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NBA Saturday: “Jump Shooting” Teams Can Win

This postseason seems to disprove the argument that “jump shooting teams” can’t win championships.

Jesse Blancarte

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There is an ongoing debate in the NBA between those who believe “jump shooting” teams can’t win a championship and those who do. Charles Barkley serves as the most vocal spokesperson for skeptics, constantly voicing his doubts during TNT’s pregame and post-game coverage of NBA games. Also in Barkley’s camp is New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, who also just so happens to be arguably the greatest coach in NBA history.

On May 10, Jackson took to Twitter to get an update on the state of three-point shooting in the playoffs. Jackson’s tweet was written when the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks were both down 2-1 in their second round matchups. The point he was making is that three-point shooting isn’t the “be all end all of basketball” and that teams should not “disvalue the 2pt shot.”

Another vocal skeptic is Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott. Before the season started, Scott told reporters that he didn’t believe shooting three-pointers was a formula for winning a championship.

“I don’t believe it wins championships,” said Scott to Baxter Holmes of ESPN Los Angeles. “(It) gets you to the playoffs.”

Scott’s comment started this discussion, which has dragged on throughout the season. So, as we wait for the beginning of the NBA Finals (which starts on June 4), let’s take a look at some of the numbers from these playoffs, as well as the regular season, and try to determine which side, if any, is right.

First, we need to be clear about what constitutes a jump shooting team. There seems to be ambiguity here as some people refer to teams that shoot a lot of three-pointers when they say jump shooting teams, while others refer to teams that simply shoot a low number of shots at or near the rim. According to SportsVU, the NBA’s advanced camera system that tracks and collects a ton of data from each game, a jump shot is any shot outside of 10 feet from the rim.

Well, that definition certainly isn’t what people like Barkley and Jackson have in mind when they refer to jump shooting teams. Instead, in general, they are referring to teams like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, who averaged the first and fourth most three-point attempts per game during the regular season. Otherwise we would need to talk about the Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Hornets as jump shooting teams considering the fact that the Grizzlies took the most shots from 10-14 feet (8.6), while the Hornets took the most shots from 15-19 feet during the regular season (18.4).

The teams that shot the most three-pointers per game during the regular season, in descending order, were the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns. Among this group of teams, eight made the playoffs (Scott was right), five advanced past the first round, four made it past the second round and both teams that made it to the Finals are in the top five in three-point attempts.

But, as we hear so often, the postseason is a lot different than the regular season. And that is where the point of contention usually arises. Pundits like Barkley say that the game slows down, shooters go cold at some point, that jump shooting teams can’t be trusted to win a seven-game series against equally talented, non-jump shooting teams and that teams need a dominant post player to get a basket in crucial moments to win a championship.

Nevertheless, the Warriors are 12-3 in the postseason and have in fact increased their three-point attempts per game in the postseason to 30.3, which leads all playoff teams. Similarly, the Cavaliers are up to 29.1 three-point attempts per game, and are 12-2 in the postseason. Here is a graph to help illustrate which teams have been taking the most three-pointers per game during the postseason.

2014-15 Postseason Three-Point Attempts

Graph courtesy of Statmuse.com/nba

What should stand out from this graph is the fact that the top four teams in three-point attempts during the postseason are the same four teams that made it to the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. What is less obvious, but similarly true, is that three of the four Conference Finalists increased their three-point attempts per game from their regular season average. The Rockets were the one exception, taking a whopping 5.2 fewer three-point attempts in the postseason, which has a lot to do with the return of a healthy Dwight Howard and the loss of Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejūnas to season-ending injuries.

While the top four teams all happen to shoot the most three-point field goals per game, that does not mean that shooting a barrage of three-pointers will necessarily result in postseason success. There is correlation here, but not exactly causation. The main point that is being made, however, is that relying heavily on three-pointers is not fatal to a team’s championship aspirations, as some would have you believe.

In fact, shooting a lot of three-pointers isn’t what really matters. What matters is the way in which a team generates those three-pointers, and where the rest of that team’s shots are coming from.

Phil Jackson followed up his rhetorical question about three-point shooting by stating that three-pointers are fine, but they can’t be the shot that an offense is primarily looking to generate and that penetration is the first principal of offense. Jackson is in large part right, though the idea that teams should not look to create three-point shots as a primary offensive weapon is, at least somewhat, off base.

Pick and rolls are often used as a way of creating a two-man game with the target being an open shot at the rim, a mismatch on a switch, or perhaps an open pull-up jumper. For example, with this year’s Clippers, the high pick and roll between Chris Paul and Blake Griffin usually created a devastating scenario where, often times, Griffin would charge to the basket for an athletic finish at the rim, or Paul would pull for a jumper from the right elbow (a spot where he is lethal), or Griffin would be open for a jumper right above the free throw line, or Paul would pass to an open shooter like J.J. Redick at the three-point line.

