From a philosophical standpoint, prospect evaluation is as much about understanding the constraining factors of a young man's background as it is analyzing the mechanical changes that can lead to them taking a major leap.
In this 2021 class, Miles "Deuce" McBride stands out as the most Donovan Mitchell-like prospect. For a quick backstory, Mitchell experienced a huge jump in scoring productivity (7.4 points to 15.6 points) and 3-point shooting (25% on 2.3 attempts to 35.4% on 6.6 attempts) from freshman to sophomore years. He wasn't seen as a great passer (2.7 assists as a soph) and more of a scoring lead-guard. There were flashes, but he was still inefficient, unsure of how to jump on an NBA level and somehow not getting to the line enough.
McBride is following a similar path as a sophomore, and 15 games into his season seems like a large enough sample to view his performance as legitimate. He's made a sizable jump as a scorer (9.5 points to 15.9 points) and shooter (30.4% on 2.5 attempts to 47.3% on 3.7 attempts), as well as gains as a playmaker (1.8 assists, 1.3 TO up to 4.2 assists, 1.8 TO). He still doesn't get to the line enough and could be a little better as a leaper near the rim.
Back in 2017, I had Mitchell 12th on my Big Board and saw his defensive potential as a major strength, while criticizing the consistency of his half-court offense. Had that been there, he'd have vaulted to be a top-seven prospect in that class, on the tier with Dennis Smith and De'Aaron Fox. What I failed to take into consideration was the late-blooming trajectory of Mitchell, who missed AAU season after his sophomore year due to injury from a baseball game. He was a multi-sport athlete who didn't focus solely on hoops -- he was a senior prefect, a tour guide and a thespian at Brewster Academy, 20 minutes from my home.
McBride follows the same trajectory. An elite high school quarterback, Deuce focused on more than basketball. He played on a juggernaut program at Archbishop Moeller, teaming with Jaxson Hayes and playing in a defensive-minded system that didn't showcase his offense. He missed almost his entire junior year after suffering an injury playing football, then gave up football his senior year to focus on hoops.
He's a late-bloomer who continues to get better and better through his sophomore season. Perhaps I'm too caught up in the comparisons to Mitchell's path and trying to view this as an opportunity to get into greatness on the ground floor. In my mind, the signs are there for McBride to be an ultimate high-achiever, swing-for-the-fences pick who far outperforms his draft position.
Frequent readers of my draft work know my steadfast belief that college programs do have a good amount of bearing as to what a player's career trajectory will be. It's not to say that there are only a few schools that churn out good pros, but there are safer courses and riskier ones. There are coaches and staffs who have a track record of strong skill development in ways that translate to the pros, and programs that don't. There are places whose playbooks and styles on both ends mirror what happens in the pros, and those who don't offer that to their players. College coaches are concerned with winning first and foremost and are doing their jobs -- but the impact of that is real.
McBride has been in one of those systems that doesn't consistently produce high-level guard play at the next level. Jevon Carter is the only West Virginia player currently in the NBA, a culture guy who buys into his role as a defensive-minded guard. Only three other Mountaineers have made the league since Bob Huggins took over, and the list isn't very strong: Kevin Jones, Devin Ebanks and Joe Alexander.
The track record isn't great behind that, either. Bill Walker was his one-and-done name at Kansas State, who didn't turn into a consistent rotation guy. His time at Cincinnati produced a ton of high-level guys in the 90s, but in the 20 years since Kenyon Martin was the top pick, the only Bearcats to make the league were DeMarr Johnson, Kenny Satterfield, Tony Bobbitt, Robert Whaley and Jason Maxiell. Satterfield and Bobbitt are the only guards on this list; they combined to play in 77 career games.
There's likely a reason for this: Huggins has been a true-motion coach, slow to adopt ball screen offenses and 3-point shooting trends. Lead guards don't get to demonstrate the skills that NBA evaluators look for: ball screen reads, finishing in an unoccupied lane, varying PNR defensive looks. Huggins has recruited and deployed teams with multiple non-shooters, which kill opportunities for guards to penetrate and make plays.
