This piece is about the importance of pull-up jumpers in the NBA and what that might say about the futures of certain draft prospects.
The pull-up jumper is a very important shot in the NBA. Especially in light of Steph Curry, probably the best pull-up jump shooter ever. Especially given the value of the three-point shots in which he specializes. Though he’s hardly the only player for whom the pull-up jumper is important.
There’s mid-range magicians in Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard, for whom the shot is genuinely a weapon. Of course, there’s James Harden and C.J. McCollum. But even beyond the great ones, the shot is important for just about any player who handles the ball a lot in an NBA offense. Even T.J. McConnell, who hardly shoots the ball, has to occasionally take and make pull-up jumpers for he and his team to be successful.
Pull-Up Jumpers and the NBA
One funny thing to note is that for most players, the pull-up jumper, considered in isolation, is just not a very good shot. Not a shot that itself brings a lot of value. Though even in this, it’s important to note, the reasons I say “considered in isolation”.
Firstly, because not all pull-up jumpers are the same. Some players, like James Harden for instance, draw much greater attention from the defense. A pull-up jumper for James Harden is more likely than that of an average player to be contested. And for good reason too. If you let James Harden shoot open three-pointers off the bounce, he’s likely going to make a lot of them at very high percentages. Pull-up jump shot or not, it’s just not an option to leave James Harden open on defense and hope for the best.
Secondly, I say “considered in isolation” because the pull-up jumper is just a product of other offensive decisions and the responses that defenses make to counter them. Running PnR basketball naturally leads to certain instances where the initiator of the play can’t get to the rim and has no available passes to teammates. In that situation, it’s highly possible that the pull-up jumper is the best available choice remaining. Especially if there’s pressure from the shot clock.
The third reason I say “considered in isolation” is related to the first. Namely, that the threat of a player like James Harden being to make an open pull-up jumper forces the defense to compromise itself. To distort its shape. Defenders running over screens, which compromises the defense because the defender is no longer between the man and the basket, is but one example of this phenomenon. It should go without saying that when the defense compromises itself in such ways, it often gives the offense an advantage. Great players exploit such advantages.
In other words, the same actions which lead to low-percentage pull-up jump shot opportunities also sometimes lead to dunks, three-point shots and free throw attempts.
Pull-Up Jumper and the NBA: By the Numbers
For the last three and a half years, the NBA has been kind enough to provide us with data that allows us to track all sorts of Player and Team phenomena. One such action is the pull-up jumper. So let’s look at the leaders in pull-up jumpers the last several years, as tracked by Effective Field Goal Percentage, and with a filter for minimum attempts (generally 150 FGA) that restricts the sample to the players most likely to take such shots.
2016-17 Pull-Up Jump Shots
1) I began with 2016-2017 because this would be the best year in the four year history of Synergy Tracking stats. At least in terms of pull-ups. We currently have ten players who have shot over 150 pull-up jumpers with an eFG% above 50%. That’s a lot, and I’d expect it to fall.
2) Also unusual, Steph Curry is barely clipping 50%. That’s very low for him, as he’s the only player in any year that’s been able to sustain an eFG% on pull-ups that bests the majority of NBA player’s catch-and-shoot percentages. Nearly 60% eFG% on pull-ups last year. Though normally he is closer to 55%. We’re talking about a great mid-range shooter, but we’re also talking about the power of three-point shot.
3) The three-point shot is almost certainly what is allowing players to have newfound levels of success with pull-up jumpers. It’s just very difficult to clip a 50% effective field goal percentage on these shots without the benefit of the extra point a three-point shot allows. Even mid-range masters like Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard often shoot below 50% from one, several, or even all mid-range areas in a given season.
4) One player who is further down the list is James Harden. (46%.) That should tell you a lot about where James Harden’s efficiency success comes from. At the rim. Free-throws. Off-the-catch threes. Even for James Harden, a pull-up jumper is not generally a good shot. At least with respect to the way he’s defended. And that holds up on three-pointers as well, an area in which he’s only shooting 32% on pull-ups.
5) You thought Harden was bad on pull-ups this year (relatively speaking), just look at Kevin Durant. 24% from three. 44% overall. You wouldn’t expect those numbers to hold up over the course of a season, but there’s few good arguments, besides perhaps variety, to run offense through Durant instead of Curry.
We’ll get to it in a moment, but Golden State is probably giving up points by not initially running more half-court offense through Draymond Green. If they can’t find a catch-and-shoot opportunity for one of four elite options on the team (Curry, Durant, Thompson, Clark), Curry and/or Durant should take over on secondary actions.
