In Part One of our micro-skills series ahead of the draft, we looked at five signature traits and moves that the 2021 crop of prospects possess that should lead to supreme confidence in their draft position. Not to be an eternal pessimist, but Part Two of the series is a little more focused on the missing parts of some guys game.
These aren't major categorical areas like shooting, finishing or defense -- the absence of those are clear indicators that a prospect has a major flaw. We're focusing on the minutia within those categories, where the addition or tightening of one key area could turn this prospect from a "needs improvement" to a "major strength of his game" in that category.
Jaden Springer, Tennessee
Micro-skill: First Step
At only 18 years old, Jaden Springer is far from a finished product. A strong-bodied 6'4", he looks the part of an NBA level athlete. There's something off about Springer's game, and how functionally he scores or creates in the half-court. Frankly, there are a lot of issues to diagnose and fix to turn Springer into a high-level attacker.
Most will focus on the two-foot finishing and his propensity to play really square. It's a related issue to one we'll discuss here, albeit one we've seen get fixed through repetition before. Donovan Mitchell was almost an exclusively two-foot leaper in college and has turned himself into not just an explosive riser off one, but an All-Star in the NBA. It won't be easy, but it's been done before.
The greater issue is Springer's first step. Reportedly, Springer was suffered from a bad ankle injury all season long and it hampered his quickness, much of which is on display during his pre-draft workouts right now. As someone who isn't in the room there and who tries really hard not to buy into pre-draft chatter from workouts, I can only go with what I can verify on film.
The film from last year shows Springer having short and clunky first steps, being unable to separate from his man in a standstill. It'll also reveal Springer not even trying to compensate by going earlier off the catch very often. Instead, he was content eyeing his man up one-on-one and playing much more methodically.
The result: a ton of possessions where Springer got stranded in the mid-range and never put pressure on a help defender:
There's plenty to like about Springer's game. He's a bowling ball of a finisher with good touch and has excellent secondary creation upside since he's a willing passer. The first step has to be improved in order for either to matter. Without blowing past his man, he'll rarely get easy looks at the rim. Without separation, help defenders won't commit to him, leaving Springer's passing ability useless and him stranded in the mid-range.
Skepticism runs abound with Springer's game. I don't buy the consistency of the jump shot either. At any point in the first round, there are enough good players still available that I'd rather not take the risk on drafting Springer and dealing with these fixes. They're workable, though also capped by natural athleticism and really handicapping if they can't be overcome.
Josh Giddey, Adelaide 36ers
Micro-skill: PNR Pull-Up Range to 3
Any and all conversation around potentially elite pick-and-roll guards starts and stops with the ability to shoot the 3-ball. We have countless examples of college prospects being fantastic playmakers, high-IQ passers and fervent rim-attackers who don't pan out in the pros. In college or lower levels, many teams run pick-and-roll coverage tailored around their strengths: what the coaching staff teaches, the limitations of their players, etc.
In the NBA, it's going to be mainly Drop coverage: big stationed back near the rim to prevent layups and discourage his teammates who aren't guarding the action from helping. But the point of scouting (particularly in the lottery section of talent) is to find a prospect who can help you win against any coverage, and do so in the playoffs. Right now, Giddey is thwarted by a cousin of Drop coverage: Under.
If a shooter isn't good shooter enough to force a defender to come over the top of the screen, the defense will simply stay lane protected. Fewer help off the corners, less worry from the big: just a ball handler stranded on an island, either playing into the defense by taking the shot that's encouraged or yo-yo-ing the ball around until any advantage from the screen is lost. When scouting lead guards, I look for pieces of encouragement that the prospect will be a competent 3-point shooter off the dribble so that Under isn't an option against them.
As an overall prospect, Josh Giddey is tantalizing. He's a 6'8" point guard with the burst and movement ability of someone much smaller but the passing chops to throw it over the top of the defense. He's a high-IQ passer and playmaker who rarely misses open teammates.
But he struggles to shoot off the bounce. His 3-point mechanics catch-and-shoot-wise aren't much smoother (which lowers his upside to play away from the ball, relevant in this discussion). Clunky with a stiff release and bowing knees, it's hard to imagine the jump shot striking fear into an opponent without a complete overhaul.
All hope isn't lost with Giddey. He's started to speed up his shot, made enough to provide a liiiittle doubt on opponents about leaving him all alone. But there's a lot of work to be done to get to that point, and I'm relatively realistic about the long-term handicaps that will exist if he never gets there.
