Cooper is one of those prospects I don't quite have a firm grasp on. Some of his strengths are incredibly clear: he's a prolific passer and in a pick-and-roll offense, can get into the lane and make the right decision. But what I can't quite get a grasp for right now is whether he's more like Ish Smith, a career backup who struggles to shoot but uses his speed and playmaking to make an impact, or like Trae Young-lite.
The shooting numbers suggest Cooper, who was barely above 20% from 3 on the season, is more like Smith. Teams will go under ball screens to keep him out of the lane and dare him to shoot, thus stalling out two of his best traits in passing and PNR playmaking.
But the confidence and frequency with which he takes 3-pointers, fires off the dribble when teams go under screens and pulls from deep behind the line, suggest there may be some normalization of his numbers to a higher 3-point percentage. If that's the case, Cooper becomes a non-lethal version of Trae Young, who manipulates defenses on all three levels.
Some people may be surprised to see turnovers not mentioned as an improvement area, but when you're in the PNR as much as he is and still have a 2:1 A:TO, it isn't a major concern. The strength, defense and shooting are all clear warts to his game. He may end up being a lottery pick due to the intrigue of that shooting upside.
Christopher is oozing with offensive talent. Man, if he puts it together he'll be a dangerous scorer. There's a bit of Nick Young to his game, an uber-talented wing who shoots you out of it as frequently as he shoots you into a game. Those guys top-out at the tail end of the first-round in my book. Christopher can be a paid assassin for NBA teams off the bench, with some starter potential. But that doesn't have much lottery hope.
Add to it the inconsistencies of his season and there's a little risk involved with him. He's likely in the 25-to-40 range pretty firmly.
On draft night, Kuminga will likely be the youngest lottery guy taken. To me, that counts for something.
As a should-be high school senior, Kuminga played against grown men and seasoned pros in the G-League bubble. And he did it well, averaging 15.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks for the Ignite. While his shooting numbers weren't impressive and he was taking a great deal of shots to get those numbers high, the raw athleticism, size and comfort Kuminga has running an offense through him are all tantalizing in combination with his frame.
Kuminga demonstrated real comfort creating (both scoring and passing) out of the pinch post, a coveted spot for power wings. Because of his physical maturity and ability to bully guys much older and stronger than him, the Kawhi Leonard comparison gets thrown around. But Leonard has worked himself into a lethal shooter, relying on craft and ability to get to his spot on the floor. He's so sturdy physically and impossible to bump off his spots.
Kuminga is more of an initiator of contact, seeking to bulldoze and slowly back down/ spin to death anyone who dares crowd him. He's long and lean, and he'd prefer to patiently drop step his way to the rim than fire up a mid-range jumper.
I've been impressed with his feel as a passer enough to think he belongs in the top-five tier. I don't think there is any circumstance where I'd take him over Cunningham or Suggs, but he's definitely still in conversation with Mobley and Green for me. The jump shot is certainly the swing skill, and his shot selection/ understanding of the game is so raw that there's so much ground to cover before he's NBA-ready for the alpha role.
By all accounts, Kuminga is a great kid, a fierce competitor who wants to learn and takes to coaching well. To combine those with an already impressive start in the G-League for an 18-year-old (who is almost two years younger than Evan Mobley) makes me believe in him as someone solidly in the mix for a top-three selection.
Last night, the G-League Ignite season wrapped up with a quarterfinals loss to the Raptors. The four major prospects coming to the 2021 draft -- Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix -- are all done playing and now have a completed chapter in their pre-draft report. We put together a scouting report of what Green can do and how his game might translate to the pros. There are some real areas he must improve and tighten up to maximize his strengths in the NBA.
As we get into some of the top-tier prospects, a few words will accompany their videos to provide further context to what we see in them at the next level.
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.
Without beating a dead horse on Johnson, his season was really disappointing. The exit is a red flag in the eyes of many, as he prematurely took himself out of the year to rest his body and prepare for the draft. Immediately after, Duke went on a mini-run to prolong their NCAA Tournament hopes.
When Johnson did play, there was something readily apparent: he lost all athleticism and impact when playing in the half-court. I don't know how to explain, or cure, something like that other than to find ways to get him to play in space more often. But playoff basketball is played in the half-court, and you draft in the top-end to find playoff-caliber starters. I'm not sure where Johnson lands, but he might be one of the most divisive prospects in this year's class.
Nothing cute about this post, just some content. It's Valentine's Day. If you want cute, go see your significant other....
Jalen Suggs, Still My #2
Cade is a pretty clear #1. And as the G-League Ignite team has been underway and successful, it's hard to keep Kuminga and Jalen Green out of the top-five. That five-man group is starting to get firmly entrenched: Cade, Suggs, Kuminga, Green and Evan Mobley. Cade is a pretty clear #1.
The question becomes: what order do you put the others in?
I maintain that, outside of Cade, Suggs is the best pick-and-roll player in college, and one of the best freshmen in college basketball in the last decade. The 6'4" guard can play the 1 or the 2 and has elite feel in either role.