6) No matter what the individual metrics say, the best shot in the game is a Steph Curry jumper off the catch. (Consistently around a 70% eFG% over the past three or four years.) A Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson jumper off the catch is not far behind. Thus the reason for running more offense through Draymond Green is simple. These three players can’t shoot off-the-catch if they have the ball in their hands. Especially Curry, who is the guy you most want to get catch-and-shoot opportunities.
The problem being that Curry is also the team’s 2nd best passer and best overall creator of offense.
Let’s Look at the Golden State Warriors
1) For most teams, Durant would be a good option to run offense. We’ll see later he generally does score well on pull-up jumpers. But he’s just not anywhere close to the passer that Draymond Green is. Or Shaun Livingston. Or Andre Iguodola. Plus you’d rather Durant shooting off-the-catch as well. Either from distance, or perhaps even some relatively easy ones at the rim, after setting screens for Curry and Thompson. As confusion with coverage on pin-downs and out of floppy sets tend to happen a decent amount when the Splash Brothers are involved.
2) There’s of course a couple of other reasons to run more offense through Green. As Green is not only the Warriors best passer, but also their worst finisher and generally has the most obvious mismatch on defense.
That sounds counter-intuitive at first. Putting the ball in the hands of the worst finisher, but it actually makes sense, since NBA offenses should be designed not with the idea of getting the primary initiator pull-ups, but with the idea of getting to the rim or getting one’s teammates shots off the catch. With transition pull-ups from deep being perfectly acceptable as well, depending on the given player’s proficiency.
3) The key here is to look at the percentages these players make on pull-up jump shots against the percentages they typically make on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Here’s the best players on catch-and-shoots from 2015-2016.
And here’s 2016-2017.
4) Several simple subtraction problems. One involving Curry. One involving Durant. One involving Thompson.
70-50=20. 66-44=22. 61-38=23.
Those are the differences in eFG% percentages in terms of catch-and-shoot jumpers vs. pull-ups. And yes, these players are all drastically under-performing past expectations when it comes to making shots on their own dime. However, even were we to revert to the mean, there’s still a potential inefficiency in not running more off-ball sets designed to get the ball to Steph Curry off the catch. The only question being who the initiator of these plays will be.
5) You look at enough tables like these it becomes pretty obvious that Steph Curry shooting off-the-catch is the best shot in the game. Thus an easy hypotheses: That this is an area of the game that Golden State is potentially leaving points on the table. The goal should be to get Curry 700 of these shots a year, which is basically what Thompson gets. Even if you trade Thompson off-the-catch shots for Curry shots, his Effective Field Goal Percentage on these shots is nearly 10% better.
It’s not necessarily a trade that Golden State would have to make. But it’s possible. Golden State now shoots nearly 29 such catch-and-shoots a game, and the best team in the database, the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks, shot nearly 31. So it’s possible that Golden State might be approaching a threshold.
6) However, there’s several facts that make such a situation unlikely to me. First, that Golden State has barely improved at all on these shots since last year, despite having better personnel in terms of finishing.
Two things about these numbers lead me to believe that Golden State might be able to add more of these shots to their offense. The first is the eFG%. Almost 60%. Even were we to assume a rate of diminishing returns at some point in time, it doesn’t look like the Golden State Warriors are anywhere near there yet.
Just consider that the Warriors eFG% on such shots is nearly 4% better than the Houston Rockets, and that the Rockets have such a prolific offense in no small part because of catch-and-shoots.
7) The second point is that there has been relatively little movement in the overall numbers besides adding Durant. Durant’s presence should have two effects. One, he’s one of the best off-the-catch shooters in the game. Two, Durant on the court should hypothetically allow Curry to play off-the-ball more often. The problem with that is that Durant, while not a bad passer, is just not a natural playmaker for others.
It’s hardly a fault, as on any other team, Durant would be THE GUY on offense, and for numerous reasons. But Golden State is not like other teams. Besides Curry and Durant, the Warriors have at least three other players that can initiate offense (Green, Livingston, Iguodola) and one of them can play at both Power Forward and Center. That’s the guy that allows your offense to do potentially magical things.
Especially considering that Golden State has a fourth guy, whose just as good on catch-and-shoots in Ian Clark. (Nearly 64% eFG% this year.)
