Dancing With Noah

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Scouting Dump #3: Mostly February, Tiers 1 and 2

12 games, 86 players, and a new job span this latest scouting dump which has, admittedly, undergone a partially expected detour that included site seeing with Cole Anthony and LaMelo Ball and aborted ventures to RJ Hampton and some other point guards. There’s also a high school version sitting somewhere in my drafts, but all is on hold until we scrub through the latest 86 – or at least the first six of those 86 since being concise is an impossibility. As a reminder: the only players covered are players I viewed during this window of games so please no kicking up dust or angry letters to the editor because you didn’t see LaMelo or James Wiseman or Markus Howard or whoever you’re fancying these days.

The games:

  • 2/15/20: DePaul @ Creighton
  • 2/15/20: Maryland @ Michigan State
  • 2/6/20: USC @ Arizona
  • 2/8/20: Kentucky @ Tennessee
  • 2/1/20: Arkansas @ Tennessee
  • 2/9/20: Alabama @ Georgia
  • 1/30/20: Baylor @ Iowa State
  • 2/3/20: UNC @ FSU
  • 1/22/20: Rutgers @ Iowa – in person
  • 2/11/20: Alba Berlin @ Ulm
  • 2/19/20: Indiana @ Minnesota
  • 2/20/20: USC @ Colorado

Previous editions:

 

  1. Anthony Edwards, Georgia, no change, #1 overall, Tier1: Edwards either had the flu or was recovering from the flu when his Bulldogs hosted Alabama and it appeared to have some effect on his game, but the degree to which it did is impossible for me to say, but when Anthony Edwards, he of the heat check, he of the pull-up-three game, he of the questionable shot selection habits, chooses to bypass a wide open three in favor of a pass, something is clearly amiss. Flu or not, this version of Edwards was different from the last I’d seen him in January against Tennessee where I noted that he had shown, “lazy fucking D not even getting hand up on JJJ (Josiah-Jordan James).” Against Alabama though, Edwards was engaged and competing defensively. He got out and denied passes, jumped passing lanes for steals, stayed in front of Bama’s lightning quick spitfire Kira Lewis Jr. He was far from flawless, but a greater ability to stay focused than I’d previously seen. Offensively, he was more within the flow of the group: using his strength and quickness to attack off the bounce, taking open looks instead of forcing pull-ups, and making pass reads in the half court. It’s all there with Edwards, a 6-5, 225-pound bull(dog?) of a guard. And it’s always been there which is why I’ve had him atop my list since Cole Anthony’s injury. With Edwards, the ceiling, that beautiful fresco to be imagined and hopefully, maybe, possibly realized, hinges on consistency: consistency of effort, of output. Prior to the Alabama game, he had a three-game stretch where he averaged 28-points, ten rebounds and over 3.5 stocks with 47-39-72 shooting splits on 11 threes and six free throw attempts-per-game. In the subsequent four games, it’s 13.5-points and six rebounds with just over two stocks and 34-17-93 shooting. Somewhere in this seven-game morass lie hints to his NBA future. Anthony Edwards: Fun vs Function.

 

2. Onyeka Okongwu, USC, rising, Tier2: After seeing Okongwu rain arrays of dunks and ambidextrous finishes against Arizona and Colorado, I was so stinking tempted to bump him up to tier one with Edwards, but the more I stewed over it, the more clearly his potential limitations prevented me from lifting him to the much lusted after tier one valuation. At just 19-years-old, Okongwu has a range and versatility to his offensive game that borders on savant levels. His face-ups out of the post include spins, shot fakes, scoop shots, both hand finishes, hooks, floaters all powered by masterclass footwork. He strings moves together in ways that twist up defenders and remind me of some weird basketball version of Manny Pacquiao with his crazy punch angles. To top that off, his explosiveness, strength, and hands are all well-above average. The combination of skill and athletics allow him to dominate as an undersized (6-9, 245) center, but that size and some of his lapses in focus on the defensive end are why I ultimately put him in T2. Not to go all micro sample size, but against UW’s Isaiah Stewart (6-9, 240 with a 7’4” wingspan), Okongwu was physically overpowered at times. Stewart plays with a motor rivaled at the collegiate level only by Luka Garza and so it’s not a knock on Okongwu that he lost some battles, but against tanks like Joel Embiid, Karl Anthony-Towns, DeAndre Ayton, Nikola Jokic or even less-skilled behemoths like Jusuf Nurkic or Aron Baynes, he’ll have challenges. Given the league’s deviation away from post-ups, it doesn’t put a hard cap on Okongwu’s ceiling and, when engaged, he’s aware as a team defender and is a plus as a rim protector. He’ll have a quickness advantage over most NBA fives, but unless he can better develop a perimeter game (0-3 on threes at USC and 1-4 across Adidas Nationals and Gauntlet games), his full range of skills will be harder to tap into.