Out of the pick and roll, the three-pointer was likely the third, maybe even fourth option, which should please Jackson. But the Clippers also ran Redick through a lot of backdoor screens to specifically get him space to launch three-pointers, especially early in games. On these sets, the three-pointer was the intended result. But that isn’t really a bad thing, especially in the case of the Clippers. Anyone who has watched them closely since last season knows that the Clippers’ offense goes from good to great when Redick is on the floor, running opponents through screens and launching three-pointers. Doing so creates spacing, generates ball movement and forces defenses to shift accordingly. It was the loss of this element, among a lot of other things, which stifled the Clippers in the postseason.

The point is, however, that whether a team purposely tries to generate open three-pointers, or they are a contingency plan when an offense’s first action is disrupted, they are a necessary and lethal part of an efficient offense in today’s NBA.

This is especially true when we consider how teams have learned the importance of efficient shot distribution. The notion that the Warriors are a jump shooting team does a disservice to the fact that, during the regular season, they were tied for second in the NBA in point scored in the paint per game. And guess who was second? The Houston Rockets, another team considered a jump shooting team.

Both the Warriors and Rockets understand that the best shots a team can take (other than free throws) are at the rim and open looks from beyond-the-arc. And neither team abandoned this formula after the regular season, which you might expect to happen considering how often analysts talk about the differences between regular season and postseason play.

In addition, the Cavaliers have also adopted this sort of approach to shot distribution during the postseason. Though the Cavaliers rely on a heavy dose of isolation brilliance from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Cleveland is still getting a nice amount of shots at the rim and from beyond-the-arc.

Here are some shooting charts to illustrate where each of these teams’ shots have been coming from throughout the postseason.

Golden State Warriors Playoffs Shooting Chart

Cleveland Cavaliers Playoffs Shooting Chart

As you can see, there is an eerie similarity in the shooting characteristics of both of these teams. Both teams, by definition, are jump shooting teams, but are both creating a significant amount of scoring opportunities at the basket instead of from midrange.

Now let’s compare the charts above to the Memphis Grizzlies’ postseason shooting chart.

Memphis Grizzlies Playoffs Shooting Chart

Shot charts courtesy of austinclemens.com/shotcharts/

The Grizzlies have two of the best post-up big men in the league in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Yet the Warriors and Rockets were able to shoot almost as much, or more, of their shots at or near the rim than the Grizzlies and both teams hit a much higher percentage in that area. This has a lot to do with LeBron James and Stephen Curry slicing through defenses and finding teammates at the rim, or finishing on their own. But however the shot is generated, whether out of the post or not, these teams show that shooting a lot of three-pointers and not having a dominant post player doesn’t mean a team has to be inept at taking and making shots at the rim. Part of it has to do with having a superstar attacking the rim, another part of it is having lethal three-point shooters spacing the court, keeping opposing defenses honest.

One of the biggest differences between the two teams in the Finals and the Grizzlies is that Memphis was shooting nearly 15 percent more from midrange, while taking roughly 19 percent less from beyond-the-arc. Despite making these two-point field goals at a high percentage, the Grizzlies’ offense, both because of pace and lack of three-point shooting, simply can’t compare to the offensive firepower of the Warriors and Cavs.

All of this is to say that you can be a three-point shooting team and still win at a championship level. More important than having a dominant big man to dump the ball into 40 times or more a game is generating efficient shots, which inherently includes three-pointers. As Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus pointed out recently, as the rate of three-point shots per game has increased since the 1997-98 season, so too have the shots taken at and near the rim. The shots that are being replaced are those long two-pointers that teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have taken a heavy dose of this season (which partially explains why the Lakers and Knicks finished 23rd and 29th in offensive efficiency this season).

Most of this should be readily apparent to anyone that is willing to recognize that the NBA has changed since the days where Barkley was dominating teams in the post. But that recognition should go both ways. Zach Lowe of Grantland explained recently that the post-up game is still alive and can be a major weapon for modern NBA offenses, especially as a way to offset the aggressive switching that teams employ against pick and rolls. In fact, Lowe states that front-office “gurus” believe that the ability to make effective passes out of the post could “become the NBA’s next great undervalued skill, even as the league appears to veer away from post-ups.” And with a new crop of promising centers entering, or already in the league, such as Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, Jusuf Nurkic and so on, a shift back to the post seems even less far-fetched.

But until that shift happens, the three-point shot is, at the very least, correlated with championship teams.

Perhaps the simplest and best evidence of that is the fact that the two teams meeting each other in the Finals shot the most three-pointers per game in the postseason. Sure, having Stephen Curry, LeBron James and strong supporting casts helps get you to this point. And these teams certainly aren’t in the Finals as a direct result of shooting more three-pointers than all of their opponents this offseason. But one of these teams will win this series, so no matter what, a jump shooting team will win the championship this season. With that in mind, how can we still say that jump shooting teams can’t win championships?

 

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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.

Matt John

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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.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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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.

Honorable Mentions:

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.

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