Take a step into The Grindhouse.
No, not the appropriately-named raucous home of the Grizzlies on Beale Street in downtown Memphis.
This particular Grindhouse is where Chasson Randle has been putting in daily work over the last month to stay on top of his strength and conditioning, thanks to the generosity of his girlfriend’s brother-in-law. In a garage equipped with weight racks, treadmills, and row machines, Randle has had a quality setup to maintain a routine as the NBA continues to figure out its next step amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s like a laboratory if you’ve ever seen I Am Legend,” Randle told Basketball Insiders in an exclusive phone interview.
When he’s not playing virtual Connect 4 with his friends, trips to The Grindhouse and a private basketball gym have allowed Randle to appease the competitive fire he’s desperately missed in games… with himself. Whether it’s beating a previous number of weight reps within a set or recording better times on a bike, he’s found creative ways to keep busy and productive.
“I’m treating this like it’s the summer,” Randle said. “I’m preparing for a new season, even though I do expect the season to pick up and finish out. But even in the summertime, you can play pick-up games, you can play with other people and kind of get a feel for another body. But it’s just different.”
Two-and-a-half months into day nine of what he and his agent, Darrell Comer of YouFirstSports, jokingly refer to as the longest 10-day contract in NBA history, Randle has stayed in close contact with the Golden State Warriors through team meetings over the phone. His closest relationships are with Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins, the two guys to his left and right in the locker room, as well as Golden State mainstay Draymond Green.
While the current record obviously doesn’t show what the franchise has accomplished over the last half-decade, Randle senses the same championship professionalism he experienced in the 2015 NBA Summer League as an undrafted free agent — his first taste of pro-ball after four strong seasons at Stanford University.
“Everything was still top-notch professional. They did a great job of treating the new guys who were coming in and kind of engaging them and thrusting them into their culture,” Randle said of the Warriors. “I think that’s the main thing that I’ve gained from them. The culture is very, very strong, and it was then back in 2015. They were professional, but they still knew how to have fun and make the game of basketball a treat to everyone.”
“They do everything to the highest level. The way they communicate, it shows why they’ve been to The Finals five straight years and why they’ve won three of ’em. It just shows the way they treat their players.”
Randle’s professional basketball journey has been anything but a straight line. Following that summer league stint with Golden State, the 6-foot-2 guard signed a contract with CEZ Nymburk to play overseas in the Czech Republic. After both winning a championship in the National Basketball League and competing in the VTB United League, he drew the attention of the New York Knicks in the summer of 2016.
Earning all-tournament honors in Orlando to the tune of 18.3 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game with a 55 percent clip from deep, the Knicks offered Randle his first training camp invite in the fall. He was waived after three preseason games, yet remained a part of the organization under its G League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks. In early January, the Philadelphia 76ers came calling and signed him to his first 10-day contract.
Though he sparingly played in spotty minutes for the Sixers, Randle remembers what head coach Brett Brown told him in a practice — something that’s been embedded in his mind during his career ever since.
“’’Participate in your own rescue,’” Randle recalls of the advice. “Sometimes in practice, you can just get caught up in watching what’s going on and trying to figure it out that way, but sometimes you have to get in there and get dirty and ask questions and be as active in your own process.
“And I’m like, man, it really helped me because after that I played well in Philly and I signed a three-year deal with them with those trigger dates. And if it wasn’t for the trade — Nerlens Noel going to Dallas and them getting [Andrew] Bogut and Justin Anderson back — I think I could’ve stuck there, honestly.”
Randle was released by the 76ers as a result of that deal to clear roster space. The Knicks brought him back in to finish the rest of 2017 on a multi-year deal, but he was let go again that September due to another trade as Carmelo Anthony was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott. Experiencing yet another unfortunate set of circumstances, Randle ventured back to Europe to join Real Madrid.
Just as his previous overseas stint culminated with a title, so did this one. On a stacked squad led by international superstar Luka Doncic, the club conquered the Euroleague and earned a championship. Though Randle didn’t receive nearly the same playing time as he did in the Czech Republic, teams in the NBA wanted to give him another shot. He returned to the Knicks’ summer league team in Orlando for a second straight year.
