Scottie Barnes is an elite prospect. His blend of playmaking, size, athleticism, defensive impact and IQ are pretty rare. He pops off the screen in any game he's in and should end up being a lottery talent, if not a top-ten guy in the 2021 NBA Draft.
None of that is controversial to say. But in watching Barnes play, it's still not clear exactly what he is. The skills are unique in the way they come together. At 6'9" and 227 pounds, he's probably got a 6'11" wingspan at the least. Those unique physical traits match the size and dimensions of OG Anunoby or Jayson Tatum. The Seminoles list Barnes as a guard on their website and, frankly, use him as a point guard in their lineups. He creates through ball screens, defends opposing guards (it's a switching scheme, so the point is rendered moot as soon as a screen arrives) and has a pretty high usage. He is their primary creator when on the floor.
Unlike other big primary creators, Barnes isn't known for his overall fluidity and speed. He doesn't have the Ben Simmons speed or ball handle. He isn't as dynamic in mid-air as Magic Johnson. He doesn't look like an NBA-style creator who can deftly navigate through traffic and manipulate defenses. But, somehow, he has possessions with great polish, strong passing and IQ exhibited that makes it hard to take the ball out of his hands.
Offensively, the question is what else his role would be. He's a 4-15 from deep through six games, a really rough 10-24 from the free throw line and doesn't have a great deal of self-creation to his game. When he scores, its through bullying guys to the rim or in the open floor.
There's so much about what Barnes lacks that usually prevents me from falling in love with a guy. The shooting and self-creation being foremost, as I tend not to trust guys to earn a creating role in the NBA if they can't score themselves. But the defense is really, really good, and a strong assist-to-turnover ratio despite the lack of scoring suggest Barnes really could be the exception to my own rule.
We're going to try something new here at the Box and One... a rundown of NBA prospects to watch based on college conferences. Our goal is always to add insight into the "how" and "why" of what prospects show in college -- to combine knowledge of the collegiate system with how it could help or hinder guys looking to be drafted.
These conference rundowns are a combination of highlighting prospects and discussing system from the teams in those leagues. We'll look at the 14-team Big Ten first, where dozens of late-first and potential second-round prospects currently reside. There are a ton of great teams and a plethora of depth, though no lottery prospects at the start of the season, at least on our board.
What are we watching for, and who might be able to separate themselves through the year? We'll give you a quick preview and go team-by-team through styles and prospects.
My JRE Love
Don't ever bet against Jay Wright in creating high-IQ, quality role players born and bred for the NBA.
Everyone within his offense learns how to master fundamentals, properly read spacing concepts, and is asked routinely to pass, dribble and shoot. For Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a mismatch big forward who can defend the crap out of most positions, the shooting is a little light. Some are starting to doubt how high he can go without high-volume shooting.
If there's one guy in this class who can make up for the absence of shooting, it's him. He's an above-average frontcourt creator, a polished finisher, smart cutter and most importantly a Villanova guy! He knows how to move without the ball and read plays on offense to provide value just in where he stands:
Merry Christmas, everyone!
There are guys playing around the holiday so... we'll continue to pump out some small tidbits and recaps from a couple of performance that have either been on the naughty or nice list this year.
No need for fluffy intros, just video and discussion.
More Jalen Suggs
The quietest 12, 7 and 7 ever came out of Suggs in the Gonzaga trouncing of Northwestern State. They led by almost 40 at the half. As such, the Zags only played Suggs 23 minutes -- resting him for a 19, 6 and 5 performance the next night when they got their second-straight win over the 1-10 Northwestern State.
What Suggs does on a nightly basis is establishing just how high his floor of production really is: hit a couple of impressive off-the-dribble jumpers (mostly from 3, as Gonzaga's offense is peak efficiency), make a couple of crisp reads out of the pick-and-roll, one impressive play in transition and prove he's a better shooter/ athlete than he gets credit for.
âThis is a nightly occurrence for him now:
One last scouting dive before we get to the holidays. Let's dive right in with some film tidbits...
Ron Harper Jr. emerging as consistent shooter
Sunday marked the biggest win likely in program history for Rutgers. Not because it was a monumental upset to beat 12th-ranked Illinois at home, but because it is a consequential enough win both in standings of the Big Ten and their NCAA Tourney hopes to cement this as a legitimate top-25 team for the rest of the year.
Part of the resurgence: Ron Harper Jr. The son of the former Chicago Bulls champion point guard has been shooting the lights out all season, and that continued in the RAC on Sunday. He was 5-8 from deep, hitting some from catch-and-shoot scenarios and some off the pick-and-pop.
Harper is a mismatch forward who can bully smaller guys to the rim and stretch bigger ones to the perimeter. Both were on display Sunday, and Illinois really had no answer once he got going from deep. They switched it up to guard him with a smaller guy, and he blitzed those assignments off the bounce.
As the year marches on in the COVID-era of college sports, one thing is becoming abundantly clear from a scouting standpoint: nothing is guaranteed. Games are and will continue to get cancelled. The start-stop nature of the season increases the likelihood of soft tissue injuries. The topsy-turvy results will stem from unequal preparation; winning has to be valued differently.
For draft prospects, that means each game holds significantly more weight on the outcome of their draft stock than in normal times. The pressure is on to perform. There can be very few off-days or struggles.
