphis Tiger, Achiuwa benefited from the departure of James Wiseman as he was able to have the center position all to himself where he led the team in minutes played. He came into the season listed as 6-9, but feels taller and plays bigger. In his 31 games at Memphis, he registered a 6.4% block rate. It’s on the defensive side of the ball that he’s most impactful and impressive. He’ll turn 21 for his rookie year and despite being older than most freshmen, Achiuwa is painfully raw. The rawness is less noticeable on the defensive because he’s shown an ability to leverage his length and athleticism in a variety of defensive scenarios with the most effective being rim protection. He’s not a great shot blocker, but he’s already showing an aptitude for using verticality to disrupt shots rather than exclusively trying to block them and he with his athleticism, he has better-than-normal hangtime that allows him to linger in the air a split second longer than most guys, even on a verticality play. For his size, he’s mostly agile and can switch onto smaller guards. He seems to take a level of pride in his switchability and while he can be had with shot fakes, it’s ultimately a positive attribute. If that’s the good of his defense, the bad is his consistency and focus. There are lapses on switches, ball watching that leads to poor positioning, and generally unreliable awareness. There are times, like on box outs, where you can see him standing upright, watching the ball and suddenly the lightbulb goes off, “oh shit, I need to box out” followed by a scramble to put a body on someone.

In terms of effort, Achiuwa is not lacking. He has a high motor and a bit of a nose for the ball. Since I started watching him at Montverde Academy, I’ve sounded the same refrain: regardless of how you feel about his game, you always notice him. This ability to standout either in running the floor, scrambling for loose balls, or soaring out of nowhere for highlight blocks is a skill that I imagine a 16-year-old Andrei Kirilenko had.

If Achiuwa’s effort and motor are his calling cards and his defense is effective, but unrefined, then his offense is a hot mess. He shot a respectable 33% on 40 threes, 64% at the rim, and had a 51% FTr, but don’t be fooled, he produced on offense in spite of himself. My notes are littered with confusion: “Seems either incapable or uninterested in throwing a fake,” “egregious travel on P&R catch,” “if it’s basic, he can do it,” “trying to attack off dribble and goes nowhere à winds up throwing risky jump pass /eyeroll,” “Airball on C&S3 à just not his shot/game,” “stubborn as a mule trying to force shots in contested space.” It goes on, but I hope the point is conveyed. Going back to Montverde, he’s fancied himself as something of a passer/playmaker and while this seems to be less of an emphasis with Memphis, it still shows its ugly face on his 30 assists to 87 turnovers (~1:3 ratio). ::Insert Pusha T YUUGH::

There’s a productive player living somewhere in Achiuwa, but there’s so much cleanup and TLC that it’s far from a foregone conclusion he’ll reach whatever potential he has. It’s more likely that you’ll forever being trying to strike a tenuous balance between what he adds and what he takes away. To borrow from Fran Fraschilla’s immortal “two years away from being two years away,” Achiuwa is probably a year away from being a year away.

Scouting Dump: Week of November 11th

The below ranking is made up of players exclusively scouted from 11/12/19 thru 11/16/19. All rankings are fluid. Some I changed while writing and didn’t want to rework everything. I will no doubt be filled with regret and seek to course correct as the season goes on. Zero flags have been planted in the writing below though perhaps in some cases, land is being probed for potential flagpoles.

Games reviewed:

  • 11/12/19: Memphis at Oregon (in Portland)
  • 11/14/19: Michigan State at Seton Hall
  • 11/15/19: West Virginia at Pittsburgh
  • 11/15/19: Gonzaga at Texas A&M
  • 11/16/19: USC at Nevada

 

  1. James Wiseman, Memphis:

Stock change: no change

To be honest, USC’s 6-foot-9, 245-pound freshman center Onyeka Okongwu has probably passed Wiseman, what with his overwhelming 21 free throws attempted against Pepperdine on November 19th, but I’m leaving Wiseman ahead for now. It’s probably less out of stubbornness on my part and more out of familiarity. The best I’ve seen of Wiseman shows me an emphatic, intimidating giant of a young man who swats shots with the vigor of Mitchell Robinson and snatches boards with the aplomb of Dikembe Mutombo. These skills have a higher likelihood of translating to the NBA, the only problem is that they happen in spurts and that was no different in a loss to Oregon on November 12th. Wiseman spent the first half in foul trouble, then picked up zero fouls in the second half on his way to 14 points and 12 rebounds (four offensive) and only one or two truly head scratching jumpers. We also got to see him switched on the perimeter: first against combo guard Will Richardson and then against point guard Payton Pritchard. Wiseman struggled to stay in front of Richardson and gave Pritchard too much space. It’s a tiny sample size, but both in terms of mobility and technique, there’s a lot for him to work on.