8) Of course, this is an overly simply discussion of somewhat more complex X-and-Os strategy. There are perhaps negative outcomes from running more early half-court offense through Draymond Green. Maybe he suddenly starts taking pull-ups. (I doubt it, he takes 0.3 a game right now.) Maybe guys have more difficulty getting open shots off-the-ball. (I also doubt this. Check the effectiveness of Golden State’s offense in the 2016 playoffs in games sans Curry. And keep in mind, that was basically with only one legitimate off-the-ball threat. Klay Thompson. Not the four guys Golden State could currently roll out.)
9) The real point is that the Golden State Warriors, already league best by nearly 2.5 points per 100 possessions, still likely have a decent amount of room to improve as an offense. Firstly, because Curry, Durant and Thompson, as great as they have been, are not playing close to the level of their ability, at least as it regards on-ball situations. These guys should all get better.
Indeed, we’ve already seen the first signs of this improvement from Curry. (He’s been shooting a 68% eFG% on pull-ups the last month. 13 games. 122 shots. And those percentages become more scorching the closer you get to February 7. Which means Steph Curry is back to being 2015-16 Steph Curry.
If that weren’t enough, it’s not difficult to imagine the Warriors finding a way to turn several pull-up attempts a game into catch and shoot opportunities. Though if Curry continues shooting like he is right now off-the-dribble, there’s little reason to even try.
Which is to say, if I were Lebron and I saw Cleveland potentially sticking with the status quo, I’d be pissed too. We aren’t yet seeing the playoff version of the Golden State Warriors. Odds are that team will be at least a decent bit better than the team we are seeing right now. Potentially, they will be substantially better, as marginal offensive and defensive improvements concerning teams that are already great are not only perhaps the most difficult to make, but perhaps the most important when it comes to winning.
10) This whole discussion is started about pull-up jumpshots. However, pull-up jumpers are just the surface. What the discussion is really about, deep down below everything, is how success with pull-up jumpers can put pressure on the defense, leading to potentially more valuable off-the-catch opportunities. Which is why we’ve had this interlude with the Warriors.
Because there’s perhaps no better player than Curry to show us this point. Not just because his pull-up jumper operates exactly in this manner. But because he’s the best pull-up jump shooter in NBA history, by a good bit, and still, if we’re talking about ideal situations, you’d still rather have him shoot off-the-catch.
Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming. 2015-16 Numbers and What They Might Mean For Malik Monk.
1) This the year of Steph Curry. When you can shoot a 60% eFG% on pull-ups, you get to shoot any shot you please.
2) However, more importantly, most teams don’t have a guy like Steph Curry. This data is much more in keeping with other seasons we can find on Synergy in terms of individual players effectiveness on pull-up jumpers. These are just not very efficient shots for most players. Especially when speaking about the two-point variety. Whether or not this is perhaps one failing of offense based primarily around PnR, I’ll leave up to better minds than I.
The simplest way to state the question: Do we really want Damian Lillard and Jose Calderon shooting nearly three long mid-range twos a game? Or Goran Dragic shooting nearly four such shots? Maybe. Seems like there might be better options, though at the same time, these types of a shots are a pretty fundamental part of PnR offense. The problem being that very few guys are truly elite at hitting them. (As it pertains to this draft, Fultz has a pretty good chance to be one of them.)
3) You’ll notice three general types of players represented here.
First, primary perimeter initiators. No doubt offensive studs like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Damian Lillard. But also guys who are sometimes studs like Eric Bledsoe and Gordan Dragic. These players make the tops of these lists basically every year.
Second, back-up PG types or borderline starters. Patty Mills, T.J. McConnell, Shaun Livingston, Jose Calderon. These players can be more hit-and-miss, though Patty Mills is up there in most years.
Third, knockdown shooters. Players like Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick.
4) This last point should be a key for everyone. Great shooters are good off the bounce too. You can’t necessarily project a guy like Luke Kennard for lots of attempts at the NBA level, but his proficiency off the bounce should have people feel relatively good about projecting him as a shooter. The difference in league perception between a guy like Kennard and Murray/Hield/Stauskas doesn’t make much sense to me. I’d project none of them to be better than average on defense, and even that would take lots of work and perfect positional play. And there are reasons to think Luke Kennard is the best shooting prospect of the lot.
I think so. I’m not even sure there’s much of a discussion to be had.
That mid-range jumper percentage is a signifier of Kennard’s comfort at all levels of the mid-range. He’s really good there. And he’s really good off the dribble.
Just talking about jump shots, there are three qualities that separate great shooters from very good ones. One, their ability to shoot off movement. Two, their ability to shoot with volume. Three, their ability to hit shots after they are forced to put the ball on the deck.