That does two things: first, it will put scouts to the test for their eye for talent. Instead of waiting for multiple occurrences to see if the same pick-and-roll read happens four or five times a season, for example, they may have to draw a conclusion about the prospect's consistency when only one or two such glimpses exist. They will discern the difference between stat line and NBA impact with less to work with, an arduous task.
The second is that some players will jump ahead of where they should be - especially if there's an NCAA Tournament. We've seen late-risers earn higher draft stocks thanks to timely play down the stretch, and I fear that will be amplified on a season like this. Beware of the late-risers and guys like Malachi Richardson in 2016.
There have been some prospects catching my eyes lately, and I thought it worth sharing them with you all. Some of these are flashes I'm waiting to see more, and some are frustrating performances from guys who need to do better. Only time will sort each into the categories they belong in.
I've written about my affinity for shooting specialists before. They're becoming a necessity for NBA rosters. Guys like Matt Thomas (Toronto Raptors/ Iowa State), Svi Mykhialiuk (Detroit Pistons/ Kansas), Kyle Guy (Sacramento Kings/ Virginia) and Duncan Robinson (Miami Heat/ Michigan) overcome subpar athleticism and a lack of other skills in their game to be rotational players at the NBA level. None of these guys were superstars on their college teams, and all fulfill specialty niches in the pros.
Monkey see, monkey do. Most every team should be looking for one spot on their roster, G-League program or training camp invitee list to test the viability of a specialty shooter. Their presence can maximize offense, particularly for second units, and is an increasingly in-demand role next to great stars and slashers.
In looking at this class of 2021, there are ten names I'm looking at as 3-point specialists and snipers. This is an early season list, so these names may fluctuate throughout the year. Not all are legitimate NBA prospects, though scouts watching them are studying to see if they can be the same type of presence on an NBA roster.
Something is up in Lexington. On Saturday, they lost at home to a 1-3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish team that historically under Mike Brey cares about defense as much as Leo DiCaprio cares about meeting someone his own age. The Wildcats scored only 26 points in the first-half, trailing by 22 at the half. They went 1-13 from 3-point range and looked like a complete mess on offense. The Irish could jam the lane in man coverages, play their mixture of 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones to encourage perimeter shots and there wasn't much John Calipari could do. There's no real way to manufacture spacing if your team can't shoot.
By the end of the afternoon, Kentucky had a 15-foot baseline jumper to win the game on the final possession. Such a frantic comeback wasn't fueled by offensive dynamism (they did hit a few shots, to be fair) but by relentless defensive pressure. The scoring-minded Irish were held to only 16 points in the second frame, finishing with 16 turnovers on the night, too. It was Kentucky's work on that end that completely flipped the script.
To tie this into NBA draft terms, I finally came away impressed with Terrence Clarke. After the well-documented shooting woes for the team, I was beginning to see a string of unimpressive performances from him. The second half of the Notre Dame game, particularly on the defensive end, impressed me enough to regain some hope.
Last time I checked, the object of the game was to score more than your opponent. So long as that remains the case, guys who can go out and put the ball in the hole will always have tremendous appeal, in college or the pros.
Cam Thomas, freshman at LSU, appears to be such a player. The 6'4" combo guard comes to the NBA from Oak Hill Academy, Thomas had really impressive accolades as a scorer. He led the EYBL in scoring last year (29.1 points). He's Oak Hill's all-time leading scorer, topping the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Michael Beasley, Stephen Jackson, Brandon Jennings, Jerry Stackhouse and Kevin Durant. LSU Tigers head coach Will Wade called him "the best scorer I've seen come out of high school or AAU..."
Thomas has lived up to the hype early in Baton Rouge. In his first four games, Thomas is averaging 22.3 points, shooting 40.0% from 3 on 7.5 attempts a night and is 19-23 from the free throw line. His explosion against St. Louis, leading the Tigers to score 53 second-half points while putting up 21 in the second frame himself. The Bilikens won the contest but Thomas stole the show.
Despite decent size and plenty of accolades to his name, Thomas isn't getting a great deal of draft love. SI's Jeremy Woo had him 37th in a December 8th Big Board listing. ESPN's Jonathan Givony didn't have him much higher on his preseason board at 32nd. Something isn't jiving with such a consistently prolific scorer being excluded from first-round conversation, even in a deep draft class. We decided to look briefly at his scoring acumen and see if there's something non-translatable about his scoring package that might prevent him from being an elite NBA prospect.
College hoops is underway! A few upsets, some cancellations and changes are already happening. We'll have to keep rolling with the punches. Have been fortunate to watch about 12-15 full games since Wednesday, as well as clips and extended segments from over a dozen more. We'll throw in some thoughts from guys who have been able to play in more than one game, so these reactions aren't to a singular performance.
Let's dive right in...
Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Plays w/ great pace in PNR. Has 11 half-court assists in 2 games, but only a few PNR opportunities. The ones he's gotten to, he has perfect hesitation, bounce, change of elevation of his hips to manipulate the hedge defender, and always has his eyes in the right place. Phenomenal finding cutters to basket vs. Kansas, but the pace and movement of defenders with his eyes was what stood out most. He knows how to change speeds and hit the hole hard when he's open.