Players are getting smarter at a younger age. That makes scouting difficult; it's easy to be impressed with their level of skill and understanding of high-level concepts, but really hard to sift through which are going to blossom at the pro level when they all have some important skill tactics.
Pick-and-roll reads have advanced a great deal. College programs run and teach them better than ever. Snaking, reading the low man, hostage dribbles, setting up the dribble and understanding PNR coverages are the norm nowadays. What used to be so impressive for a college player to exhibit is now so widely common that it feels mundane.
Today, we'll dive into the works of a few guys who either have signature moves or standout statistical features. These are guards who have wide ranges and might be in differing areas than consensus on my board. Regardless, they've turned in fantastic college seasons and are guys we'd love to see play on the big stage this March.
The current crop of second-year NBA players has been one of this season's high points in the NBA. Zion Williamson has taken the next step as an alpha creator in New Orleans. Coby White is averaging 16-5-5 in Chicago. DeAndre Hunter seemed to take the leap in year two, averaging 17.2 points before an injury. RJ Barrett has grown into a lead role in New York, Darius Garland is gradually getting more efficient, PJ Washington recently dropped 42 on the Kings, Keldon Johnson is a walking paint touch, Cam Johnson is starting on a terrific Phoenix team... the list goes on and on.
The point here: many guys take time to get better. As they mature and become 20 or 21 in what would be their junior year in college, their positive development is a great sign for their career trajectory and one that ultimately gives the team that drafted them a ton of confidence.
The same confidence should be placed in juniors in college who steadily get better. They're making the leap in similar ways, just not doing it in the NBA. Nobody embodies that seldom-seen sophomore-to-junior leap quite like Jared Butler. Baylor has been one of the clear two-best teams in the nation, due to a stingy defense and veteran group of guards who play off each other well and are first-round hopefuls.
For Butler, a steady hand and a game that largely is under-appreciated keep him slightly lower on draft boards than his teammate Davion Mitchell. Where there isn't sexiness, there is solid, consistent and appealing production. As Butler continues to get better and prove he doesn't have bad nights, he should be viewed as a lottery talent as a low-risk, high-reward combo guard who just keeps improving.
There's a reason why we use the term "improvement area" and not "weakness" in the pre-draft process. These players are very, very good. They don't have deficiencies, just areas it appears they have to focus on more in order to get to an NBA level. The draft is an investment in humans, meaning variables around work ethic, quickly picking up new concepts or changing trajectories is always in play. What might appear to be a large skill gap can be shortened rather quickly if things just click at the right time.
As the All-Star Break approaches, we find ourselves in the territory of having enough sample size to understand just what developments are legitimate, meaningful and lasting. We're looking today at those which most quickly prove us "wrong" -- they're areas that were seen as major improvement areas that caused us to pause during the pre-draft process, thinking it would take years before they got up to where they needed to be.
Some of these might include scouting misses and accountability for those misreads. Others give genuine praise to players who really changed and worked through their flaws to generate a reliable NBA skill. Any way you slice it, these are some of the most positive surprises of the 2020 NBA rookie class.