Now the first two are very much related, and Kennard probably isn’t quite there yet. At least as regards an NBA future. That’s not to say he will never be, but there’s work to do. As for the third quality, which is perhaps as rare as the first two, Kennard, along with Malik Monk, is one of the best guys in recent memory.
He’s not necessarily my type of player. But for a league that values shooters and offensive play over potential negatives on defense, he’s basically perfect. Except perhaps he’s not always 100% comfortable getting his shot off under pressure. Good thing about Kennard, he’s young, which means he might become better in such situations. He’s smart. You can tell this not just because he has some passing ability, but as well because he basically never shoots a shot he isn’t sure he can make. Plus he has enough ability off the bounce to not be stuck when NBA players inevitably force him off the three-point line.
5) Now back to the NBA players. There’s a clear-cut difference between these players in terms of pull-up jumpers. One has to look no farther than the Field Goal Attempts column. The guys with better all-around games tend to dwarf the other players in terms of the volume of pull-up jumpers they can hit at reasonable percentages.
6) However, if you look closer to the list of names, I think that’s only one possible explanation of the facts. That all of these players have better all around games that is. Given the nature of Damian Lillard’s, Kevin Durant’s and Reggie Jackson’s games as college Freshman, I think you could make a very convincing argument that these players have all-around games in large part BECAUSE they are such a threat to score from distance with the ball in their hands.
An ability, which not only opens up passing lanes, but lanes to drive. The NBA becomes potentially much easier when you athleticism (compared to size), dribbling ability and a jumper that forces defenses to run around a screen.
What this table shows us is a list of guys you wouldn’t guess had passing ability or potential based on their Freshman statistics. Sometimes that’s perhaps because of role, as in the case of Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry, Steve Nash, or Grant Hill. Sometimes that’s because the statistics don’t tell us everything, as in the case of probably everybody. Sometimes that’s because, these players get a lot better as they get older.
Now, that’s also probably true for everybody. The question is, what allows some players to get better on offense while others do not? I’m going to suggest that a lot of it has to do with having a place on the court you can threaten the offense, and a decent amount of it has to do with athleticism and dribbling skill. Though some of these players are below average for their role in one or the other. (Steve Nash, as an example in terms of athleticism. Paul George, as an example in terms of dribbling skill. His dribbling is the biggest reason he’s turnover prone. Though if George played more off the ball, this skill would likely be a significant plus. Context matters.)
7) Some of these players threaten teams most at the rim. Jimmy Butler perhaps would be an example of this. Allen Iverson almost certainly. However, most of these players were most threatening because their pull-up jumpers are legitimate weapons, either from mid-range, three, or both. (Draymond Green, being an exceptional case in that he mostly plays a different position.)
8) Do you see the trick I’m about to pull. I’m not really talking about these players who improved noticeably as passers over the course of their careers, I’m talking about Malik Monk. Or rather, I’m only talking about these players because there’s a pretty good chance that their career paths relate to that of Malik Monk.
The Malik Monk Portion of Proceedings
1) Now let’s look at the same table with Malik Monk added to the list.
First thing. Malik Monk’s Two-Point Percentage (56.1%) is insane, especially considering the volume of shots he shoots there and how many of them are mid-range jumpers. He’s significantly better than all of these players but George Hill and Draymond Green, and Draymond Green played PF and only shot the easiest of shots. (7.7 total attempts.)
2) Second thing. Only Steph Curry is better from the three-point line considering volume. Now you are starting to get a picture of the kind of scorer we’re talking about. We might be talking about Klay Thompson or J.J Redick, but those are far below median outcomes for a player like Malik Monk. We’re probably more likely talking about a guy who can do J.J. Redick type things off-the-ball and who can be a high volume, high efficiency on-ball scorer as well. More like a combination of off-ball Steph Curry with on-ball C.J McCollum or Damian Lillard.
Or, if we want to combine those traits into one player. More like offensive Ray Allen.
3) Perhaps coincidentally, Ray Allen had the same Assists per 40 as a Freshman. A number he repeated as a sophomore. And C.J. McCollum was very nearly equal. The key here to remember is it’s not only player growth curves that are important here, but the player’s role in college.
Malik Monk is the unquestionable finisher of UK offensive possessions. He’s also the third ball-handler and plays mostly with guys who score best with the ball in their hands. Guys like De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe. So it’s to be expected that his assist numbers are low.
However, we do see vision from Monk, and we’ve seen this story play out before, especially with recent Kentucky graduates. Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, who were notably better ball handlers and creators than they ever showed in college, due primarily to role. But it’s not a phenomenon exclusive to Kentucky off-guards. It’s true in general.
