When we finish college scouting reports and full videos on these prospects, we will post them in short article form here on the Box and One website, with limited written notes. The videos should speak for themselves.
Clarke is in a weird situation. He struggled in the seven games he played before having his season ended due to injury. There's a limited sample size, and he didn't impress to the point of being a first-round guy. Yet Clarke may get squeezed at Kentucky, and there's at least more intrigue to him now after only seven games than there would be if he came back to Kentucky and did much of the same next year.
I'm very fascinated to see what Clarke does and the choices he might make after the season. Neither would be a surprise, though the ultimate surprise would be Clarke being drafted in the 2021 first-round after this body of work.
As of February 2021, eight Villanova Wildcats are on NBA rosters. Those eight: Kyle Lowry, Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Saddiq Bey.
Moreso than the alums of other colleges, those eight (mainly the most-recent seven, who all left school after 2016) all share many traits. They're all solid or above-average defenders. All are incredibly fundamentally sound, particularly with their footwork. All are above-average passers for their position. All embrace their role on the team and don't need to be putting up the most numbers to feel fulfilled in what they do.
They're winning basketball players.
It's no secret at this point my man crush on Jay Wright and affinity for what he does at Villanova. He's an excellent teacher, runs a system that values skill development and modern basketball that translates to the pros, only takes in high-character individuals and has a ton of success. If there's one college program that I want to get players and people from, it's Nova's.
That's why Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is knocking on the door of the lottery in my book. His numbers aren't the sexiest, his shooting remains one of the knocks on a swing forward prospect and he doesn't jump off the page as an elite NBA athlete. But he's a byproduct of the system he's played in, and that counts for something. Perfect in his role and coming from Role Player U, JRE should be getting more love than he currently is.
Part of that comes from his excellent defense and the translatable skills of his offensive game. Part of it is in how much I value exceptional role players and think the guys who you are certain will be one shouldn't be pushed down draft boards simply because they lack superstar upside.
Former NBA head coach Brian Shaw has felt pressure before. He's coached an NBA franchise and been on the hot seat. He's played meaningful minutes in an NBA Finals game.
Now is perhaps the most pressure-filled situation of his career. The future of the NBA's developmental plan, and, in turn, college basketball's one-and-done marketability to top prospects, all hangs on the success that Shaw and his staff can have at priming four NBA prospects in the midst of a global pandemic.
A lucrative path for top pros, the NBA is trying something new: giving those guys the opportunity to circumvent college and work on their game in a way that's specific to NBA success. What Shaw and his staff need to deliver, therefore, is a greater level of preparedness for the NBA lifestyle. In a normal year, that might include more pro-like practices and travel. It will certainly include better competition against seasoned veterans, grown men and some NBA veterans.
Most importantly, it must include skill development tailored to the pros. The whole idea behind the program is that these players don't waste time learning habits that are only designed to help their college team win but will need to be broken or reshaped a year later. That their pathway gives them a clear leg up on those who stayed in college.
In the inaugural campaign of this G-League Ignite program, four top prospects have taken the leap of faith: Jonathan Kuminga (#4 on the Box and One Big Board), Jalen Green (#9), and Daishen Nix (#22) and Isaiah Todd (#31). All four have first-round talent and upside and must find a way to balance showcasing their own skills and making each other better. It's a unique challenge, as at no point before has the result of a game been so individually transactional -- at least transparently so. For Shaw and his staff, balancing winning, showcasing their individual guys and proving to future generations that this is a preferred method to the college route is a tall task.
Regardless, play starts this week for the Ignite group, and we are looking forward to seeing the youngsters for the first time. Here's what we're looking for from each prospect when they take the floor to prove that the developmental aspect has been worth their time.
As an 18-year-old in his third professional season, Usman Garuba is playing 17 minutes a night on a 19-1 Real Madrid team in ACB League. He's one of the best rebounders and defenders in the league already. At some point, scouting really should be this simple: a young player is insanely productive within his role on a professional team. He'll be the same in the NBA.
Yet the concerns about Garuba's shooting, as well as a lack of uptick in offensive production, are driving him down draft boards. Sam Veccine has him in the second round; Mike Schmitz of ESPN has him 17th on his big board.
I'd argue that both are too low. Garuba's insane defensive IQ and impact are undeniable at this point, with 82 career games, solid growth and versatility perfect for the modern NBA. I'm not here to necessarily provide optimism for Garuba's offense and the lack of shooting -- it is a concern. But I'm here to tell you that, with how borderline-dominant he is on the defensive end, it shouldn't stop him from being a top-seven pick in this year's draft.
Let's play America's favorite game -- the Blind Resume Game!
âCan you guess which ACC Prospect has each of the following stat lines:
Player A: 16.6 PTS, 10.2 REB, 3.2 AST, 2.0 BLK, 1.4 STL, 64.4% FG, 26.6 minutes
Player B: 7.6 PTS, 4.6 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.8 BLK, 1.0 STL, 40.5% FG, 19.6 minutes
You may have guessed that Jalen Johnson, a widely-regarded lottery pick, is Player A.
