Names to Know: Shooting Specialists
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.
10. Sasha Stefanovic, Purdue
Stefanovic comes from Purdue, where specialty shooters have come from in the past (here's wishing it would translate, Carsen Edwards). The Boilermakers rely on off-ball movement within their offense and feature usually one sniper who runs off screens all game. Stefanovic draws that role this year, so by the end of his season the sample size of movement shooting will be large enough to determine his viability. Most guys who have made it at the next level have fulfilled this role in a power five conference, where there's no uncertainty about doing it against NBA-caliber length and athleticism.
The worry for Stefanovic is that he's super small and thin for a wing. He'll get beaten up on the other end. His feet are a little close together, too. While his release is quick and pure, he doesn't need a dip and has range behind the line, I'm not sold on him being NBA-caliber. He's started the year 18-34 from 3-point line (52.9%), so it may take being 48% or above for me to see the worthwhile tradeoff. The lack of athleticism and size really damages his draft stock.
9. Mike Miles, TCU
I'm not sure how I feel about the 6'1" Mike Miles being on this list. The TCU Freshman is having a great offensive start to the year, but through seven games he's only made eight treys.
So why is he listed here as a shooting specialist?
That might be his NBA-given role, cut from the same cloth of a Chris Clemons or Derrick Walton Jr. He'd be an undrafted addition who makes a roster because, while he's a solid all-around scorer, he stretches defenses wwwwayyyyyy behind the 3-point line, and that's his appeal. Miles has flashed his deep range through the first seven games, though it's been all stationary catch-and-shoot and nothing off screens.
I'd anticipate Mike isn't a one-and-done prospect and returns to TCU for at least one more year. But if he can increase his volume and be a legitimate multiple three-pointer per night kind of guy, I can see him being a fringe NBA guy.
8. Caleb Grill, UNLV
Grill spent his freshman season at Iowa State before transferring to UNLV to play under former Cyclones assistant TJ Otzelberger. The 6'3" 2-guard struggled with the Cyclones; he shot 25% from 3 in the Big Twelve and got played off the floor.
The start of his career at UNLV may be a resurgence of one of the most impressive quick releases in college basketball. Grill has super deep range and, while he doesn't look the part athletically, he can really, really shoot it.
The tough part with projecting Grill is that he'll need to prove success against elite athleticism to raise professional stock. By transferring out of the Big Twelve to the Mountain West, he'll always be looked upon with a bit of a black mark.
The deep range is nice, the super quick release is even better. But Grill may not do enough else to justify an NBA contract. He'll be the guy on this list who puts up crazy numbers but scouts doubt the validity of seeing him as an NBA guy.
7. Landers Nolley II, Memphis
The 6'7" Virginia Tech transfer has always been more bulk than efficiency. Through seven games at Memphis, he's above 40% from 3. It's a great start that has redeemed him as a potential prospect, though the real test will be if he keeps it up. NBA teams will flock to Memphis the way they wouldn't to Blacksburg, and with NBA champion Mike Miller as his new shooting coach and potential draft advocate, intel on Nolley will be strong.
Nolley has the ideal length and size for this position, though his stroke is the least aesthetically-pleasing out of this group. He's a tad stiff and square of a shooter. He needs to be set and gathered to launch, he releases from the right shoulder/ breast and isn't a really strong finisher or player inside 2-point range.
I'm not really high on Nolley personally, though understand his pedigree and size will at least get him in the conversation.
6. John Petty, Alabama
Petty put his name into the draft waters last year before withdrawing to return for his senior year. He played next to Kira Lewis Jr. for the last two seasons, and the lottery point guard set him up for some prolific shooting numbers. This past year, Petty shot 44% from 3 on 6.7 attempts per game. His volume hasn't slipped through the first five games in 2020.
ESPN had Petty as a second-round grade and someone who could've snuck into the later part of the second round. I'm not sure he gets there again unless he makes over 42% from deep.
Petty makes shots in a variety of ways: off the bounce, standstill or on the move. He's not a very good playmaker, but at a legitimate 6'6" with decent defensive acumen, Petty doesn't have the defensive liability red flags of those beneath him on this list. He's been on the floor for four years against NBA competition in the SEC. He'll be okay in the NBA and should be a low-tier draft flier or two-way candidate next year.
5. Nah'shon Hyland, VCU
Usually the nickname "Bones" would accompany a more rugged, physically-charged, contact-seeking player. In the case of Bones Hyland, it describes a lethal shooter. A 6'3" combo, Hyland will be a full-time off-ball player at the next level: he really struggles to finish at the hoop and is a very mediocre creator for others.
To offset those shortcomings, the sophomore is getting up 8.3 treys a game, knocking down just shy of 38%. As a freshman, Hyland was excellent in every category for a shooter: catch-and-shoot, spot-up, off handoffs and screens. There's plenty of time for him to return to that level of impact with the Rams.
Of course, Hyland may fall victim to what many shooters do in college: the volume is so high that it's borderline impossible to be efficient and shoot 40%. Hyland is a neutral in many areas, so it's not like he needs to be 45% from deep in order to earn an NBA look. But unless he has some monster games this year against great competition he may be stuck as an undrafted. He's 3-19 from deep against Memphis, West Virginia and Penn State, and 19-39 against everyone else. He needs big games against strong competition.