You can see it play out with respect to Steve Nash, Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Malcolm Brogdon, Kyle Lowry or Ray Allen. All are below 4 assists per 40 in college and see huge jumps either in college, if they continue, or in the pro game.
4) To look at it from another perspective, you can see it with a guy like Damian Lillard, who was tasked with being a distributor, but whose strengths are almost entirely as a scorer. A player’s context affects his statistical outputs.
5) Again, the most important factor for all these players is that they can threaten the offense with the ball in their hands. Though it doesn’t have to be by getting to the rim.
We only need to watch the games to see evidence. That is, it’s not just Monk’s man that stays attached to him. The next closest defender often hedges toward Monk when he gets the ball. It’s one way you know that opponents are more afraid of Monk’s dribbling than his stats would suggest they should be. At least based on statistics. Tape shows that lots of good things happen when Monk dribbles. Opponents know.
You can see examples throughout the games, but there’s an excellent example in these highlights from the Georgia game. Just look at the 1:30 mark in the video. Monk catches the ball, takes a dribble, and even though there’s a man on Monk, another defender feels the need to shadow him as well. His opponents know that he’s a threat dribbling.
It’s not only because Monk doesn’t need room to get his shot off. It’s also because he’s already pretty good at taking escape dribbles which give him abundant space. That’s going to play in the NBA. Beyond just playing, it’s very possible Monk’s going to distort the shape of the entire defense just by touching the ball, which is one way he might be similar to Curry. Though I tend to like Damian Lillard or Ray Allen more as upside comps on offense.
C.J. McCollum and Patty Mills are also not bad names to consider, though both are an order of magnitude less athletic.
6) I like to think of Malik Monk as Inverse Iverson. Similar enough builds, athleticism and attitude on the court, but Monk is good at basically everything Iverson wasn’t good at, and vice versa. Unfortunately for Monk, that also includes Monk’s handle.
In that regard, Monk is a lot like Wade Baldwin in that his handle slows him down. It’s high and somewhat loose, though Monk’s hands are ultra-fast, which allows him to recover. Still, this handle is probably the single facet of Monk’s game most likely to hold him back going forward.
As with any prospect, we also have to question his will to get better, his will to win, and hope his first NBA coach wants to expand his all-around game. If Monk competes and is willing to work on his weaknesses in the gym, there’s a lot of reasons to suspect he’ll be much better five years from now than he is today. But these are also question no layman can answer.
Other Potential Pull-Up Jump Shooters In This Draft Class
Malik Monk. Luke Kennard. In most years that would be a remarkable number of players who might one way day stray across the Pull-Up jumpshot leaderboards. But in terms of scoring off the dribble this is not an ordinary year. It’s possible that Malik Monk isn’t even the headliner, due to the presence of Markelle Fultz. Then there’s also Dennis Smith, Jr. Lonzo Ball probably lives on the upper edges of the pull-up leaderboard because all of his pull-ups are going to be three-pointers or wide open mid-range shots. Kamar Baldwin has one of the sweetest 18 foot jumpshots off-the-dribble I’ve ever seen, plus so much touch around the rim, it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t translate.
But that’s just the cream of the crop. Monte Morris, Derrick White, Sterling Brown, Shake Milton, Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, Ky Bowman, Jawun Evans, Giddy Potts, London Perrantes, Andrew Jones, James Blackmon Jr., Nigel Williams-Goss, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Robert Johnson, Bronson Koenig, Peter Jok, Donovan Mitchell, JaQuan Lyle, Tyler Hall, Charlie Moore, Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Lauri Markkanen, Jacob Evans, Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip and Chandler Hutchinson all have varying degrees of pull-up ability. Which is good, because a lot of their NBA careers might ride on pull-up jump shooting being an above average skill.
1) I’ll just talk about the players at the top, and then highlight some of the other guys on the list. At the very top, we get Markelle Fultz.
By now, it mostly goes without saying that Fultz is the real deal as a scoring prospect. A lot of it has to do with his ability to hit pull-up jumpers from all levels at high percentages. Plus 40% from both mid-range and three. The crazy thing with Fultz is just how many unassisted jumpers he’s hit. It’ll be well over 100 by the time the season is done, and many of them are contested.
That number does leave some room for questions. For instance, why is Fultz taking so many mid-range jumpers? In this regard, an old compadre, J.P. Melle, recently compared Fultz to Allen Iverson. Not the overall package. Just in terms of how often Fultz settles for mid-range jumpers. It’s an off-beat comparison, but one I think makes a lot of sense.
