This article is a facsimile of an earlier post on The Basketball Writers (TBW), which recently closed its doors.
At this point, the consensus has been formed: This 2020 NBA Draft class may end up being historically weak. It's hard not to talk about this as a major storyline entering draft season, as the pessimism around truly elite prospects will color the entire process.
There's a certain ceiling that is understood to accompany NBA top-five picks, as they are meant to be foundational pieces of a team's offense and shoulder the late-game scoring load. Franchises want to stay at the bottom for as short a time as possible, so when they do bottom out and wind up with an incredibly valuable draft pick, they want guys who will serve as a franchise pillar if they reach their potential.
The key to this is distinguishing between a high draft pick and a valuable pick—the two are not one and the same. During a draft with few high-end guys, a high pick does not equate value but rather an overpay for a risky acquisition or a non-foundational pillar on offense. At some point, those pillars will be off the board.
What happens next? Does the team with the misfortune of being on the clock next gamble for that same pillar on a prospect with more question marks? Do they just go for a position of need? Or do they select a high-floor, low-ceiling pick who is pretty certain to not be a miss?
Enter Florida State wing Devin Vassell, a 3-and-D wing who is such a strong defender (both on-ball and in helping situations) that he's almost impossible to miss on. At the very minimum, he'll be a player that can be counted on in late-game NBA situations. He's an effective 3-point shooter, has the prototypical body and length, and is a plus athlete.
At the end of the day, Vassell is a role player.
Cut from the same cloth of guys like Bruce Bowen, he won't likely be more than an auxiliary option on offense. Bowen never averaged more than nine points per game in his career. That's a tough pill for some general managers to swallow in a draft when the expectation is that they'll select a poster boy who puts butts in the seats while they ride his coattails for the rest of their tenure.
These are abnormal times, however, and this is an atypical draft class. So is there any chance that a defensive stud like Vassell cracks the top-half of the lottery?
Vassell guards the ball with his tremendous length instead of crowding his man and forcing a drive. He has the physical tools to play off a bit and utilize his length to beat guys to spots, contesting shots when they pull up. He is unbelievable at mirroring the hips of creators to avoid getting thrown off by fakes.
We've seen Vassell shut down opposing point guards, many of whom are a great deal faster. We've seen him silence guys at the elbows and in isolations. We've seen him rack up on-ball steals or blocks as he combines anticipation with his length.
By going to Florida State and learning from former NBA coach Leonard Hamilton, Vassell will be well-prepared for the rotational schemes that are standard at the next level.
Florida State players are consistently above-average defenders at the next level. The Seminoles would switch all ball screens and even off-ball actions or exchanges. That system tests and improves a player's defensive awareness, as he juggles the challenge of communicating switches while keeping eyes on the ball and remaining in position to make a play.
That's where Vassell separates himself. Dive deep into his film and you'll find an immaculate record when it comes to missing assignments.
He's a fantastic communicator, and he uses his versatility to make smart gambles. He's an unbelievable weak-side shot-blocker as well. He can bail out teammates and make emergency saves at the rim, which is an unreal trait for someone his age. He's not a guy who makes positional mistakes, and although he has great physical tools, he's not the type to abuse that ability and gamble more than he should.
On the other end of the court, Vassell's game is pretty simple right now. He shot over 40 percent from 3-point range each of his two years at Florida State. His stroke is a little long, but his footwork is strong and there's upside that he can score on the move He gets his feet set quickly and doesn't rush his mechanics. Instead, he relies on his long arms and high release to be undeterred by late-arriving defenders. He's also best in the corners, which is where he'll be positioned a lot at the next level.
Like most prospects, Vassell needs to add strength to maximize his utility. He hasn't grown into his body yet. I've gone on record numerous times stating my disdain for how that short-term deficiency impacts the use of a draft pick on supposed long-term contributors. We'll see if the narrative around Vassell seeks to include his wiry frame as a potential negative.
On the skill development side, there are areas on offense where he can go from being strictly a catch-and-shoot guy to consistently attacking others off the bounce.
There are glimpses in Vassell's game that show he has the ability to create shots for himself and others. He's not a poor passer, but he's not tight enough going to his left and doesn't attack in straight lines.
Due to his lack of strength, he can be easily knocked off course getting downhill. Vassell also doesn't make consistent, simple reads in ball screens.
Perhaps his shot creation is so low because he has a subpar shot selection. As a freshman, Vassell took more than half of his shots from behind the arc. Last year, only about 36.1 percent of his shots came from 3-point range. That dropoff is a little worrisome, especially since he replaced that shot selection with a lot of pull-up jumpers.
What time will tell is whether Florida State's need for offensive production influenced his selection or if he needs to be reined in. Vassell must immediately be able to convert on the opportunities at the rim. For someone of his length and athleticism, he doesn't have many dunks, and he really struggles through contact against rim-protecting bigs. He'll have to get to above 60 percent at the rim.
Overall Analysis and Draft Projections
There are really three questions to ask when it comes to Vassell:
He can thrive in a switching scheme, he can win individual matchups late-clock at the elbows and, once he adds strength, he can will be a shutdown option to defend the league's top scorers. We don't have many of these guys, but they're incredibly important to playing winning basketball.
Question two is a bit more complicated. Vassell shows small glimpses into solid playmaking: fluidity off the bounce, vision to make a crosscourt pass, occasionally smooth pull-up jumpers. But right now, he's a high-30 percent 3-point shooter with high volume. In today's game, that role is much more important than it was when guys like Bowen or James Posey were playing.
Almost by default, his output will be higher.
Regardless, this is a no-lose scenario for Vassell. If he stays within the confines of a catch-and-shoot role, his output in today's game makes him more valuable on offense than those role players before him.
And if he's doing anything more on offense, it's because his playmaking skill progressed to the point where he's a reliable option there. That would make him a rarely elite prospect.
Question three grapples with the perception of value as much as it does with value itself. And that circles us back to where we began this piece...
This draft is anything but typical. If I'm a general manager, I'm seeing the stars align this season where a weak class combines with a great prospect who is usually pushed down due to the role he plays. Now is the time to take him for the value he provides, not just the value his upside may attract.
If there's one hill I'll gladly die on in 2020, it's this one: Vassell would be worth a top-ten selection.