  1. Onyeka Okongwu, USC:

Stock change: rising

This is probably unfair since I watched Okongwu kick the ever-living crap out of Pepperdine a night ago, but Big O, Double O, Onyeka, or whatever the hell you want to call him is a bully. I mean that in the most positive way possible. In basketball competition, he’s an explosive brute who’s built kind of like J.J. Hickson and kind of reminds me of Hickson as well. Okongwu’s dunks have a bullish ferocity to them, but his athletic exploits aren’t limited to dunk shots. Rather, he puts it to work on the defensive end where he’s good as a rim protector and help defender and is at least showing good instincts and execution sliding his feet in help situations. On the glass, he highpoints the ball with strength and precision. He’s shown hints of having a mid-range jumper though he needs to wind up and has a slower release. He shot threes in the AAU circuit, but it doesn’t appear to be part of his USC arsenal yet. I look forward to see him go against NBA caliber bigs at some point.

  1. Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia:

Stock change: rising

Tshiebwe is a walking, breathing brick wall. He’s got around 15 pounds on Okongwu, but looks quite a bit thicker and strong which is saying something. There are a few quick things to get out of the way with Oscar: He plays in Bobby Huggins’s hyper-intense defensive scheme and is averaging over six fouls-per-40 minutes. This player/coach fit is ideal in that Tshiebwe has a motor that doesn’t quit and a coach like Huggins can deploy him like a modern-day Danny Fortson, but the flip is that he’ll wind up in foul trouble and deliver uneven performances. I was lucky enough to catch Oscar’s best game (of three played to-date) against Pitt and it’s true: Oscar is a physical marvel who sucks rebounds up like a giant human vacuum inhaling all in his orbit. His hands and fingers appear to have built-in stickum and vice grip-like strength. This is what we knew coming in, but against Pitt what impressed me were the smaller, more nuanced parts of his game. Pitt threw a zone at the sizable WVU front line and the result was an oscillating triangle of Mountaineers rotating through the post and flashing high into the lane. From this middle spot, Tshiebwe had opportunities to show some passing chops, decisiveness and awareness while also incorporating a show-and-go move that the defender unwisely bit. On another possession, he worked and reworked, using his feet instead of his bulk, to get into ideal position with an inside seal and then mix in a change of direction to free himself up for an easy finish. The physical makeup and effort will get him to the league. The nuance and skill development will allow him to excel there.

  1. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State:

Stock change: rising

Oh hey, another 6-9, 240-some-odd pound big man. What Tillman, a junior, lacks in terms of Onyeka’s and Oscar’s athleticism, he makes up for with far superior passing and basketball IQ. Tillman can attack a closeout, make plays out of the short roll, and his offensive awareness allows him to react quicker than the defense, swinging the ball to open shooters or picking up hockey assists. His perimeter shot, from mid-range and three, looks fine, but he has a slower release hasn’t shot it too well this season. Given his mechanics, I imagine he’ll be able to develop into a serviceable standstill shooter. Defensively, he’s shown himself to be an excellent team defender, able to help and recover while utilizing his bulk and length to harass attackers. Against Seton Hall’s massive front line (7-2 Romaro Gill, 7-2 Ike Obiagu, 6-10 Sandro Mamukelashvili), he struggled at times on the offensive end which, for a player who doesn’t have a great jumper and isn’t a high-level leaper, is something worth noting. Overall, Tillman’s skillset is significantly more advanced than the three centers above him while his physical tools and upside put a lower cap on his ceiling.

  1. Myles Powell, Seton Hall:

Stock change: rising

Best scorer in college basketball perhaps? Scores at all three levels with NBA range. Can score off bounce, off catch, off the move. Can hit all the shots, all the time. If this was a fun ranking, he’d be at the top of the list; particularly with his performance against Michigan State: 37 points on 6-14 from three and 7-9 from the line. I had Powell ranked in the 30s before he pulled out of the draft last year and like him quite a bit more than St. Johns’ Shamorie Ponds – a somewhat comparable player as a smaller scoring guard. I’ve seen comparisons to Lou Williams which are probably unfair given Williams’s long-term scoring and playmaking development. Beyond the scoring though, the Williams comparison raises another issue with Powell’s current utilization: he has his highest career usage rate with the lowest assist rate (14.5%) and assists/gm (1.8) since his freshman year. I don’t doubt Powell can generate points at the pro level, but can he do it efficiently and within the framework of a winning offense? I didn’t get a good enough read on his defense to comment here, but plan on seeing him in person in December and will relay to you my findings at that later date.

  1. Aaron Henry, Michigan State:

Stock change: rising

Henry is a sophomore lefty who has the requisite size at 6-6, 210-pounds, along with mobility and athleticism that projects well as an NBA wing. While watching him against Seton Hall, I learned he hates clowns. He also had a nasty ankle roll, but was thankfully able to play through it though it did appear to hamper his elevation and he sat out their next game. Henry is partial to attacking with his dominant left, but is capable of finishing with both hands. While not quite an initiator, he’s shown flashes of making good reads and passes. Defensively, he’s competent and capable with strength and awareness. Against both Seton Hall and Kentucky, I saw him get visibility frustrated – once with the refs and once with a defensive miscommunication. This is hardly a red flag and is rather standard in the NBA, but in terms of scouting, it’s usually: See something, say something. Also worth noting that Henry’s broad array of skills and size likely make him a more transferable pro than Powell although none of his skills currently rise to the level of Powell’s shooting or scoring.