4. Mitch Ballock, Creighton
Now we're definitely into draft territory and onto guys who I have been really high on for a while. Ballock fluctuates between an early-second guy and a borderline two-way guy in my mind. On one hand, he's surviving athletically in the Big East and against national-level competition. He could have three-straight years of 40% or above 3-point shooting on high volume. He has a better than 3:1 assist to turnover ratio; he is a better passer and secure team-player than he gets credit for. There's a lot of security in who he is.
On the other hand, Ballock will be 23 before he plays an NBA game, isn't known as a strong defender and hasn't drawn a lot of draft consideration from major outlets. Ballock wasn't on the ESPN top 100 list of 2021 draft prospects; it's incredibly rare that a guy off that board makes it into the NBA draft, especially if they're a four-year college player. The lefty has stiff feet when he shoots, loads up and needs time when he's farther behind the line.
Perhaps my affinity for Creighton's offense and how Ballock is utilized off screens has me falling in love with the player too much. But Duncan Robinson similarly wasn't a touted prospect. I'm not saying Ballock will have the same output and NBA career, but I'm not deterred from believing in him as a draft prospect just because he isn't high on other lists.
3. Isaiah Livers, Michigan
At 6'7", 230 pounds, Livers checks all the boxes. Consistency: he senior is on the verge of his third-consecutive season shooting above 40% from 3. Size/ athleticism for the league: his frame is great, and he snatches 9.3 rebounds per 100 possessions. Finishing: Livers is a career 55% finisher inside the arc. Pedigree: he comes with four years of Big-Ten experience, played in the same system as Duncan Robinson and now is for former NBA assistant Juwan Howard.
I will say this: Livers can be a rough playmaker. He had two really poor entry passes to Hunter Dickinson that almost cost the Wolverines the game against Penn State (they escaped 62-58). Livers was 0-3 in that game, which is bound to happen even for the best shooters. But he cannot be an overwhelming negative with his playmaking in those circumstances.
One thing Livers has going for him is that he's an elite, elite free throw shooter and gets to the line a decent amount. He's not afraid of contact nor bound to standing on the 3-point line. He's not quite smooth enough with his hips to be a movement shooting prospect, built more in the mold of a Saddiq Bey who is tall, long and best with shoulders square. But Livers isn't a 3-and-D guy right now, either: his defense has some strides to make before average for the pros. I'd think Livers is a tad old for any first-round looks, but can see him being a tail end of the 2nd round/ priority 2-way prospect.
2. Matthew Hurt, Duke
Some may be confused as to why Hurt is as high on this list as he is, and it's plain and simple: he's 6'10". Frontcourt shooting specialists, and guys who can be a stretch-4 (or even stretch-5) simply have more margin for error. That Hurt is a consistent 40% from 3, doesn't turn the ball over and can be an elite pick-and-pop prospect makes him as intriguing, if not more, than many draft prospects who are wings with higher 3-point percentages.
At the NBA level, imagine Hurt like a supercharged Steve Novak. He dashes off screens, pick-and-pops, sprints to the line in transition and (somehow) finds a way to rebound enough on the other end to offset his glaring lack of athleticism.
To me, that's the role Hurt must embrace. He is one of the lone snipers on this Duke team and will need to carry the offense to the point that it might hinder his draft stock. Pairing him with Jalen Johnson in 4-5 pick-and-rolls is smart, though, and Coach K has done that early in the year, particularly crunch time. If Hurt can flash a diversity of skills there and even some creation off the pop or short roll, he'll be a second-round prospect in my book. Big shooters like him don't grow on trees, and they're guys I'm always willing to advocate for in hopes the league can add strength and smarts to keep them around.
1. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
I had Kispert as a first-round prospect a year ago, projecting him in early mock drafts to go in the 27-30 range. While most role guys see a drop-off when they return to school and get a year older -- especially when going up against a loaded draft class like 2021 -- Kispert may be the exception to the rule. Another year of sniping at Gonzaga only helps his case as the most consistent NBA-style shooter in this draft.
Kispert is in the perfect system at Gonzaga. He has two NBA-caliber guards, particularly with top-5 guard Jalen Suggs. Tons of ball screens around him so he can navigate those. A coach who leverages shooting at every spot, giving him more opportunities to attack closeouts or throw extra passes that beef up assist numbers. They run their entire BLOB package around Kispert, showing his impact when sets are designed for him.
Coming back to Gonzaga, Kispert needed to add at least one trait to his game. He chose finishing, and has been excellent around the basket. He is aided by Gonzaga's great spacing and how they shoot from both big man positions, though the impact of his shooting is enough to cause defenders to overplay or chase him off the line, and he knows how to punish them for it. Think of a guy whose NBA impact is like Joe Harris.
Beyond all those great offensive traits, Kispert is a sturdy defender. He battles on defense and should give opponents fits when they try to back him down in the post to no avail. He's a legitimate 6'6" and with his size, consistency and well-rounded game, he's a shooting prospect that should be safely in the first-round conversation. Shooting 45% from 3 to start the year before the Zags paused activities won't hurt, either.
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Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Boys' Latin School (MD)