While Huggins doesn't have a track record of growing guards, he is a pretty specific recruiter of personality types. He wants winners, guys who grind it out on defense, who put the team first, can be coached and coached hard, who want to press for long periods of time, who are the most competitive guys on the floor at all times. That's not just what it takes to impress Huggins, it's what it takes to survive in Morgantown. That in itself is worthy of understanding and evaluating on the draft side.
McBride is a winner. He won in high school, going 29-0 his senior year while Moeller ran through the competition in Ohio. They were state runners up his sophomore year, the only other season he was a fixture in the rotation. He won in football and was a legitimate Division I prospect there. He's 32-14 in college.
All of this is somewhat irrelevant if McBride cannot play at a pro level. There are so many athletes with winning backgrounds, mentalities and pedigrees that don't end up going pro. The baseline level for where players get drafted and how they should be perceived is on their talent and how they demonstrate it. Everything else (character, background, college ecosystem) are secondary.
McBride checks all the boxes. From a physical standpoint, he's a strong 6'2" lead guard with a wingspan likely above 6'10" (I've yet to see a reliable and official measurement). He's one of the best on-ball defenders in this year's draft, takes a ton of aggressive risks on defense and has the athleticism and instincts to recover when he loses those gambles.
Of all the first-round prospects in this draft class, McBride might be the best on-ball defender of the group. He's a steal-maven (1.8 per game) with razor-quick hands. His best trait is utilizing perfectly succinct footwork to simultaneously pressure and recover against drivers. He extends his pressure because he's almost impossible to beat. He can crowd a guy without fear of not being able to stay in front.
There are tons of examples of defensive possessions where his pressure and on-ball ability takes over, stifling the attack and causing havoc for some really good players:
McBride isn't a role player whose job is to come in and disrupt. He's playing over 30 minutes a night and captaining the offense. He's in phenomenal shape and does it because he's competitive and simply enjoys torturing others.
They show up in other functional ways. McBride tends to overplay and shade towards baseline a little too much, and his stance is slightly more open towards the baseline than most. The way I see it, that's by design. It's him suckering a ball handler in, encouraging the guy to see more green space driving that way when Deuce is about to cut it off.
The amount of times he gets his man to take the bait and drive baseline, only to be suffocated and run out of real estate, is somewhat comical:
One critique of his defense is that he tends to peek over his shoulder a little too much, anticipating screens and trying not to get clipped. If he'll draw the top assignments in the NBA, those guys will notice and know how to burn him for doing that. He can't take his eyes off his man for one second.
What's amazing is that he still is able to recover. While McBride's pressuring is great and his footwork on defense tremendous, his recovery skills allow him to get away with not being perfect. It shows up in those baseline drives where he baits someone into driving. It also shows up in his pick-and-roll recovery, where he's peeking for a screen and coming slightly out of his stance, then all of a sudden has gotten all the way back in front of the ball:
It shows up most frequently in his rotations as a help defender.
McBride is a bit of a gambler. He likes to be unpredictable. He denies aggressively in passing lanes, will jump out and try to catch someone by surprise and would rather be late but bursty to a help assignment than early and discourage a pass. He wants the home run play, for better or for worse.
Guys like that can get caught when undisciplined. I'm usually an evaluator who errs on the side of caution and likes the positionally sound, solid, low-risk play. McBride has the traits to be the exception to that rule. He has an unreal recovery that allows him to pressure or take risks.
He can get caught ball-watching or jumping to deny, be back cut and still get back to make a play at the rim:
This isn't going to fly on every possession, and most NBA guys will dunk that quickly so he doesn't get the chase-down block. But there is credence to the idea that McBride's leash deserves to be longer, and that he can (and should) have a license to improvise on the defensive end of the floor.
First and foremost, few guys have the athletic traits of closing speed, burst and acceleration (or the free safety skills to know when to use them) that McBride does. He's been great in West Virginia's zone press, a 1-2-2 look that allows him to anticipate reversals.
His closing speed and ability to cover ground is impressive and NBA-caliber:
The other reason a longer leash matters: McBride has the makings of a defensive savant. He's instinctive and knows when to break traditional patterns of rotation to make a basket-saving play or, most likely, to get a steal. He reads the ball handler's eyes well and anticipates the play that's about to be made.