He's also Player B. The stats from Player A come from his performances against lesser competition: Coppin State, Bellarmine, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Miami. Player B stats are from the five games where he's struggled against elite competition -- Michigan State, Illinois, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Clemson, all teams who have been ranked in the top-15 at some point this year.
So, what is it about Johnson that causes him to struggle against elite competition? How do those struggles dampen his otherwise high athletic potential, and what does it all mean for his draft stock?
The college season is still in full swing, and international competition has no signs of slowing down before the draft. It may be a little early to dive into scouting reports for the draft, but we were excited to get going this year.
Our first name is Usman Garuba, a 6'8" big man who plays for Real Madrid. A prodigal defensive player, Garuba came in on our first preseason boards at #5 despite the absence of a reliable jump shot. We'll write a longform piece about Garuba soon to discuss why he deserves to be at that spot.
What we want to do now, however, is point out a few changes to our updated format of scouting report videos. First is the newer, sleeker graphics that demonstrate traits. Somebody learned how to use photoshop a little better...
Second, we've done away with putting strengths and improvement areas in separate locations. The two will be combined into one video for ease of access to viewers.
The third, and perhaps least notable change, is in a greater emphasis on the "improvement areas" section of being brief but doing slow-motion breakdowns that relate to athletic traits. You'll note the first example of this with Garuba, where we use slow-motion in only a few examples to show where he struggles with his first step.
Be on the lookout for more videos coming this Spring, especially as college seasons wrap up. As always, thanks for watching!
Seven games is all it took for Sharife Cooper to establish himself as one of the most fun, creative players in the entirety of college basketball.
Through those seven games, Cooper is averaging 21.3 points and 8.1 assists despite shooting 6-32 from 3-point range. The shooting and the high turnovers (4.0 per game) are definitely high, but there's a ton to like: he finishes at the basket despite being a slender 6'0" point guard. He is taking 9.7 free throw attempts a game and is always in attack mode.
More than anything, Cooper is an incredibly heady point guard. He seems to always be one or two steps ahead of the defense, knowing where he wants to go and manipulating the defense so that he can get there. Few young players are better with their eyes to move their opponents.
That's where Cooper is most special, and we intend to show just how many special ways he's created offense through only seven games.
I'm very weary of the trendy risers in draft circles who don't play major roles on their teams. It's what I like to call the Zach Collins Coefficient.
There's a modernity that's very appealing to some big men. It's guys who are great athletes and move well laterally while protecting the rim and blocking shots. It's guys who shoot it well from 3 and have great efficiency numbers. There's a convenient, low-hanging fruit explanation for why they don't receive major minutes -- playing behind a college veteran on a really good team, most likely.
Collins was at Gonzaga, a one-and-done in 2016-17 who backed up senior Przemek Karnowski and junior Jonathan Williams. Two other freshmen bigs, Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura, were there to eat up some minutes as well, moving Collins not only to a limited role off the bench, but to the 4 for a large chunk of his minutes. The theory behind Collins wasn't just that he had great numbers per-40, but would be much more impactful when the NBA clarifies and simplifies his position and role.
Kai Jones of Texas is the newest entry in this list. Through 13 games this season for the Longhorns, Jones has only started two of them, playing barely 22 minutes a night. He's leveraged hot 3-point shooting (44.4%) and impactful defensive metrics, along with eye-popping athleticism, to shoot up draft boards as a sophomore. He entered the season as a relative unknown; he's a lottery pick on the latest Mock Draft from Sam Vecenie and Matt Pennie on the Game Theory Podcast.
I always work to try and push away biases and external factors to focus on the meat-and-potatoes of a prospect -- their production and individual factors, not comparisons to others. But the context of how he's a quick-rising prospect, only plays a limited role and the skepticism I had with Zach Collins make me a little jaded when it comes to falling in love with Jones this early and simply say "hey, let's pump the brakes here."
I don't consider myself a big comic book guy. When I was a kid, I watched cartoons and knew a little about DC and Marvel, but those fandom days quickly passed me by. One of the names from those cartoons has always captured my curiosity, though: a former Superman villain named Mr. Mxyzptlk. The odd name is enough to jump out, but it was his powers in the cartoon that were so baffling. He was an imp that could manipulate anything and everything, and do virtually anything imaginable.
Mr. Mxyzptlk's weakness was in how he was constrained -- his powers were limited by restrictions, most of which he created for himself. Many of the restrictions were silly and nonsensical, but he was bound to them nonetheless. I think of him as the villain who couldn't color outside the lines, but had every capability to do so.
The modern game of basketball requires a creative eye to harness the powers of those who don't fit neatly into a conventional box. There are players whose games are so unique and blend together rarely-combined skills. It would be a shame to constrain them with restrictions and make them easily beatable.
So we'll try a look at a few of the more unique guys in this class: those who can virtually do anything, but whose biggest threats to realizing their potential are the constraints they currently or potentially face.
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.