Are there ways to mitigate it? Surely. Movement pre-catch, dribble handoffs instead of screens, playing him at the 1 and letting him methodically back guys down a la Shaun Livingston... we've seen it done before. But that drops him in my book from a lottery guy down lower in the first round. Still impact without it, just not as the alpha, ball-in-your-hands type of prospect that his IQ and passing almost mandate.
Franz Wagner, Michigan
Micro-skill: Left-hand rim attacks
Franz Wagner is very smart.
So smart, in fact, that he went through an entire college basketball season without a shortcoming getting exposed: his left hand. Whether his doing or the strategic nature of Michigan coach Juwan Howard, Wagner spent probably 90% of his time on the left side of the floor, playing so that he could sweep around the perimeter and get the ball moving towards his right every time.
I'm a firm believer that those kinds of things get exposed in the pros - especially if you aren't a top-3 cog within a team's offense. For all of Wagner's good traits as a passer and potential solid 3-point shooter, he doesn't seem to project as a primary option or creator.
That makes the glaring lack of evidence that he can go to his left troublesome for me. It's also hard to show something on film that there isn't much proof of: Wagner so rarely goes to his left (and all PNR or handoff opportunities are designed for him to go right) that showing an isolated clip or two of him missing when going left aren't strong enough evidence to indict him completely. What leads me to condemn Wagner outside the lottery for the lack of left-handed finishes: the clear effort put in by him and the coaching staff to design plays that way. If it weren't weak, I think he'd have spent more time on the right wing in college.
Similarly to Giddey, Wagner can find systems that mitigate those concerns and have designed areas to get him going to his right. Sacramento stands out as an ideal home for him to create off movement. But the concerns there are enough to significantly downplay the positive faith I have in his playmaking for others.
Evan Mobley, USC
Micro-skill: Second-step quickness going left
Arguably just as important as a face-up driver's first step is their second step. The first, with length and the element of surprise, can cut a defender off and provide separation. The second step sustains separation while aligning the driver towards the rim. Elite attackers off the bounce, like Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green or Anthony Edwards of the last few classes, have tremendous second-step quickness: they get downhill straight at the basket in a hurry, and it makes them massive threats to finish at the rim.
One of the reasons I don't see Mobley as a full-time face-up 4-man in the NBA is because he's much slower with his second step. More methodical, surveyed and backing down his man, Mobley would prefer to take a calculated route on his lefty drives so that he can spin back to his right instead of sustaining the advantage created by his supremely long first step that lead him to his left. He's a big fan of the drive left and turnaround jumper back to his right hand.
Two issues exist: first, he can't get to it going to his right very effectively. By driving left with the intent of slowly spinning back right for a turnaround, he sets himself up for that pace when driving right. The jumper certainly is much more difficult when he spins back to his left, as he is then shooting across his body.
Second, Mobley doesn't have a great counter move right now. When defenders anticipate his measured move will lead to a turnaround jumper, they anticipate the spin and play his left shoulder. Until Mobley develops an answer (that isn't from 6-8 feet from the hoop), I'll feel like he's wasting a bit of his length and driving potential by playing so methodically.
The most fixable of any micro-skill on this list, Mobley has the quick-finishing tools in his arsenal: length, solid handle for his size and good dexterity with either hand. But his aversion to getting to the basket and desire to feel contact instead of take space on any drive are traits that resemble more of a big than a skilled, taller wing like some are comparing Mobley to.
This isn't Mobley slander -- no need to check his age real quick. It's just a reason why I'm higher on finding a primary creator like Green or Suggs in this draft class than Mobley. He's still a clear top-five talent in this class and likely would've gone #1 overall a season ago.
Josh Primo, Alabama
Micro-skill: high finishing
Here's some low-hanging fruit... literally. An important subset of finishing at the rim is the height at which a player's hand is at when he leaves the ball. That's just a fancy way of saying a simple concept: shoot the layup from closer to the rim and it's less likely to get blocked along the way up. Scoop it from your hip and that likelihood greatly increases.
Like most young players whose bodies are still developing, Primo's lack of strength means he is dependent on bringing the ball to his hip to generate power and control. It's a bad habit that could lead to a lot of stuffs. Sure, he's tall for a potential lead guard, but he negates that advantage by scooping it from beneath his shoulder (and by not being a great vertical athlete who can just dunk it every time).
Combine that with a general aversion to contact and it's easy to see why some might be skeptical of Primo's finishing in the half-court being a strength of his game.
Primo might be the ideal candidate to draft regardless of this missing micro-skill: he's the youngest domestic player in this draft class. The flashes he's shown as a shooter give him a high enough floor elsewhere, and if he gains muscle and the strength leads to better finishing, he's got a chance to be a pretty complete offensive player.
Just... don't be surprised if he struggles right away, especially around the rim.