  1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State:

Stock change: Rising

I look at Cassius Winston and his 43% three-point shooting on 460 career attempts, his round Bonzi Wells-ish face, and stout build and I think Kyle Lowry, Jalen Brunson. I don’t think these are accurate comparisons, but merely surface level. Though, like Lowry, Winston can impact games and fill box scores without flashing a little leg. As a four-year acolyte of Izzo and a three-year starter, Winston is college basketball’s embodiment of stability. He might have that little Clyde Drexler-like leg pump on his jumper, but what’s it really matter when he can hit threes off catch or bounce at that 43% clip? His handle is competent, if a tad loose, but again, over a 113-game stretch, he’s at a nearly 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He runs the pick-and-roll with veteran savvy, can drop the pocket pass, sees and typically makes the right pass, and is generally a highly effective college basketball player. Given the development and impact of players like Fred Vanvleet and Devonte’ Graham, I find myself wandering in a forest of uncertainty with these four-year point guards. If nothing else, the shooting seems to translate and if it does for Winston, that’s a path to an NBA role.

  1. Filip Petrusev, Gonzaga:

Stock change: Rising

I’m probably higher on Petrusev than I should be, but against A&M, and in other games, he’s just been a model of composed, refined big man play. He lacks the power and athleticism of the top-four centers on this abbreviated list, but at 6-11, he has a mature understanding of how to utilize his size. He keeps the ball high on catches and boards, has touch off the glass, and a good nose for the ball on rebounds. With his back to the basket, he reads the floor well and against A&M, had numerous plus-passes including cross court and picking out backdoor cutters. Defensively, he shows engagement, focus, and competitiveness. He may be a bit light in the pants for beefier or more athletic bigs, but between his competitiveness and length, can be serviceable on that end. Like Okongwu, I look forward to see Petrusev against higher levels of competition as the A&M bigs offered little challenge.

  1. Malik Hall, Michigan State

Stock change: Rising

I’m happy to own this as a near-term over-rank with potential for some longer-term validation. Against Seton Hall, Malik was incendiary off the bench. He shot 7-7 including 3-3 from three on what were exclusively unguarded threes. Having seen Hall in EYBL, he’s always had an Izzo-player type sheen to him with good footwork, consistent effort, above average BBIQ and athleticism, and an ability to play big. For a stretch, Izzo had him playing some center against Seton Hall’s monstrous frontline and instead of being devoured by the 7-2 Ike Obiagu, Hall was on his David & Goliath, stretching the big man out of his comfort zone and using his feet to navigate around Obiagu’s meager attempts at posting up. Hall doesn’t project as ever being a star, but he already gets the finer points of playing winning basketball and is in a program that will nurture it.

  1. Isaiah Mobley, USC

Stock change: no change

Right now, Mobley’s probably more fun than he is effective. At 6-10, 235-pounds, he has a bag of tricks filled with all types of moves that are mostly foreign to 19-year-old basketball players. There’s a European style to his play: hyper aware on offense with a bevy of craft and deception, high-level fakes and footwork that remind you that basketball is art and can be an expression of a higher plane of the mind-body meld. I see Mobley and I see shades of Naz Reid, but also Dario Saric, just loads of skill and imagination bringing glee to basketball fans young and old. On the flip side, as I watched Mobley against Nevada, I noted, “not too fond of bending his knees.” Defensively, he’s rarely in a ready position. He stands straight up and down, susceptible to being beaten by quick, decisive moves on or off the ball. Between his lack of engagement on the defensive side, average athleticism, and a body lacking strength, Mobley will have some straightforward challenges at the next level, but his skill level is so high and unique at his size that he can and should be able to survive and contribute at the pro level.