From that standpoint, Russell Westbrook might also make some sense. As a a player who takes and makes lots of mid-range jumpers. Even if both of these players had/have more aggression than Fultz currently displays. Right now, you would guess that Fultz is going to end up taking a lot of mid-range jumpers.
It’s one reason why James Harden comparisons don’t convince me one hundred percent. Fultz definitely has similar skills, but not the same type of overall feel. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a great player, nor does it mean he isn’t potentially a great passer as well. From watching games, we see Fultz is capable of passes that perhaps only a player like Magic Johnson would even think to make.
So, to reiterate, I’m just talking about Markelle Fultz and the way he settles for mid-range jumpers, and what this shot selection might mean for his future. Still, if you are going to settle for mid-range jumpers, making nearly 50% as an 18-year old is a good start. That percentage, combined with how easily he finds these shots, might say a lot more about Fultz’s future success than any of his flaws. For now, let’s just say he’s the likely number 1 pick for a reason.
2) If you look at the progression of Luke Kennard from 19 to 20, you can see there’s also a lot of reason to suspect that Fultz gets a lot better at making these and other shots. Considering Fultz is currently only 18.
3) Then there’s Tyler Hall. Tyler Hall has an even better shooting profile than Fultz, albeit in a small conference against mostly weak competition. I haven’t seen Hall play, so my opinion on him is not particularly informed and thus very open to change. That being said, players who go to mid or low majors and have this trifecta (negative DBPM, bad DRtg, bad team DRtg) just generally aren’t very good prospects.
The player to look at in this regard is perhaps Damian Lillard, who featured a negative DBPM, but generally played on defenses more average than bad. Of course, we don’t have DBPM for his sophomore year, but that year Weber State’s defense happened to be really bad. Which mean something or nothing.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know Damian Lillard has become a very good offensive player, but not much of a defensive one. Lillard also happened to be a great athlete, whereas Hall is merely okay.
For those who are curious, here’s a couple of excellent video breakdowns by Mike Schmitz from DraftExpress.
And here’s the bad (also by Mike Schmitz.)
My educated guess is that Hall’s slightly more exciting than Tyler Harvey as a prospect, but a world away from Damian Lillard. But that’s just a guess, as I have no real game experience with Harvey. If he does play in the NBA, his ability to shoot comfortably off a dribble is probably going to be a major factor going forward. (Mainly in still being successful after defenders close-out on his J.)
4) Peter Jok has the shooting numbers of a guy with a chance to be successful off-the-catch at the next level. He’s also a half way decent passer. He seems pretty likely to be a guy who doesn’t play defense though, having never been part of a wholly successful college defense and never posting much in the way in ancillary numbers. I’m not a great fan, but it won’t surprise me if I’m wrong.
5) Chandler Hutchinson is a guy I discovered through reading Dean Demakis. I’ve seen him now and think Dean was right to point him out. Hutchinson is not super fast-twitch, but he’s 6’7″, long, runs the team on offense and tries hard on defense. These are all excellent signs in terms of an NBA future. At a bare minimum, he’s a tall player who can dribble, and his coach is comfortable enough with his intelligence to trust him with decision making.
The shooting profile is mostly very good as well, except for Free Throw Shooting. In games I’ve seen, he’s been reasonably successful, though one of his three-point makes was a bank shot, albeit a bank that won the game. Given the low amount of three-point attempts and the Free-Throw percentage, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess his 3-Pt shooting is somewhat inflated. Still, he’s a legit borderline 1st round type prospect.
At around 0:58, you can see Hutchinson dribble down the court and hit the bank shot for the win. It’s only one play, but you can tell a lot about Hutchinson’s strengths and limitations if you watch it. Also keep in mind, Hutchinson is probably somewhat underrated by DBPM. At least, that would be my guess. (DBPM is very much a team statistic, especially in college, for reasons having to do both with the strength of one’s teammates and the the varying natures of the best and worst teams being so wide . . .)
6) Monte Morris. If Yogi Ferrell can be successful, there’s no reason Monte Morris can’t be. At least in terms of college performance, Morris is the better player. The better point guard in terms of running a team, and probably the best college guy ever in terms of creating opportunities for himself and his teammates without turning the ball over. Ever.
But here’s the rub. Ferrell is the more natural scorer. Probably the better shooter. Not that Morris is bad, but Ferrell’s advantage in this one area may give him an edge as far as an NBA career goes. Morris is somewhere between Ferrell and TJ McConnell in terms of style and ability. It’s conceivable that it might be better to be on either end of this spectrum than the middle. Though I really don’t know.
