As a high school basketball coach, player development is something I've really grown to become obsessed with. Identifying strengths and improvement areas, coming up with a development plan to improve and then sticking to it with patience and effective drills is the name of the game. It's part of why I do all this scouting work on the draft: I believe it will make me a better coach, and make our players better as a result.
Part of the time in the gym with prospects is built around giving them manageable, bite-sized areas to improve. That requires understanding how to discern the difference between a skill and a microskill. Skills are general categories: shooting, ball handling, on-ball defense, finishing. Microskills are the factors within those categories that make them happen. For shooting, for example, a microskill can be quickly getting feet set, catching on-balance when on the move, being in a stance pre-catch, etc.
Microskills are where the work gets done from a player development standpoint. Add enough microskills to someone's template and they become proficient in that category, making it a well-rounded skill area for them.
In this class, there are a few guys who stand out as being elite at certain microskills, or at least have the traits to make them so in the NBA. We'll break down five of my favorites, and perhaps most impactful, that essentially fuel my belief the player will excel in a certain category.
James Bouknight, Connecticut and Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Microskill: Hesitation Dribble
We start off with two guys who are absolutely sensational at creating separation from their man. Speed and quickness matter most in the context of getting to the basket in the half-court, and that requires playing at different speeds. Guys who go at one speed the entire time, regardless of how fast that is, are easier to guard. It's like a baseball pitcher who only throws fastballs. They're much more predictable and easier to hit.
Bouknight and Mitchell are both really good at using their quickness and change of speed to gain separation in the half-court. They sell their slow-down and have the burst to explode once their man comes out of his stance. That's the translation to the half-court, and it's a microskill really dependent on hip mobility and athleticism.
Look at Bouknight's move: he makes an absolute fool out of his man. The change of speed is great, but it's the hesitation dribble that sells the move and gets a defender out of his stance. Ball handling is as much about salesmanship as it is about control, and Bouknight gets his man to buy in hook, line and sinker.
The hesitation dribble is textbook for what an in-and-out dribble should be. Come slightly out of your stance, get the defender to do the same, then quickly maneuver the ball to go forward and blow past your man.
Bouknight's move is incredibly functional based on his NBA role. He might be a lead guard who handles in transition and is definitely a scorer at heart. Those are roles where this skill is not just translatable but necessities.
Mitchell's move is a little different. His change of speed and in-and-out dribble is really strong, but it isn't accompanied by a great deal of diversity at the basket. He's very much a right-hand finisher (inside hand when driving left, quick finish going right) and mainly uses his in-and-out dribble in isolations or transition.
Therein lies the difference between the two, and why we wanted to start with this microskill: functionality matters. Mitchell has the hesitation move and so much burst to the basket. But if he doesn't project as the same ball in his hands creator, it's less a functional trait. Mitchell is handicapped by the lack of wiggle or diversity to his scoring portfolio, whereas Bouknight's change of speed is the perfect compliment to what could someday be a complete scoring package.
Alperen Sengun, Beskitas
Microskill: Post Spin Move Baseline
Long live the post-up...
Sengun proved to be a dominant back-to-basket threat at Beskitas on the way to winning MVP in a professional league at 18 years old. There's a little Pau Gasol to his game: so fundamentally sound that he can make up for a lack of elite athleticism. Sengun was given the ball a ton on the block, and while his NBA role might mandate less of that, he has the potential to be an unbelievable mismatch scorer on the blocks when he has a size advantage.
Sengun is wide-shouldered, really strong and always patient. He catches and feels contact from his man. When guys try to get him to bump and prevent him from going middle, Sengun reacts and spins baseline with great effect. It's less a counter move and more something he seems to want to set his man up for.
First off, I love that he gets to it on either block. Versatility there is wildly important. Second, I love that he has counters to it when defenders predict the move: he won't be thwarted once the scouting report on this move gets out.
The last clip of the video above is most important, highlighting how Sengun gets to the post-up. By being mobile on the perimeter and engaging in screens or handoffs, Sengun can force switches that give him a size advantage on the block. Once there, the patience to read his man followed by a quick, explosive spin move to separate and finish before help commits is ideal. With this baseline spin, Sengun has it in his arsenal.
There's so much nuance in this kid's game and scoring arsenal. It's a large part of why I'm willing to bet on him and his production.
Cam Thomas, LSU
Microskill: Pump Fake & Lean-In
I'm a pretty big fan of Cam Thomas. You just don't have guys who score this effectively come along every day. A prolific scorer, Thomas combined three-level scoring with a ton of tricks up his sleeve to maximize his space creation.
Most encouraging for Thomas wasn't the percentages he shot with but the rate with which he got to the free throw line. He's a natural at drawing contact. It's such an important microskill to go along with a ball in his hands scorer.
Where Thomas tends to get his man the most isn't on overdramatizing contact or seeking it out on drives, but putting a believable, quick pump fake to get his man off his feet and then leaning in to draw contact. Simple, but works like a charm.
None of this has to be overly complicated. Polished moves like this pair perfectly with the rest of Thomas' game, and as someone who I believe in as a scorer, I feel much more comfortable with the ball in his hands late-clock knowing he can develop two free throws just as often as he'll jack up a contested mid-range step-back.
Sharife Cooper, Auburn
Microskill: Teardrop Floater
Call this recency bias if you will, but watching Trae Young and Chris Paul tear through the postseason as high-feel point guards gives hope to Sharife Cooper fans everywhere. Cooper's main difference is that he's a jumper away from becoming a complete offensive player. Right now, without it, he's going to struggle to get his man on his back.
Without breaking down the jumper here, there's a reason I feel confident in saying that is the only missing piece: he already knows how to make up for his game in the mid-range. Watch the playoffs with Young and see a ton of ball screen impact where he killed in the mid-range with floaters.
Cooper has the elite passing ability, but as an undersized guard, funneling him towards a rim protector can be an impactful strategy. Cooper counters it with a really good teardrop floater, which he shoots from a low angle at his hip, to stay away from physical moves at the rim. The low angle is important because it allows for quick transfer from dribble to hip launch; that weaponizes the passing ability even further and keeps bigs on their toes:
I think Cooper is a pretty polished PNR threat with the exception of the jump shot.
âWhich leads me to...
Sharife Cooper, Auburn
Microskill: Off-Hand Passing
Part of the reason I'm so high on Cooper as a PNR hub (not sure if that's first unit or second yet) is his profoundly polished passing prowess. He makes so many great reads, is shifty and has a dribble that's low enough to the ground that he can go from drive to kick in a flash. His handle is special.
In the NBA, 'weak' coverage is prominent against great PNR handlers: push them to their weak hand as a way of decreasing their effectiveness. Cooper, who is right handed, would therefore be forced left. The theory is that he'd have less accuracy as a passer and impact as a scorer.
âWell... I think he can overcome that type of coverage as a passer.
Sharife Cooper is so tremendously skilled. It's part of why I'm willing to bet on him, even without a ton of jump shot evidence to his credit. Put him in ball screens and good things happen; he's shown both with his floater and weak-hand passing that he can survive and thrive against any PNR coverage.