  1. Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga at Seton Hall, trending up: I’ll admit this is probably me playing to my favorites more than it is a genuine rank of prospects, but the 6-5 sophomore point guard from France has elite quickness, wiry strength, plus-length, an ability to attack with both hands, and well above average BBIQ. He can and does do a bit of everything when he’s on the court and has been impossible for me to take my eyes off at both FIBA U19’s this past summer and with Gonzaga this season. His shot needs work, but hot damn, his per-40 numbers are: 11-points, 7-assists, 13-rebounds, and over 3 steals.
  2. Anton Watson, Gonzaga, no change: Smart people whose opinions I respect (Ross Homan, Mike Gribanov, Jackson Frank) are super duper high on Watson which means in all likelihood that I’ve overlooked Watson’s shine in favor of Ayayi, Drew Timme, and Corey Kispert in Gonzaga’s games. If anything else, it gives me another area to focus my attention in future Zags games. I’d seen Watson in high school and noted an advanced skill level and consistent effort. He has a strong handle, can pass or get his own shot, and competes defensively. He plays at a mature, unrushed pace filled with nuance and timing. I’m assuming he’ll climb my rankings as I consume more Zags games.
  3. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga, up: side note: for the longest time, I thought his name was Cody. Kispert is 6-7, 220 pounds with a rock solid build. He looks like he’s in a state of perpetual sweat and, from what I’ve seen, is prone to going balls to the wall (BTTW). He’s from Edmonds, Washington (just north of Seattle) and I’d been aware of him from his high school days, but never thought much of his pro prospects until I saw him against Alabama State earlier this year when he went for 28 points on 10-13 from the field and 5-6 from 3. For his Gonzaga career, he’s shooting 37% on over 300 attempts. But I don’t think the shooting is his best skill; rather it’s his wing size, defensive versatility, athleticism combined with the shooting that make him an intriguing 3-and-D prospect.
  4. Emmitt Matthews, West Virginia, trending up: Good sized (6-7) shooter with offensive awareness, plus passer (lot of zip on passes), who needs to get stronger.
  5. Xavier Johnson, Pittsburgh, trending down: great size (6-3, 190) at point guard, strong kid with length, at his best going downhill, powerful change of direction, decent vision, form on jumper needs work: shooting 40% on 3s, 33% on 2s, 57% from the line. Sloppy at times with ball control: nearly 4 turnovers/game over 39-game career. There’s a prospect here, but he’s still learning to be the best version of himself.
  6. Boogie Ellis, Memphis, trending: no change: good shooter, strong athlete, competes on both ends, would like to see more of him.
  7. Precious Achiuwa, Memphis, trending down: 20-year-old 6-9 freshman shooting 47% from the line. Good feel passing and moving without the ball. Struggling to adapt to defending at college level, can’t just out-physical opponents like he could in high school. All the physical tools, but long way to harness it all. I’m not certain what his NBA skill or role are at present.
  8. DJ Jeffries, Memphis, trending up: At 6-7, 225-pounds, Jeffries projects as a big wing who plays bigger than his size. Against Oregon, he was up and down, but showed flashes of rim protection and the versatile offensive attack that initially attracted my attention in EYBL. He’s a good athlete with an above average handle for his age and position, he can make improvisational reads and passes off a live dribble. While just six games into his college career, it seems he’s still trying to settle into the pace of play, particularly in Memphis’s young, stacked offense. Averaging 2.7 stocks in 26 minutes/game.
  9. Lester Quinones, Memphis, trending up: 6-5, 220-pound combo guard. I’m not convinced he’s actually 220, but he wears short shorts and goes BTTW. Strong lower body, makes hustle plays, competes, likes to shoot (24% on 5 3pas/gm), 14-15 from line (93%), touch comes and goes. Won’t be surprised to see him put up 40 in a G-League game in two years.
  10. Damion Baugh, Memphis, no change: first time seeing Baugh, a 6-3, 185-pound combo guard. Strong, pass first guard can attack off bounce, pick out open man, run pick-and-roll, and compete defensively. Odd allergy to shooting: scoring 9 points and taking 5 shots per-40 minutes.
  11. Drew Timme, Gonzaga, trending up: fun big listed at 6-10 though he looks shorter to me. Excellent passer with great footwork and feel for game. Doesn’t shoot threes (zero attempts in five games) and very little presence protecting the rim although averaging a block-per-game. Would like to see him develop some sort of jumper.
  12. Will Richardson, Oregon, trending up: Probably one of my favorite things with young players is seeing how they develop physically from season-to-season. Richardson is a 6-5 combo guard with twiggy arms and legs as a freshman and while he’s no Tshiebwe as a sophomore, he’s filled out quite a bit and it shows in an improved ability to attack off the bounce and absorb contact. Richardson was a point guard in high school and has retained his ability as a passer with high BBIQ in addition to becoming a more confident three-point shooter. He’s only taken eight threes in five games this season, but is 5-8 in addition to shooting 11-13 (85%) from the line compared to 67% a year ago. He just looks more confident. His craft and IQ help to compensate for average athleticism. He’s almost like a smaller, less hypnotic version of Kyle Anderson.
  13. Payton Pritchard, Oregon, maybe trending up: Pritchard’s a four-year starter at Oregon, a career 36% three-point shooter and 78% free throw shooter who’s shooting career worsts in both, but a career-high 63 true shooting on the strength of 68% on nearly eight two-point field goal attempts/game. At 6-2, 195, he’s not going to overwhelm you with size, speed, or strength. He shares Myles Powell’s size, but nowhere near the breadth or depth of his scoring ability. That said, against a young Memphis squad, he was able to use his experience to hunt mismatches against Achiuwa and Wiseman. Against Achiuwa, he bumped the younger player off balance for a clean look while he took advantage of Wiseman giving him too much of a cushion on the perimeter to bust his ass from three. He competes, but doesn’t project as an NBA player.
  14. Nick Rakocevic, USC, trending up: fresh off a 27-point, 16-rebound, 5-steal game against South Dakota State, the 6-11 senior, Rakocevic used all his refined fundamentals and relentless motor to shit all over Nevada (24p on 10-15, 11r). He’s a legit 6-11 with narrow shoulders, a high motor who’s exceptional running the floor and an above average passer. He’s not a great rim protector and while he’s a smart player, he hasn’t blown me away as a team defender. He’s shown a turn-and-face and mid-range game at USC, but is just 2-9 from three in his career. Absent stretch ability and rim protection, it’ll be hard for him to land in the league, but his energy, effort, and smarts give him some potential as a two-way player. More Zeller than Plumlee.
