As we've mentioned several times before, preseason perception can unfairly color expectations. Whether influenced by high school recruit rankings, team expectations or the spotlight they happen to catch, prospects get pegged as a draft favorite.
That head-start rarely gets ceded to the late-chargers, those who flew under the radar until their body of work was so complete it was difficult to discount.
In the 2020 NBA Draft, three players at similar positions have different trajectories, but their overall statistical outputs really aren't too dissimilar:
The three players are pretty similar statistically–and that's the point.
Player A is Jahmi'us Ramsey of Texas Tech, while Player B is Jared Butler of Baylor and Player C is Immanuel Quickley of Kentucky.
I'm not sure where I fall on these two as of yet. Ramsey's size and ability to defend the 2 is more attractive, though I'm much more confident in Butler's playmaking, shot selection and offensive decision-making.
Both are likely second-round prospects, but they come in as two of the prospects I'm most curious to see where they get drafted, based on their position, skill and comparison to each other.
Jahmi'us Ramsey, Texas Tech
Ramsey was the most heralded of these prospects entering the season, and it shows in how most mock drafts treat him. Ramsey was supposed to be more of an all-around ball handler at Texas Tech, but settled more into a spot-up 3-point threat and a gunner looking for his. In some regards, his season was underwhelming.
Still, there's a lot to like. His wingspan, competitive drive and shooting ability are all positives, so long as his shot selection improves.
Aesthetically speaking, his shot is one of the most pleasing in this draft class. With that high release from his 6'6" wingspan, he'll be able to get it off when guarded by wings, important for a 2-guard. While Ramsey is a solid rhythm shooter, I'm also a bit weary of his severe dip, which goes to his left hip. That form limits how he shoots moving to his right. It's hard to shoot when the natural shooting motion would bring the ball across his body and away from his movement. Coincidentally, a lot of Ramsey's success scoring off screens came when popping back screens to go to his left.
That length and defensive impact is important for where he'll be slotted positionally. I don't think of Ramsey as a high-level defender, but he's not a poor one by any means. He's one of the better weak-side shot blocking guards I've seen in a long time, and I'm really attracted to that skill.
More than anything, my worries about Ramsey revolve around not just what shots he takes, but how he shifts gears and scores with the ball in his hands.
There's likely some relation between the below-average scoring at the rim Ramsey had and the shot choices he makes with a high volume of mid-range jumpers. If he was a better finisher, he'd take more shots at the rim. By default, that improvement area becomes the most important since it unlocks the rest.
My fear with Ramsey is that, while he's got a solid skill set, he's just not really quick with the ball in his hands. Similar to Butler at Baylor, Ramsey played in a severe "no middle' defense at Texas Tech, which can cover some of those one-on-one perimeter flaws. Again, Ramsey isn't a poor defender, but there is little hope he becomes a really high-caliber defender.
Ramsey's draft projection is somewhere in the 25-to-40 range, dependent on which team is right for him. Is he better than the next two guys, who are similar in many ways? I'm not sure, but being younger than both gives him an advantage to sneak into the first round that those others may not have.
Jared Butler, Baylor
Butler played on a team in the top-five for most of the season, which isn't an accident. Under the tutelage of Scott Drew, Baylor switched from a matchup zone to man-to-man this year, and it paid off. Meanwhile, Butler manned the combo guard spot, sharing point guard duties and leveraging his great 3-point shooting to his advantage. Perhaps most impressively, Butler scored 0.986 PPP out of the pick-and-roll, including an eFG% of 60.5% on dribble jumpers.
That type of shot-making is becoming the prototype for handling guards... so long as his playmaking ability is legitimate.
Despite a fairly low volume, Butler's best asset is his jump shot and scoring efficiency. He's a true combo guard in the sense that, on offense, he can play on-ball or off-ball. For teams who have a larger primary handler or initiator, he's the ideal compliment in a vacuum. He'll score with the ball in his hands, and he'll space the floor appropriately around them.
With point guards or backcourt prospects, we tend to fall in love with volume. What they accomplish statistically gives us a large pool to examine and feel more comfortable with. We have this notion that point guards need, or still get, that volume at the next level. If a prospect doesn't get that volume in college, we assume it says more about what that player cannot do as opposed to what they should do within the system they fit.
The real measure for Butler will be how he defends, how reliable of a passer he is and what he does to anchor a second unit in the moments he's not flanking elite scorers.
Those concerns aren't complete red flags, but they're certainly caution flags.
Butler doesn't strike me as an overzealous one-on-one defender, and while he spent more time guarding the wings this year, that's not likely his prime destination in the physical, longer NBA. Baylor's dramatic "no middle" scheme blankets players one-on-one skills, masking how he would guard on an island by funneling someone to a certain area.
The playmaking isn't as much of a concern; Butler isn't a risky driver or overzealous off the bounce. But drafting him comes with the knowledge he's best sharing those responsibilities. Expectations are a huge part of it.
If you feel comfortable in his defense, he's a borderline first-round talent.
Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky
I've asked this question a few times, but: are we sure Tyrese Maxey is a better prospect than Immanuel Quickley?
A glance at Quickley's playmaking numbers would lead to pessimism with his on-ball impact. At 6'3", he's super long but might be better served as a 1 at the next level. Without a high volume of playmaking to his credit, can he really play that position?
My gut instincts, as shown in the videos below, rely on some high-level passes he's made as proof that he's capable of doing more, and that the context of why he was deployed this way at Kentucky are vital to understanding Quickley.
44.3 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts is a scrumptious number. Quickley is prone to some ridiculously hot stretches of shooting and is the most consistent movement shooter of the three. He's a quick launch guy, is great in the corners and solid in transition.
Quickley is also a pretty reliable on-ball defender, with textbook form and frequent utilization of his 6'8" wingspan. He's a disruptor at the 1 waiting to happen. Playing at Kentucky usually prepares prospects for high-caliber defense.
So what about the context at Kentucky for showing he can play the 1? We'll never get the sample of it actually happening, but what we can do is figure out why Kentucky didn't ask him to play that role. It comes down to the two other non-shooting guards Quickley played with. Tyrese Maxey (29.2 percent from 3) and Ashton Hagans (25.8 percent from 3) both started with Quickly in the Wildcats' three-guard backcourt.
Quickley had to sacrifice having the ball in his hands, as whenever he would get it, the floor would shrink drastically. He and Maxey, with their terrific wingspans, both guarded up on many occasions. Quickly's 3-point shooting is a baseline for his talent, not the sole piece he hangs his hat on.
Combine that with Quickley's insanely high free throw rate and good things can happen when the ball goes in his hands. He'll certainly need to get more comfortable creating at volume, but that versatile for an on-ball or off-ball role in the backcourt makes him a fantastic complimentary piece.
When it comes to his finishing, the lack of spacing plays a minor role in both his volume and efficiency. But over a two year span with low finishing totals, the problem may be more with Quickley than his teammates.
I'm not sure any of these improvement areas are major areas other than the finishing, but they'll be what earns him minutes if he tightens them up. He's a pretty solid player in most categories, and he shoots it well. The question is: is that enough to get him drafted?
Because of how he sacrificed at Kentucky, I lean towards yes. Think back to other Kentucky or Duke players who have shifted roles to accommodate less-versatile teammates. At the next level, a role more befitting of them can happen with creative offenses and more skill at size. Quickley is ripe for the picking in this regard and someone I have as a borderline first-round prospect.