McBride covers ground and turns defense into offense. He's instinctual in a good way; reeling it in too tightly negates some of the biggest and most impactful moments he provides.
âHe's a truly special help defender:
McBride is only 6'2" but plays like he's 6'5" or 6'6". He's much smarter than he gets credit for and has the tools to be a really impactful individual and team defender. If there's one thing to take away from Bob Huggins-coached prospects, it's that they rarely disappoint on the defensive end. I feel secure in seeing McBride as a top-3 defensive guard in this year's draft.
It's the offense where he's needed to prove himself...
Think of McBride's defense as the floor to his production -- he's going to be a serviceable pro and rotation piece at his worst because he can defend. The offense is what brings a range of predictions about his draft stock. He's been in the top-20 on my board since the initial 2021 rankings came out. He's also still absent from the top-100 rankings on ESPN.
How do you explain such a wide range of outcomes?
The closest thing I can think of is on-ball vs. off-ball impact. McBride established a reputation his freshman year as a pull-up shooter, mostly in the mid-range. He was 13-52 (25%) from deep and 13-42 (30%) on catch-and-shoot jumpers as a freshman. He only had 39 half-court assists in 31 games, and was so heavily-dependent on making tough mid-ranges that the other aspects of his game didn't merit him having the ball in his hands.
It's a valid point, and one I've made before for certain prospects. But it's also indicative of viewing a full season as a completed chapter in their story, segmenting it off from where they are on the growth curve spectrum. Negative associations are harder to remove when they come in the form of a completed process, tied up neatly with a bow on top. It's easy to dismiss a 15-game sample size to start a season for a player because, years from now, nobody will go back and quickly access that sample as an indication of how they fared that season.
My belief in McBride is reinforced by his strong performance this year, but truly indicative of just how early on the offensive developmental curve he is. Archbishop Moeller is a slow-down, score-less program that doesn't produce high-octane offenses. West Virginia is much of the same. And for all but the last six games of his sophomore season, he's been leading an offense with two true big men that have zero offensive range on a team with limited 3-point shooting. There's so much bloom left on the rose.
McBride doesn't share the floor with other creators, so his off-ball role is limited. Of course a critique on his off-ball offensive impact is easy to make!
Still, the few moments he's playing off-ball have been much, much better and show development on that end. He's 16-33 (48.5%) on catch-and-shoot jumpers thus far. Aesthetically, it's a little clunky. For someone who is a great lateral athlete, McBride isn't an elite jumper. He gets very little lift on his jump shot and is somewhat mechanical. He needs a rhythm dip down to his waist with the ball, occasionally lets his follow-through fade out to the side instead of be held straight down, and doesn't have the fluid one-motion spring to his shot.
The numbers don't lie, though. His shot goes in. The lack of speed or elevation means he gets fewer uncontested looks; per Synergy, 24 of his 33 catch-and-shoots have been guarded. But he makes nearly 46% of the guarded ones and is able to replicate his stroke.
The critique is fair: if McBride isn't going to be an elite shooter or a positive off-ball threat, that means he has less margin for error as an on-ball creator, mid-range scorer and finisher. If I have a worry about McBride, it's that he doesn't get to the rim enough with the ball in his hands. 42 of his 49 pick-and-roll attempts have been jump shots this year. He's a very good finisher (15-for-20 at the rim) but only gets 13.4% of his looks there.
I like McBride as a power finisher. He's not insanely quick, but he punches gaps when they're open and is a really strong elevator. He crushes teams going to his left, where he's super comfortable at using his right shoulder to create space for a finish. Still, only about half of his makes at the rim come from face-up driving opportunities like this:
That, in itself, is concerning. Donovan Mitchell was north of 25% his sophomore year at Louisville in percentage of his looks coming at the rim. Of 2,473 Division I player who have taken at least ten attempts at the basket, McBride is 2,416th in percentage of looks that come there. That's in the bottom-third percentile in all of Division I. The only other draft prospects that rival him are shooting specialists Marcus Bagley and Cameron Thomas.