  15. CJ Walker, Oregon, trending: no change: Walker’s a spindly 6-8, 200-pound combo forward for the Ducks. He committed three fouls in five minutes against Memphis and is averaging less than a point in his first five college games. Early returns aside, Walker is a high-level athlete with questionable BBIQ who has long-term potential as a multi-position defender due to his length and high-energy play. He also has potential to get lost in the shuffle.
  16. Chandler Lawson, Oregon, trending up: The younger brother of Kansas’s Dedric Lawson, Chandler is a 6-8, 205-pound Memphis native who’s similar to Walker in that he’s rangy and plays with energy. Based on the Memphis game alone (8p on 2-3 shooting, 4-5 FTs, 4r – 2 offensive), he’s the more college-ready player. His activity and length translate well and he’s a competent and capable passer. His strength and handle are areas he can improve upon.
  17. Jazz Johnson, Nevada, trending up: Gotta love a 5-10 combo guard who’s shooting 42% from three on over 440 career attempts. Johnson doesn’t have the athletic pop of shorter guys like Isaiah Thomas or Chris Clemons, but he’s probably a better long-range shooter and defender. Longshot for the NBA, but likely G-League or overseas guy.
  18. Jalen Harris, Nevada, trending up: had never heard of Jalen Harris before Nevada played USC, but he’s a 6-5, 195-pound incoming transfer from Louisiana Tech. According to coach Steve Alford, he’s an “elite athlete with great BBIQ.” The athleticism was easy to see, but he was 3-19 from the field and just kept firing up contested looks. He’s at 46 TS on the season so the cold streak wasn’t limited to one game. That said, Harris has feel for the game. On a Nevada squad lacking in playmaking, he’s one of their primary initiators with nearly 4 assists/game. He’s a plus-rebounder (over 6/game) with a strong frame and potential as a multi-positional defender. In an ideal role, he’s a standstill shooter who can attack closeouts and defend both guard spots.
  19. Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall, trending: no change: Mamukelashvili is an unconventional big, a 6-10 native of Georgia (Stalin’s Georgia, not Dominique’s) who’s not particularly good at rim protection or shooting, but is a primary creator on Seton Hall’s Powell-heavy offense. He has a fluid handle and moves well with a great feel for the game on both sides of the ball. His fundamentals are sound and he’s strong as a team defender. Against Michigan State, he was able to attack off the dribble, but struggled to finish through contact and control the ball. He was 3-7 on twos with four TOs. He’s a fun player, but one who likely has to many holes to succeed in the league.
  20. Derek Culver, West Virginia, trending down: A 21-year-old sophomore, Culver is a hulkish 6-10, 255-pounds with boulder shoulders and an average-to-below average feel for the game. He showed some unreal athleticism in the clip below, but for the most part, his athleticism doesn’t pop in game. He shows flashes of intrigue with the occasional nice pass or he-manish rebound in traffic, but there’s a lack of consistency to his game and his defensive awareness is consistency lacking as evidence by his 7+ fouls/40 minutes. He does have some touch and is currently shooting 88% from the line on 24 attempts this season.
  21. Marcus Bingham, Michigan State, trending up: near-seven-footer with decent looking jumper (0-5 from three this season) averaging over six blocks/40 this season. Rail thin. If he can increase volume on three ball and put on weight, shows touch of potential as a Channing Frye-type specialist.
  22. Rocket Watts, Michigan State, trending: no change: Believe his destiny is as a point guard, but alongside Cassius Winston, those opportunities are few and far between so the 6-2 freshman is a steward of sorts, charged with not fucking up and through four games, he’s done well in that role with a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His shot isn’t broken by any means, but he’s shooting just 3-17 from three and struggled at times in EYBL. Solid build, willing competitor and defender, rebounds well for size.
  23. Gabe Brown, Michigan State, trending up: lefty shooter with defensive versatility at 6-7; spent lot of time guarding Powell in game against Seton Hall. More athletic than I expected from a guy with a reputation as a “shooter.” In limited game film, handle hasn’t looked great. Shoots it well off catch and movement.
  24. Lindsey Drew, Nevada, trending up: had never heard of Drew before this season, but he’s a 6-4 point guard for Nevada who’s started 98 of 105 career games and has averaged 2 stocks/game for his career. Added a three-point shot this season and is shooting 40% on 5 attempts/game. There’s almost a laziness to his game in that his dribble and playmaking unfold slowly as he pokes and prods for holes in the defense and excels at keeping his dribble alive. He has a slower wind up on his catch-and-shoot jumper as well. Against USC, he struggled to stay in front of his man on defensive side and was limited in his overall defensive impact. He’s trending up here because I’d never even heard of him or considered him. Nothing to something equals rising.
  25. Ethan Anderson, USC, trending up: at 6-2, 210 with a thick neck, Anderson looks more football player than point guard, but the freshman is a consummate lead guard for USC. He’s averaging six assists with a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He plays with poise and despite his lack of experience, doesn’t get sped up by the defense. He can change speeds, change direction, and mix in eurosteps as needed. His passing translates in half court and transition settings. The glaring issue with Anderson is his Omar Cook-like shooting: 42 TS through six games including 32% on 25 twos. If the shooting comes around, he’ll climb pretty quick for me.
  26. Shakur Juiston, Oregon, trending: no change: Not much to say. Broad shoulders, rebounds well.
  27. Savion Flagg, Texas A&M, trending down: looks the part at 6-7, 223 with a ripped frame, but maddening to watch with poor ball control and defensive lapses and miscommunications. 3.5 turnovers to 2.5 assists with a 22% usage this season.
  28. Tyrese Samuel, Seton Hall, trending down: has potential as a stretch-4 (6-10, 220 with a pretty jumper), but only sniffing the edges of the Hall’s rotation. Work-in-progress.
  29. Daniel Utomi, USC, trending up: 6-6, 225-pound grad transfer at USC. From 16 and 5 for Akron in the MAC to 20-minute/game role player with USC. Utomi looks like a brick shithouse with broader shoulders and sturdy frame, but is presently relegated to a supporting dirty work guy with this USC team. He can shoot it (39% on 7 3s/game last two seasons at Akron) and defend and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him starting or playing as sixth man for this USC team. Pro prospects: unlikely, but physical tools are there.
  30. Elijah Weaver, USC, trending down
  31. Trey McGowens, Seton Hall, no change
  32. Ike Obiagu, Seton Hall, trending down
  33. Francis Okoro, Oregon, trending down
  34. Jordan McCabe, West Virginia, no change

