Happy New Year! We took a look at some of the performances from big men surrounding the holiday earlier and will now move to the guards and wings, those who are a little more backcourt-oriented.
âLet's get right to it...
Jared Butler, Coach Spins Favorite
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Jared Butler never fails me. He was a first-round prospect on my 2020 boards before deciding to come back to school. The plan was simple for Butler: he thought coming back would give him the chance to do what he left unfulfilled last year and help Baylor compete for a national championship. The Bears returned most everybody, except Freddie Gillespie. How much would the absence of their rim protector change their defense and, as a byproduct, alter Butler's draft stock?
As it turns out, Butler has come back to school and greatly improved as a facilitator. The keys are in his hands now, and he's taken great strides in the assist-to-turnover department, assist rate, usage and in sheer number of impressive finds.
For context, here was our scouting report on Butler six months ago, when he was a fringe first-round guy whose appeal was being a blending of some on-ball creation with impressive, consistent shooting away from the ball and hard-nosed defense:
Baylor played three games in five days this weekend, and Butler was sensational in all of them. Two were against mid-major competition; the third was a thumping of Iowa State. He and his team was dominant enough against Alcorn State and Central Arkansas that he sat a lot of the second half, so his raw numbers don't really tell the story.
So through nine games, consider these per 40 totals: 24.1 points, 8.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 3.0 steals, 3.8 turnovers, and 45.7% 3FG on 7.7 treys.
Against Iowa State he flashed a little bit of everything. The improved confidence and creation was on display in the pick-and-roll. His eyes are always on the rim so he can find open teammates. Most importantly was the off-ball stuff, where his threat as a shooter and ability to curl off screens helped get teammates open.
He's highly impactful when he's on the floor and just makes winning plays on offense:
Butler had 21 points, 5 assists and 4 steals against the Cyclones. I'm convinced he's a first-round pick and one of the most improved guards in the country. He's the perfect guy to pair with a frontcourt creator, a commodity many teams who will draft in the first-round have. Imagine a guy like him next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston, or Nikola Jokic in Denver. Philadelphia, both teams in Los Angeles, and Milwaukee could all use a guy just like him. He's a winning piece.
Scotty Doesn't Know
Vanderbilt's defense is a mess. Jerry Stackhouse may struggle to win a lot of games, but he continues to run an NBA-style offense that is really fun to watch and produced guards who show translatable skills.
Enter Scotty Pippen Jr., who had an awesome game on the 30th against Florida. He's very strong for a guard, knows angles well and gets himself to the free throw line.
âCombine that with this level of passing consistently and he'll be a fringe second-round guy in June:
Resuscitating David Johnson
We don't need to rehash every detail, but freshman year was really rough for Louisville point guard David Johnson. As a sophomore, it would be make-or-break time for him. He knew he'd step into the alpha role for the Cardinals.
There have been some really low performances reminiscent from last year, including a horrid shooting and facilitating game against the length of Wisconsin. Saturday against Boston College was a mech better outing against a different type of scheme: a team that played a lot of zone against them. Johnson came out firing to shoot them out of the zone, his best performance yet.
âHe hit four first-half threes, the shot looked more fluid than ever before and helped the Cards get out to a great start. It helped revive much of his struggling draft stock:
Try not to overreact to any of these individual performances from Johnson. His highs are fairly high and his lows are really low. It will take the whole season to get a real evaluation of who he might be, and for that reason he will have to earn a first-round grade the hard way.
Good scorers hit their threes and layups. Great scorers are comfortable in the mid-range, taking the shots that most defenses try to encourage.
James Bouknight has the makings of a great scorer because he can hit these mid-range jumpers. We'll do a longer breakdown of his scoring eventually (and the concerning off-ball defense that hampers his immediate impact at the next level) but for now, settle for a couple of small tidbits.
The most recent revelation: he is really, really comfortable in the mid-range. It's not a great shot for anybody, but it's a good shot for him. He makes them, prepares for them and will be a dynamic-enough finisher that helpers collapse. If the shot is preferred over a kickout in late-clock situations, it's good to know he can make them:
Bouknight is a fairly steady mid-1st round prospect. He looks really comfortable in an alpha role. He makes a ton of shots, and tough shots. Big fan.
Moses Moody, the draft's best shooter
It might be too early to call a freshman "Mr. Consistent" but if anyone deserves a crack at the title, it's Arkansas wing Moses Moody.
The guy makes multiple threes in every game and finds other ways to impact the game. He rebounds, he moves without the ball, gets to the free throw line, finishes well at the rim. He's more than just a shooter while also being above 40% from 3 and great at what he does.
Against Auburn this week, Moody put together a great performance. He made shots in bulk, was effective off screens and demonstrated mid-range prowess while chased off the 3-point line:
Two days later, he did it again against Missouri, an even tougher defensive group.
Moody made four treys, showed a little more self-creation and functionality in the pick-and-pop, an Eric Mussleman special for shooters:
Lottery. Moody should start calling tailors because he'll be invited to the green room. He's pretty clearly a really good functional shooter.
I mean... look at the thumbnail of the video above. He makes tough shots with defenders basically inside his chest. The off-ball value he provides is ridiculously strong.
In the Gym Range
While Moody's shooting is most transferrable because of how much else he does to deserve minutes, there are other guys who are gunning for the role of shooting specialist in the NBA.
My darkhorse candidate for that role is Mitch Ballock from Creighton. He had four threes (would have been five if his toe wasn't ruled on the line) against Providence in an unbelievable win they had on the road. Ballock had four makes in the first half, all of which came from basically Newport, Rhode Island. His quick stroke and deep range are hard not to be enticed by:
Ballock is a second-round guy in my book. He's been so consistent throughout his career that it's pretty much impossible to think he won't be able to shoot at the next level. He has other limitations for sure, though his speciality skill needs to get him in the conversation for draftable status.
More McKinley Wright Floaters
At this point, McKinley Wright is my favorite guy to watch. He's not the best prospect, and he isn't a dynamic guy in the way someone like Suggs or Cade might be.
But Wright has the most unique floater/ runner that he'll use in the mid-range. You watch it and think it's such a low percentage shot. But he basically makes them all, goes to them in crunch time, hits them going any direction... it's mind-blowing and kind of endearing for him as a prospect.
He hit three more against UCLA on Saturday:
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Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Boys' Latin School (MD)