With the way the NBA has evolved over the last few seasons, general managers are constantly looking for versatile players. This includes 3-and-D players who can spread the court with their shooting, lock down an opposing wing player on defense and play multiple positions. This also includes well-rounded players who may not thrive at any single thing, but whose collective skill set helps a team significantly, such as through setting effective screens, grabbing rebounds, defending the rim, guarding opposing players and knocking down open shots – think of, say, Draymond Green.
The Golden State Warriors assembled a collection of versatile players and have utilized that dynamic over the last few seasons with great success. Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are the type of versatile players who can play multiple positions, have multifaceted skill sets and can switch seamlessly on defense whether it’s against bigger or smaller players. The rest of the league is trying to emulate this, as we saw with players like Khris Middleton and DeMarre Carroll receiving large paydays in free agency last offseason.
With the salary cap rising to roughly $92 million after this season, teams will have to start paying even more for these sort of versatile players. This makes the draft even more important than it has been in the past. Rookie contracts are locked in at an agreed upon rate from the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, which means that finding a gem in the draft is one of the best ways of adding talent at a relatively low cost.
All of this is good news for Taurean Prince, a 21-year-old senior from Baylor who is in this year’s NBA draft class. Standing at almost 6’8 with a 6’11.5 wingspan, Prince has the size to play small forward in the NBA, as well as small-ball power forward. Basketball Insiders caught up with Prince at the NBA Combine to discuss his game, what he is trying to prove to teams ahead of draft night and what he feels his role will be at the next level among other things.
The Combine gives teams an opportunity to evaluate players in drills, get measurements and interview the players to get to know them a little better. When asked what he was trying to show teams through the Combine process, Prince focused more on who he is as a person than as a basketball player.
“Just who I am, a high character guy, respectful, great guy to have in the locker room,” Prince said. “We’re not playing five-on-five [in most [pre-draft workouts], but show that I can shoot and just be myself out there.”
The fact that Prince pointed to his shooting makes sense considering his value at the next level will be largely based on his ability to space the court as either a small forward or small-ball power forward. Prince shot 39.9 percent from three in his junior season (on 4.6 attempts per game) and 36.1 percent (on 4.5 attempts per game) in his senior season. The NBA three-point line is of course a bit deeper than the college three-point line, but Prince has solid shooting mechanics that are likely to translate well at the next level. He is most effective as a spot-up shooter, but can also knock down shots off the dribble and while coming off of screens. However, even Prince himself admitted that his shot can get a little loose at times.
“Oh yeah, I work real hard on my jumper,” Prince said. “Sometimes it can be inconsistent. I try do what I have to do to tame that back in and just be a pro about everything.”
If a general manager is convinced that Prince can shoot in the high 30s from three-point range at the next level, he could come off the draft board earlier than many are projecting. However, even if teams doubt his shooting, he will still be a player teams keep a close eye on because of his physical tools and skill set. When asked what he thought his strengths are, Prince succinctly gave an answer that should excite any team looking for a two-way player than can impact the game in several ways.
“Versatile,” Prince said. “Can play either [forward position], guard different positions and score from all three levels of the floor. “
When asked which position he saw himself occupying most at the next level, Prince gave an answer that is more common these days among younger players.
“Wherever coach needs me,” Prince said. “I don’t put myself in any position, I’m a basketball player.”
Not having a true position used to be a hindrance for players, young and old, but now it is almost considered an asset as the league continues to go smaller and move away from traditional notions of five-man lineups.
This shift in philosophy helps a player like Prince, who will be valued as a wing defender, floor spacer and versatile player who can shift to power forward and likely hold his own against bigger players in the post. Furthermore, Prince explained that he has a lot of room to improve as a perimeter player since he started his college career as a power forward.
“I’ve only been playing on the perimeter for maybe two years and a half,” Prince said. “I was a four coming into college, so I think my ceiling is high in that regard and the sky is the limit.”
Again, there is the potential teams will doubt that Prince can make a big impact at the next level since there are many examples of players who get stuck in between positions and never thrive at any single thing. However, most teams are confident that they can help develop young players like Prince and tailor their respective games to fit the role their team needs them to fill.
Two such teams are the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks. Gregg Popovich and Mike Budenholzer (a former assistant coach to Popovich) are great at taking players, giving them a structured role and helping them develop the skills and basketball IQ necessary to thrive in that role. We’ve seen that with players like Boris Diaw and Danny Green with the Spurs, and most recently Kent Bazemore with the Hawks. Thus, it should come as no surprise that these are two of the teams that interviewed Prince at the Combine.
When asked what sort of questions these teams had for Prince, he said they focused on who he is as a person more so than as a basketball player.
“They’re not really asking basketball related questions,” Prince said. “More like [asking about] the type of person I am, who I hang around, what I do off the court, things of that sort, just trying to get to know me.”
Teams like the Spurs and Hawks put a big emphasis on adding no-nonsense players who keep a low profile and focus on playing within the team’s culture. With that in mind, Prince likely made a good impression in his interviews.
“I just hang around with the family,” Prince said when asked how he spends his time off the court. “Don’t do much at all. Don’t go out. Play video games with some friends and just chill.”
Also, when asked if there is anything he needs to prove to teams before the draft, Prince was focused mostly on showing teams that he is a high-character guy who would be a good fit for any team.
“I really don’t think I have anything to prove [on the court],” Prince said. “Me as a player, I’ll just be myself, that’s what it’s about. [They’re] already interested in what they’ve seen me do on the court, so I think that part will take care of itself. Just show them how respectful I am, and the type of dude I actually am off the court.”
With a versatile skill set, good NBA size and a good attitude, Prince is well positioned to come off the board with one of the top 20 picks on draft night.
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