Unranked players that I noted, but didn’t get a large enough sample: Au’Diese Toney, Gerald Drumgoole, Karim Coulibaly (I do like him), Miles McBride (WVU reserve PG, probably better than McCabe), Chris Duarte, Anthony Mathis (64% on 31 3pas this year – should be in mid-20s of list above), Foster Loyer, Emanuel Miller, Jay Jay Chandler, Andre Gordon, Nisre Zouzoua, and Justin Champagnie

James Wiseman: More question marks and less exclamation points, please.

It’s fitting to start off this 2020 NBA draft prospect season with the incoming freshman who’s widely recognized as the top prospect of the 2019 high school class: James Wiseman. But it’s also fitting for a blog that rarely takes hard and fast stances to pick a player who the experts love, but draft Twitter cocks a skeptical eyebrow towards. And I’m an appropriate author of such a piece as my viewing experience has revealed a case of not one or two Wisemans (Wisemen?), but multiple Wisemans. More appropriate yet is that these schisms in style are part of a long tradition of basketball playing big men whose basketball-playing selves (to say nothing off their non-basketball playing selves) are caught in a crisis of uncertainty between how others view their potential and they themselves view it. Or, to quote the writing of the great Leo Tolstoy, “There was something terribly lacking between what I felt and what I could do.”

For Wiseman, there’s not much doubt about how he sees himself. It’s expressed in his play and through his words, “I’m a very versatile player, I can shoot, I can dribble, I can run the floor really well for my size.” He’s “patterned” his game on “Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, and even David Robinson.” His high school coach, Jevonte Holmes, sees KG, Bosh, and Marvin Bagley and his new coach at Memphis, former NBA player and portrayer of the fictional Butch McRae, Penny Hardaway, also sees Bosh. It makes good sense to model your endeavor, whatever it may be, on the best. I think there was a time where I fancied my writerly self some kind of Jack Kerouac even if my style and talent in no way matched. Wiseman at least shares physical dimensions with the aforementioned and I may have shared similar measurements to Kerouac. Wiseman appears longer than his comps (although his long-reported 7-foot-6 inch wingspan may be closer to 7-foot-4) with a massive 7-1, 240-pound frame that moves with the fluid ease of the Mississippi rolling along Memphis’s border; it’s a body that expands and explodes to block shots as though it were a natural birthright.

The clips I’ve watched of Wiseman span from the 2018 EYBL season up through the 2019 Nike Hoop Summit with his 2018-19 high school season in between. The player I’ve watched is wildly inconsistent, a player capable of flattening oppositions like that giant lizard-dinosaur and that gorilla in Rampage (these characters appear to be unimaginative knockoffs of King Kong and Godzilla, but are not those name brand giants) in one sequence and morphing into an overdribbling, fade-away shooting wannabe Kobe Bryant (but without the touch) on others. Younger players will inevitably be less consistent than their older, more physically developed and experienced players, but with Wiseman there appears to be a yawning gap between capability and even moderately efficient reality.

As far as identity is concerned, Wiseman isn’t alone and isn’t completely at fault for any incongruities between what he is and what he thinks he is. Basketball and big men have a long, strange, unimaginative history that has taken creative, experimental minds to untangle. A year ago, inspired by a draft class of versatile bigs, I wrote about basketball’s relationship with its tallest players, a relationship that for years yielded to orthodoxy. In that piece, I argued that players like Bob McAdoo, Dirk Nowitzki, and Draymond Green, paired with creative coaching in Jack Ramsay, Don Nelson, and Steve Kerr, redefined not just what big men could be, but what was required of them. As presently deployed, James Wiseman is the experiment gone too far.