3. Cole Anthony, UNC, trending down, Tier2: Anthony, a 6-3 freshman who turns 20 in May, was my number one overall player in the class, but injury, inefficiency and extended, high-level viewing have steadily knocked him further down my list. Anthony isn’t the shooter I thought he was or could be. In nine pre-injury games, he shot 38% on twos and 35% on nearly seven three attempts. Since his return, the twos have crept up closer to 40% while the threes have dipped down to 27% on 41 total attempts. In EYBL, he was an 89% free throw shooter, but that number plummeted to 68% pre-injury, and bounced back up to 84% on 45 post-injury attempts. With the exception of the free throw percentage and a nose diving steal-per-game average (from 1.9 to 0.7), this hasn’t been a tale of two seasons for Anthony, rather, it’s been one long, uneven march towards the draft. It’s not just the shooting though, it’s repeated defensive mistakes that have, somewhat at least, tried to course correct since returning. Despite an explosive first step and a booming vertical, Anthony struggles to create looks at the rim for himself and has a strange propensity for leaning back at the peak of his jump on rim attempts, hanging, clutching and adjusting, looking for just the right angle on his shot. It’s a bad habit that’s led to inefficiency. He’s shooting just 46% on close twos per barttorvik. If most of what I’ve written about Anthony is critical, it’s what he’s proven capable of in spite of a challenging season pockmarked with injury and losing. He’s maintained a 33% usage rate surrounded by non-pros and non-shooters. He sports around 40% rates on FTr and 3PAr which should lend themselves better to a pro game with hyper emphasis on the efficiency of threes and free throws. His rebounding, particularly on the defensive end, is one of the areas where his vertical athleticism and strength visibly translate. There’s an effective, impactful player here, it’s just not to the degree I previously thought.

4. Killian Hayes, ratiopharm Ulm, trending up, Tier2: At 6-5 with a listed 6-8 wingspan, Hayes is bigger, longer, and over a year younger than Anthony. In the German league, he plays against fringe NBA guys like Ricky Paulding, Zoran Dragic, Bryce Alford, and Peyton Siva where he’s more than held his own with per-36 averages of 17-points, four rebounds, eight assists, and two steals. He has, by most measures, out-performed Anthony this season. Anthony’s athleticism, pull-up ability, and history of producing give him the slimmest of edges for me, but it’s narrow enough that a handful of strong performances or workouts from either player could tilt the advantage. But Hayes’s prospect profile isn’t tied to Anthony’s. He easily stands apart as his ow distinct talent. At 6-5, he’s not wispy thin like LaMelo or even a Shaun Livingston. He has a good build that he puts to use on the defensive end where he seeks out contact in on and off-ball situations and on loose balls or rebounds. He fights through screens which is a sight to beyond after seeing LaMelo crumple so many times. The combination of defensive awareness and technique, effort (usually – there are lapses), and size provide for a solid foundation. If he’s sound defensively, it’s on the offensive where he’s radiant. Next to Ball and probably Nico Mannion, he’s the best pick-and-roll passer of this deep point guard crop; able to quickly diagnose the optimal pass angle or wait for the defenders to muddle up the help or switch; he can make an over-the-top pass or thread the needle and, P&R or not, passes with a Rondo-like confidence that belies his age. While the pass is his most developed offensive skill, he has a lefty hang dribble that while maybe not lethal, does create problems for defenders as he can, with equal deftness, drive off the hang, pull-up quickly, or zip a one-hand rope to an open teammate. He has touch on a short-range pull-up and on floaters and has a TS of 60 across 31 games in all competitions this season. His handle is clean, but he’s struggled against pressure at times and as mentioned, his defensive effort and engagement can wane off-the-ball. And it could be scheme-based but I’ve seen him float on the offensive end without the ball which is consistent with his occasional off-ball lack of engagement defensively. Mini warts aside, Hayes probably projects as a safer bet than Anthony with an ever-so-slightly lower ceiling based on athleticism.

5. Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky, trending up, Tier2: At 6-3, 195, he’s a prospect Draft Twitter was high on coming in, but who I struggled to assess based on his tweener guard size. It only took me watching Kentucky’s season opener to hop on the bandwagon and my appreciation of the Maxey experience has grown since then. His stats aren’t pedestrian, but they don’t scream lottery pick either: 14-points on 44-29-82 shooting with a 54 TS on 23% usage with the fifth best BPM on the team per barttorvik and completely average steal and block rates (1.3 stocks/game). Stats don’t appropriately convey Maxey’s Energizer Bunny on-court effort. Against Tennessee, it was the usual baseline-to-baseline, sideline-to-sideline coverage like a midfielder playing box to box without seeming to ever take a breath. From the waist down, Maxey almost looks like a running back with a powerful lower body that propels his projectile-like first step. If the boom isn’t trouble enough for defenders, that Maxey can beat you with the pass, spot up, or drive only adds to the threat. He attacks with a decisiveness that keeps opponents on their heels at all times. He can finish at the rim with both hands and mixes in a floater that he releases from unorthodox angles. In this game, he incorporated a lob in the half court on a defensive breakdown. This is the type of read-and-react scenario that helps me trust more in his abilities to shoulder a greater weight of a pro offense than what we’ve seen at Kentucky. And it’s not just that Maxey has burst, but he has speed to accompany it and, like his burst, his speed is complemented by plus-body control. Maxey can play fast, but under control; able to push the break at break neck speed and finish in traffic under control. Defensively, I’ve seen him face guard Anthony Edwards, chase shooters through screen gauntlets, and bang forwards in the post. Lower body strength is probably one of the more historically overlooked traits in NBA players, but you can see the shifting emphasis in Houston and Boston where James Harden, Grant Williams, PJ Tucker, Marcus Smart, and Semi Ojeleye are being deployed as multi-positional, switchable defenders. Maxey doesn’t have the physical range to do what those players can, but at a legit 6-3, his effort, technique, and lower body strength will limit teams’ abilities to target him in mismatches and thus keep him on the court. For Maxey and the next player on the list (Tyrese Haliburton), there’s a lot of the same similarities as between Anthony and Hayes. I believe Haliburton is probably a safer prospect with a more transferable set of skills, but am ultimately drawn to the electrifying upside of Maxey’s speed, burst, and self-creation; shot included.

6. Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State, no change, Tier2: Haliburton is a poster child of sorts for this draft class. He’s a hyper-efficient combo-guard/wing who can do most anything you’d want except get to the free throw line with any regularity (16.7% FTr/1.2 FTs/gm in 57 games in Ames). For more context on the free throw volume: each player listed above Haliburton here has attempted more free throws this season than he has in two years at Iowa State and for Edwards and Okongwu, they’ve nearly doubled his attempts – eek!

As a freshman, he slotted behind NBA draft picks and G-Leaguers Marial Shayok, Lindell Wiggington, and Talen Horton-Tucker, but still put up a team-best 7.8 BPM with just over 10% usage. For context, in barttorvik’s player database, which dates back to 2008, Haliburton is one of three players with usage rate under 11% and BPM over seven. With an increased load this season (21.4%), his BPM has correspondingly risen up to 11 – 6th highest total in NCAA D1. But life as a prospective NBA player is about more than usage rates and BPMs. This is fine for the slender Haliburton who screeches past eye tests with preternatural instincts. On the defensive end, he averages 3.2 stocks/game and is the only player from a Power 5 conference in the top-10 nationally in steals/game (2.5). He’s able to menace opponents with elite reaction time and anticipation. It’s easy to describe his play as “instinctual,” as I just did, but it betrays an elite mind and accelerated ability to process the game around him. This same processing that leads to copious steals puts him in the neighborhood for loose balls galore and allows him to make split second decisions on the offensive side as well. He can be this decisive in the full or half court because he always knows where to find his teammates. This awareness allows him to leave his feet and diagnose plays while in the air. Making aerial reads is just a small part of his passing game. Haliburton is decisive with the ball, willing to swing for hockey assists or make snap on-the-move, off-the-dribble one hand passes. Aside from the weird lack of free throws, he has an unorthodox shot release that’s remarkably effective. He sped up the release time from his freshman to sophomore seasons and over 234 attempts is shooting nearly 43%. The knock here is that those percentages are driven by elite catch-and-shoot numbers. Per Spencer Pearlman’s Stepien scouting report which leverages Synergy data, Haliburton ranks in the 97th percentile on C&S while his pull-ups (0.68 PPP) are in the 37th percentile.  Despite the lean frame, Haliburton is an explosive athlete with strong hands, good balance, and touch around the basket. In the two-year sample we have of his time with Iowa State and the U19 World Cup, he’s proven to be effective in various roles – from facilitator (U19s) to role player (freshman year) to primary scorer and facilitator (sophomore year). This role type versatility combined with his athleticism, processing speeds, and offensive feel project well for the league.

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