The Washington Wizards liked what they saw and extended an invite to Randle in the fall of 2018. He played three preseason games before being waived. He spent time with their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, for a month until the team released him for the second time in November; but the Go-Go kept his rights and he kept playing. However, a little over a month later, lady luck would finally side with Randle thanks to, ironically, a trade.
When Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers were sent away, Washington re-signed Randle to a contract for the rest of the season. For the first time in his NBA career, he had a legitimate spot in a rotation with consistent playing time, demonstrating leadership and an excellent basketball IQ. Patience and smarts translated into Randle’s success, as he knocked down a career-best 40 percent of his threes and recorded 12 double-digit scoring efforts in 49 games with the Wizards.
“It gave me the opportunity to kind of have the full experience or closest thing to the full experience for being on an NBA team and playing a backup role. I enjoyed it,” Randle said. “It was great to be around Brad [Beal] and John [Wall] and Jeff Green and the guys that we had on that team who had been around in the league for a while — great basketball players.
“I was grateful for the opportunity. I think that I really got the chance to show who I could be and who I am as a player, shooting the ball the way I did and being able to run an offense and pick up full-court and try to change the pace of the game.”
Throughout his twisting, turning path, Randle has always been a sponge. He takes bits and pieces of tips from everybody he encounters and uses that to better himself on and off the court. During his time in D.C., he attributes simply observing Beal and Wall being the first ones in the gym and the last ones to leave as an inspiration to his work ethic.
“When I walk into a room, I’m not always the loudest, but you better believe I’m listening to everything. I’m listening and I’m aware of everything that’s going on,” Randle said.
Desiring a more expanded role and a new challenge, Randle elected to go back overseas for the third time in his career — this time around, further east. Agreeing to a one-year deal with the Tianjin Pioneers of the Chinese Basketball Association, he had a plan in mind.
“Just for me to continue to develop my game, hold on a little more responsibility and allow my game to grow,” Randle said. “In China, I had the ball in my hands a lot more, so I’m getting those reps at the point guard position, getting a lot of minutes, seeing a lot of different defenses, seeing a lot of different double teams and having to do a little bit more so I can kind of grow my game.”
This was a short-term decision made with the long-term in mind. Randle figured the combination of lessons he learned from the previous season would manifest itself in his newest endeavor. He made good on that bet.
Averaging over 30 minutes for the first time in any league he’s played in, Randle exploded for 24.7 points, 4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. With his usage at a whopping 37.5 percent, he was anything but bashful, attempting over 19 shots per contest, nearly half of which were beyond the arc. By far, it was the most successful stint he’s had in any league yet.
It’s Jan. 21 in Sichuan, China. The Tianjin Pioneers have just beaten the Sichuan Blue Whales, 98-88, a game in which Randle pours in a team-high 20 points on the road. He gets back to the hotel where he sees a fan waiting for a picture and an autograph. After the exchange, the fan delivers Randle a frightening bit of news.
“’Have you heard what’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘No what’s going on?’” Randle remembers. “He’s like, ‘Man, there’s a virus going on in China. It’s very bad. People are dying, getting sick. Be careful.’ And then after that, I’m like, wow, nobody told me about this. This information is new to me.”
As soon as the Pioneers got back to Tianjin the next day, Randle did his research on the virus, now known worldwide as COVID-19. Before he knew it, the team canceled practice. The CBA had ceased operations and players were told not to leave their residences. Concerned that he could be stuck on lockdown in the city, Randle’s representation told him that he had to leave within the next few days.
“That’s what we did. I stayed at my hotel for three days straight,” Randle said. “Luckily, I had food in there in the freezer and the refrigerator. I could whip something up for myself because I didn’t leave at all. At this time, we didn’t know how the virus was being transmitted and stuff, so I was just being super cautious.”
When those three days were up, Randle hopped in a cab with his bags and took a two-hour ride from Tianjin to the airport in Beijing for a direct flight back to the United States. He says it was crowded, although the experience was nothing out of the ordinary. Attendants took his temperature and that was about the only abnormal thing about it.