From 2005 to 2012, Dwight Howard was mostly an ideal marriage between ability and execution. I say mostly because, despite being surrounded by shooters, for every assist he threw, he turned the ball over twice. But beyond the occasional detour into playmaking or advanced post moves, Howard dunked home over 40% of his 4,000-plus made field goals. He set screens, rolled, caught and dunked. He anchored what was consistently a top-five defensive team with defensive awareness, effort, and scheme combined with an idealized mix of size, length, and explosiveness. He won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards and was MVP runner-up in in 2011. But throughout Dwight’s history of being elite Dwight, there was the insistence on being an offensive focal point which were accompanied by mumblings and rumblings desiring a greater share of the offense and in his recent vagabond years, even an expressed a desire to become “his own version” of Kevin Durant or Draymond Green. The problem isn’t that Howard wants to expand or improve his game, it’s that his strengths and abilities don’t align with his stated role models.

The original big man who navigated a complex on-court identity crisis was Wilt Chamberlain. I don’t believe him to be the greatest of all time or even the most dominant, but I have no issue with people who make those statements about a man once nicknamed the “Big Musty” for his overwhelming body odor. But Chamberlain was a sensitive man who heard all the criticisms and responded with an almost childlike obstinacy. Peter Vescey, then of the New York Post, wrote in 1999:

He once told me the one regret he had was that he didn’t play more aggressively against Russell. Red Auerbach would say stuff and get into his head, and the papers would write stuff and get into his head. He let the criticism affect him.

Following the Jayhawks’ 1-point defeat to unbeaten UNC, Wilt never could seem to shake his loser’s image. A couple insufferable setbacks in championship games to the Celts and everybody readily bought into the perception. Maybe even Wilt himself, who became more insecure and defensive as Russell’s hands swelled with rings.

Somewhere along the way, Wilt, like everybody else, got numbed by his numbers, blinded by his brilliance and spoiled by the spectacular.

Rather than bully people, he badgered them. Instead of becoming vengeful, Wilt often got passive. Instead of piling it up from point blank range, he upgraded his degree of difficulty. Instead of dunking on people’s domes, he aided them by adopting a fadeaway. Other times, he hardly shot at all in an attempt to prove critics he could accomplish anything he wanted. One season he decided to become league leader in assists, refusing to pass the ball to cutters whose field goal percentages didn’t warrant the risk. Wilt became consumed with proving his success wasn’t based on brute force, but elan and aptitude.

In his GOAT: The 40 Best Careers in NBA History series, Ben Taylor made the case that Chamberlain’s (9th all-time on his list) “four best teams, by far, come from his non volume-scoring years, and the last two come from his ‘Tyson Chandler’ vintage.” Chamberlain was unstoppable on the offensive end, but, Taylor shows, that dominance didn’t make his teams better offensively. And as Vescey points out, he got in his head to lead the league in assists, but as Taylor again articulates, “he was letting defenses off the hook by looking to pass too much.” Chamberlain’s greatest contributions to winning were done on the defensive end as a rim protector, rebounder, and fast break initiator and yet he was almost dragged, kicking and screaming, into this role by Los Angeles Lakers coach Bill Sharman. It’s not that Chamberlain should have played like Russell, he was far too talented offensively to be an equal cog in the wheel, but that his utilization required a moderation that he struggled to accept and likely never fully accepted. Chamberlain was a great scorer and excellent passer, but instead of a steady diet of either, much of his career was spent overexaggerating these skills at the expense of team success because, like most everything Chamberlain did, he did it to excess.

Which brings us back to James Wiseman, the 18-year-old supposed Chris Bosh. I’m not bringing Howard and Chamberlain (a Hall of Famer and future Hall of Famer) into the conversation to make any comparison in terms of ability, but rather to draw direct and emphatic comparisons regarding the fickle nature and deployment of NBA big men. At this point, it’s even fair to pose this as a chicken/egg question with Wiseman. If he never fell in love with the top-of-the-key three-ball or shitty fadeaways, does he elicit the same excitement and “unicorn” hyperbole? If teenage Wiseman operates as a back-to-the-basket dunker and rim protector (I suggest that because the roll man role doesn’t exist at the high school levels in a way that allows a player to define himself), is he still as attractive to the scouting world? Put another way, Clint Capela is not sexy.

If Wiseman can escape the ghost of Bosh and play his game, what can he be? Despite a lanky build, Wiseman is sturdy at 240 pounds, but it’s a 240 that he’s still figuring out how to use. While not being the most physical interior presence, with his size, footwork, and ability to squat low into position, he’s exceptional at gaining position on interior seals and being a big, high-reaching target for lobs. Against college teams with advanced scouting, this type of action won’t be as readily available, but Wiseman has an improving basketball IQ and if he can incorporate his interior seals and spin moves into improvisational reads, he’s fleet footed enough to get easy, high-percentage attempts more frequently than most players.