At the NBA level, there are a few guys who are seen as elite scorers who are taking less than 14% of their attempts at the rim. Guys like D'Angelo Russell, Chris Paul and CJ McCollum are on the list, and all are the most elite mid-range guys. They've turned themselves into supreme pull-up scorers to compensate for how they'd get hammered at the rim or their lack of burst to get there.
McBride certainly has a lack of burst and the need to thrive in the mid-range. But drafting a guy based on those traits isn't ideal. All three compensate by being either elite shooters everywhere on the floor (Russell and McCollum) who can be fantastic threats on-ball or off-ball, or are named Chris Paul and could be seen as the best floor general of their generation. McBride doesn't really have either to his game. His numbers are really good right now from three, but he's nowhere near as versatile a shooter.
The issue for McBride's mid-range prowess are the inconsistent mechanics. He goes through stretches where he'll hitch and aim his jumper. It's got a bit of a line drive off the bounce, the result of him raising the ball into his shot, stopping it mid-air and then flicking it with his wrist instead of one, fluid motion throughout. He has two-hands on the ball at times and has too much shoulder in his shot at others.
McBride can make really, really difficult shots and create space for himself in the mid-range. His footwork is strong and the form looks great when he makes them. It's when he misses that the demons come out:
McBride as a passer is really, really hard to evaluate. West Virginia does him no favors; he rarely gets into the lane without three players already standing there. The mush that is the Mountaineers offense constrains him more than anything. How can we hold his lack of attempts at the rim solely against him if there's no frequent avenue for him to actually get to the rim?
My hypothesis is that, in a more pro-spaced system, his percentage of half-court looks at the rim will increase. The reliance on the mid-range will go down. His assist numbers will climb and the concerns over his lack of separation will go away.
âMcBride isn't a top-level athlete who will live at the rim, but he's also not at dire levels of needing to rely on his shooting. The constraint is based on his surroundings, not his capabilities.
Still, improvements to the consistency of his jumper and mid-range game would go a long way. That will always be his bread and butter as a scorer.
What McBride has are many things that cannot be taught. A tough-shot-making ability. Swagger to take and want the moment. A natural ability to toy with his defender. When seen on their own, in a sophomore in college, they're fairly exciting. When placed into the context of how little offensive development he's received in comparison to other his age, I get giddy. The consistency that comes from repetition will only stabilize his erratic play and make him a great one-on-one scorer:
The questions are two-fold:
There are indications that he'll either continue to improve as a shooter, or has high enough of an IQ defensively that he has to understand the low man at least a little bit. There's evidence that points in his favor.
To the second question, it'll be dependent on how others in this class shake out. It seems like a decently top-heavy class in the lottery and has depth of backcourt scorers elsewhere. There may be more solid offensive options in the 16-to-26 range that drop McBride outside of there.
But there's... there's something about this kid. Maybe it's his competitiveness. Maybe it's his defensive acumen that I tend to really enjoy. Maybe it's the desire to forgive him for the poor surroundings that contribute to offensive woes. Maybe it's the fact he's a late-bloomer. But I buy into him combining all those factors to figure it out and be a plus player and have a career on par with a mid-first talent.
The Donovan Mitchell comps combine many of those factors. He's a pretty competitive kid. He's long and active on defense without being seen as an All-NBA performer. He hasn't had the greatest, most consistent surroundings during his college career. He's a good kid who is figuring it out late. Both are exceptional in transition and want the big moment.
When Spida entered the league he was instantly better than anyone thought. His big change: learning how to become a one-foot jumper. But he carved out a role early on and averaged 20.5 points as a rookie. He was a 6'0" combo guard; not a true point guard and facilitator, but undersized at the 2. He guards up and figured out quickly how to thread the needle between both.
That's McBride's pathway to a ceiling. I'm not saying he'll average 20 a game every season in his career -- if I were, he'd be a top-five guy on my board. Instead, expect McBride to take many by surprise for how naturally he blends into the NBA game when he finally starts to focus on his own offensive development. The strides from last year to this one are only scratching the surface of what he's capable of.
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Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Boys' Latin School (MD)