As for Morris falling between Ferrell and McConnell, this comp goes pretty much across the board. Size and stature. Defensive ability and likely effectiveness. Scoring ability. Even to some extent, natural point guard play.
McConnell is better at creating, but Morris is much better at not turning the ball over. He gets stuck at times, but it seems like he never feels pressured by the defense. It’s an elite skill. This unflappability, along with his decision making, is why Morris has long been one of my favorites, as far a college players go.
7) Devonte’ Graham. Almost everything I said for Morris applies to Graham, except Graham is much closer to Ferrell on the spectrum. Just how close is hard to tell because he’s currently cast in a Combo Guard role, aside Lead Guard Frank Mason. Legitimate dribbling with both hands. He’s much better shooting off the catch than most guys with Point Guard skills are. And Graham’s PG skills are real, especially in terms of dribbling with both hands.
If you take that to mean there’s some Patty Mills in him, fine, since shooting off the catch + dribbling + some passing ability is a pretty good shorthand for Mills offensive game. Though Graham is probably a little smaller than Mills.
8) I haven’t written much about Jeremy Morgan since last year, but he’s pretty much the same player as he was then. Very heady. A good defender. A very capable shooter. Like I’ve said before, he’s very much like a college version of Danny Green. Morgan doesn’t have game in as many areas as Josh Hart, and thus he might be more likely to fail at the NBA level. However, he’s one of several seniors that probably has more ultimate upside than Hart. (Morgan, Sterling Brown, Chris Boucher among them.)
9) Derrick White is a scorer with some all-around game. In the games I saw, it was clear he had good vision, but the execution of his passes and his decision making left a lot to be desired, leading me to think he’s probably somewhat miscast as a primary ball-handler. (He shares duties for Colorado) One place he’s excellent, however, is on pull-up jump shots. As such, it would not necessarily be a surprise one day to see him grace the Synergy Leaderboards.
As for the other side of the ball, I wasn’t that impressed with his defense, but White does create events. (1.4 steals per 40, 1.8 blocks per 40.) It’s also possible his defense has been better in other games.
10) Sterling Brown and Shake Milton. Mid-range and three-point shooting. If you’re banking on Brown and Milton, and I have significant belief in both players, this is one major reason why. Brown is the riskier of the two, since he seems less athletic, but he’s definitely on my All-Intelligence team. (The All-Intelligence Team: Lonzo Ball, Monte Morris, Sterling Brown, De’Anthony Melton, Ethan Happ are the starting five. Mikal Bridges, Shake Milton, Gary Clark, London Perrantes, Nigel Williams-Goss coming off the bench.)
Hs shot is absolutely live. When a player combines mid-range makes (especially those that are unassisted) with three-point percentages and free-throw percentages, it’s often a good sign. But you can see it on the court too. How easily Brown gets his shot off of the dribble. There’s several examples in the highlights below. (Number 3.)
Also, on display are examples of Shake Milton making shots from distance. Though due to the way he jumps, he’s probably going to be more proficient off-the-catch from distance than off-the-dribble.
With these players, it’s not just the combination of deep shooting, mid-range pull up games and defense that’s exciting, but the fact that both know how to play with teammates. That, is they are both smart. One statistical key in this case is Team Assist percentage.
This year, SMU lost their only real Point Guard in Nic Moore, and a Center who could really pass in Markus Kennedy. However, they are actually better at creating baskets for their teammates on the whole. 63.6% this year, a top 10 mark, vs. 61.5% last year, a top 25 mark. Both are good numbers, but a team realistically shouldn’t improve in this number when they lose two great passers.
That’s mostly because of Sterling Brown and Shake Milton and everyone playing off of them. Some times you have to look past the individual passing stats. These guys know how to play. In fact, that’s true of SMU in general, which unquestionably should be ranked.
One thing to note with Brown is that his percentage at the rim is submarining his overall shooting numbers. That’s probably superficial for several reasons. One, because his future value is not going to be about creating opportunities for himself at rim. Two, because he was a better at finishing at rim before this year, shooting about 70% there in his first three seasons.
11) Dennis Smith Jr. I think Dennis Smith, Jr. is somewhat overrated as a driver and a passer. Very good in favorable match-ups, transition and semi-transition. Very questionable when matched up against great teams or great athletes. Anyone who reads these columns knows this already.