“It wasn’t like anything you’d see on Contagion or anything like that,” Randle explained. “At this time, it was early though. And I think a few days after that, they were like shutting off the country. So, it was perfect timing. People were trying to rush and get out a couple of days after that, so the timing was perfect and I’m glad it all worked out.”
Before — and while — that was going on, Randle was gaining momentum in NBA circles toward signing a contract with a team. The problem? Tianjin, believing that the season would resume and in fear of losing its top player, wouldn’t allow him to end his deal with the organization. Randle and Comer were extremely agitated with the handling of the situation, so the latter took it to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and aired out those frustrations on a public platform.
Score a point for Randle and his representation.
“Once [Darrell] got me on the ticker, man, it kinda took over,” Randle said with a chuckle. “It spread like wildfire and [Tianjin] called back immediately and was like, ‘you know what? We’ll let him go. It’s not worth [the bad publicity].”
We’ve officially passed the mid-May mark. Randle is still in California as a part of the Warriors. His family back home in Rock Island, Illinois is doing well. He’ll FaceTime them and stay in contact to make sure they’re up to date on everything going on during the nationwide quarantine.
Rock Island means the world to Randle. It’s where he spent his childhood and teenage years growing up. It’s where he and his teammates won Rock Island High School’s first state championship. It’s where he earned the honor of being named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball. In each of the past three summers, Randle and his close friends have held Dream Big Youth Camp, a free-of-charge event for local kids from the town and surrounding neighborhoods.
“I just basically try to give the kids that opportunity to learn basketball, but also learn other things that’ll help them later on in life,” Randle said. “So we teach them life skills. We had a class that was teaching like what it means to be an active citizen and what that looks like. We teach them decision-making, along with the basketball.
“I look at it like this: I went to plenty of camps when I was a kid and not all those kids ended up playing basketball, but some of those kids became doctors, some of them became policemen, whatever. I wanted to make sure with my camp, every kid could take away something from the camp and better themselves in whatever area they choose to pursue.”
Unfortunately, the annual camp is in jeopardy with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — but Randle is hoping that sometime in September could work pending on the scenario.
Between working at the Grindhouse, getting shots up and figuring out plans for his camp, Randle has kept plenty busy — but even that isn’t all he’s up to. Since 2018, he has been actively designing apparel for his clothing line company, Volhard, set for launch in August.
“It means perseverance in both Dutch and Africans, loosely,” Randle said. “Really, it’s what I believe is the thing that every common person shares. Everybody’s had to persevere through something — it is imperative to my life and my story — so I wanted to kind of create through clothing and show that message to the world or whoever is willing to buy and support the brand.”
Randle designed every piece with the underrated drawing talent he has. In high school, he envisioned himself creating a clothing line. When basketball came into his life, his mother reminded him to take advantage of all of the gifts he has, not just his athletic side.
“Just be universal. Do a little bit of everything. Don’t be afraid. Take risks,” said Randle while recounting his mother’s wisdom. “And I really commend her for telling me that because that’s the way I live my life.”
Like everybody else, Randle is waiting for the NBA’s next move. Ultimately, he’s heard “mixed reviews” about the league and a return to normalcy.
In a hypothetical situation where things get back up and running, it would take a minimum of two weeks to get into shape. Game speed is totally different than any self-conditioning. But unrelated to those factors — and with safety coming first and foremost, of course — he would love to see The Association come back for reasons beyond his own benefit.
“I think that it would definitely show how resilient and brave the league is and how powerful it could be,” Randle said. “It could be very, very powerful just to kinda unite. Sports is something that unites people and brings people together, and I think that if it came back, it would have the opportunity to do that.”
Whenever that could be, we don’t know quite yet.
What we do know is that Randle is champing at the bit for an opportunity to show the NBA that he can consistently play at a high level on this stage — and if he finds the right fit, he plans on sticking around for good.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.
Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.
The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.
But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.
Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old
Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.
But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.
Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.
Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old
Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.
And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.
While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.
If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old
Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).
Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.
Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old
Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.
Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.
But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.
Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old
Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old
Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old
With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.