Wiseman has exhibited inconsistent competence in reading the floor out of the post – in isolation and against doubles. While his reactions to doubles aren’t the quickest, he’s able to use an escape dribble and his size to find an open man, but this comes and goes. Sometimes he’ll look calm reacting and seeing the crosscourt pass while others will find him panicking to get rid of the hot potato before someone steals it. The skill is further mitigated when he takes a premeditated shot; which he’s shown a tendency to go from catch-to-post move all in one motion without regard for the lay of the court or defense. He can make basic reads and occasionally advanced reads, but in the EYBL circuit specifically the lack of spacing limits these opportunities.

His greatest strength at present is his defense. This was best on display at the 2019 Nike Hoop Summit in May when he blocked seven shots in under 23 minutes of play. This was on an NBA court (Portland’s Moda Center) with a 24-second shot clock and against high D1 players. Wiseman was on full throttle, but he remained in total control of his effort. Instead of swinging for every shot attempt like pros Hassan Whiteside or Mitchell Robinson are prone to do, his contests were measured, but relentless. While he blocked seven, he deterred or forced adjustments on many more. He was most impactful as a help side defender as the World team struggled to make him pay for helping, but in one-on-one possessions against Kofi Cockburn (Illinois) and N’Faly Dante (Oregon), he frequently stayed between man and the basket while holding his ground despite giving up pounds to both. In the clip below, he blocks two shots and contests a third in about a five-second stretch which, maybe it’s because I’m 38 and overweight, but it’s exhausting considering jumping with exertion that many times in a row.

If Wiseman is capable of bringing that type of defensive effort with consistency, he can directly impact winning in both college and the pros. In the 10-plus games I scouted, unfortunately, this effort wasn’t consistent. Against four-star big man and fellow 7-footer, Hunter Dickinson, Wiseman’s effort was semi-catatonic, a 7-foot pylon outworked physically, unable or unwilling to compete. It was the kind of performance that triggers red flags. When fully present and working, defense is the greatest utilization of his copious physical gifts and given his size and athleticism, it has the potential to translate early on. In terms of switchability and perimeter defense, I haven’t seen a ton of examples showing he can or can’t move his feet on the perimeter. I have seen him use his length to get out on jump shooters and contest shots that typically be clean looks. While this ability doesn’t mean he can move laterally, he’s long enough that he can use his length to create somewhat of a cushion, but again, less than his ability to move side-to-side on the perimeter, consistent effort will be the deciding factor in his effectiveness.

In terms of weaknesses, the biggest issues arise on the offensive side of the floor where Wiseman is maddeningly inconsistent. His offensive decision making, particularly his shot choice, was so poor at the 2018 EYBL that I wondered if I should throw out the entire league when assessing his play. The amount of contested threes, step backs, and fade-aways are mind boggling. According to D1Circuit.com, Wiseman shot 4-27 (~15%) from three. He was a much more respectable 54% from twos and shot 55% from the line. For his 2018-19 high school season, one broadcast in December had him shooting 17% from three, but his high school coach claimed he shot 42% – which is a hard number to accept given his previous rates and the shot in general.

It’s not just that Wiseman is an inaccurate marksman, it’s that he insists on taking contested attempts and, at least in EYBL, he had the team running sets where Wiseman would sprint to the corner for quick catch attempts – which just enables the kid. I get the need to develop and the need for in-game reps, but between game film and stats, there’s no reason Wiseman should be taking these shots with any level of frequency. It would mildly more acceptable if he was seeking out catch-and-shoot threes, but in the true spirit of mucking it up, he prefers contested, off-the-dribble attempts and has the awful habit of straddling the three-point-line. It’s all strange and reinforces the damn Tolstoy quote above: “There was something terribly lacking between what I felt and what I could do.”

I don’t know the ideal blend of in-game reps versus practice reps for a move or skill. A high school coach I had suggested we need to be able to hit 8 of 10 shots unguarded to be able to attempt it in a game. Does Wiseman shoot 80% on step backs, fade-aways, and threes in practice? It’s certainly possible. At times, he exhibits soft touch on his jumper and in my notes I, just like Penny and Jevonte Holmes and Wiseman himself, wrote of a particular fade-away: “that’s the most Chris Bosh-like thing I’ve seen from him.” But at what point does a glimpse become a possibility or a building block? I’ve seen enough Wiseman to know why people make the comparisons they do, but the slivers and snippets of good-to-great basketball moves are outweighed by the accompanying bumbling of it all.

There are two clips below: one of Wiseman utterly destroying top-3 2021 prospect Evan Mobley. The other of Wiseman settling for a crappy contested jumper and having it blocked by a shorter, weaker, less-gifted-but-still-very-gifted player. Neither of these clips defines James Wiseman – either as presently constructed or as imagined. His basketball reality and future live somewhere in a vast infinity of possibility which will, bizarrely, make perfect sense whenever we arrive there. Wiseman has a supreme confidence in self, but is that confidence enough to bridge the gap between what he feels and what he can do? Or is his destiny an endless pursuit of congruity? Could he be the best of his class? It’s possible. After all, just because I didn’t sniff the heights of Kerouac doesn’t mean I was wrong for trying.

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