However, I’m starting to think that Dennis Smith, Jr. can really shoot the ball. It’s not just the statistics, which are excellent for a Freshman. It’s displays like this one versus Miami:
One thing to notice is that everything at the rim either comes in semi-transition or when Smith, Jr. is matched up versus a big. Though he did beat Newton, whose okay on defense, several times in the first game. That might be a little worrisome, but the Smith, Jr. was amazing in this game shooting the basketball. NBA range. Off-the-dribble. Off-the-catch. Step backs. Fadeaways. Turnaround Jumpers with a man on his back. Just that almost everything meaningful in the half court happened 12 feet and out.
I wish Smith, Jr. had been matched up with Bruce Brown more often. There were two possessions as the end of the first half. One isn’t featured in these highlights. In that one, Smith, Jr. couldn’t get by Brown, but wrapped a nice pass around him that didn’t end up in a basket. I thought that was probably Smith, Jr.’s best pass all night and there’s no evidence of it, which tells you something of the limitations of both boxscores and highlights. In the 2nd one, Smith, Jr. doesn’t even try to get past Brown, just pulling up from NBA range and burying the shot.
NC State lost, but in terms of showing some real NBA shooting skills, this was a very impressive game.
12) Lonzo Ball. I didn’t arrange this list by mid-range makes purely to show the difference between Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz, but it’s on full display here. In terms of shot selection, the advantage clearly goes to Ball. The problem is that I believe unassisted mid-range makes is one of the best points off which to project future skill, since a wide variety of skills are needed not only to obtain the shots in the first place, but also to make them. We’re talking at a bare minimum about dribbling skill, decision making, and shooting all to some extent playing part in a single action.
(Here’s one way in which decision-making comes into play. You don’t make a high percentage of mid-range jumpers if you shoot bad ones. It’s that simple. But decision making also comes into play in terms of attacking and finding the shot chance in the first place.)
Still, I don’t think Lonzo Ball is as bad a bet to be on the pull-up leaderboards as this list might lead one to believe. That’s largely because I believe in Lonzo’s ability to find space on his pull-up threes, and his shot selection. He’s not going to be a high volume pull-up guy, but it’s much easier be better than 50% on pull-ups if almost all of one’s pull-up attempts come from the three-point line. And yes, I think it’s possible that Ball ends up at Curry-esque eFG% on these shots for that reason. Low attempts, but high value attempts. There’s potentially a lot of value in that if Ball finds himself surrounded by the right players.
Building an offense is not just about adding up individual player values. Golden State’s growing pains should be evidence of that, if we didn’t know it already from watching the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder. At the higher end, it’s about how players skills fit together, about how marginal differences add up. That’s the place where Lonzo Ball might be truly special. But now is not the time to get into this discussion. . .
13) Others: Mikal Bridges is the big one. Here he shows one potential pratfall in his overall profile.
The lack of off-the-dribble success from anywhere outside the lane. If Bridges didn’t have relatively high basketball IQ and wasn’t able to get to the rim from the three-point line off of a single dribble, I’d make a much bigger deal of this. Or rather, I am making a decently large deal of it by not placing Bridges in the Top 7. (Beyond that I don’t know exactly where I have Bridges.) If you added immense off-the-dribble success to the rest of Bridges profile, you’d be talking about a Top 3 guy.
Devon Daniels from Utah is a definite name to watch for in the future. Potential two-way guy. Seemed smart when I watched him. Played within himself. Shot Maker.
His teammate Lorenzo Bonam is really good at getting to the rim and has decent body control and strength as a finisher. Not much as a shooter, but it wouldn’t surprise if he becomes awesome in China/Europe, or if he works his way from the NBADL to an NBA career. Getting to the rim is legitimate skill for him. 75 unassisted makes there as a junior against 271 total shots. 57 unassisted makes already this year against 189. These are crazy ratios that not even the best players put up. Even really athletic ones.
Bonam’s solid mid-range numbers and high free-throw percentages means their might be some hope for his shot from distance if he moves off the ball. Which would make him a potentially really solid player on offense, if he’s a legitimate 6’4″. The major issue for Bonam going forward is that he probably needs a situation that allows him to move to SG on offense. Not quite a Patrick Beverley All-Star, but a player in that vein.
As for anyone else on the list, you can merely ask. I have a decent enough grasp on most of their games to shed some insight. Or if you want to debate about how Luke Kennard is not a better shooting prospect than Jamal Murray, I’m happy to have a go there as well. Better yet, find me some players to add to the All-Intelligence Team.
- When talking about percentages in the earlier parts of this piece, I’m almost always talking about eFG%.
- All of the stats in this piece are thanks to Sports-Reference.com, DraftExpress, Synergy, NBA.com, and Hoop-Math.com. Thank you.