NCAA Tournament Day 1 Early Game NBA Prospect Analysis

1.R.J. Hunter: 6’5 180 Georgia State (Just turned 21)

This game admittedly is the first I have seen of Hunter. His one obvious translatable NBA skill is his quick release and deep range on his shot. Hunter took 5 threes of 3 or more feet behind the three-point line, converting 2, and most notably, the game winning shot. Baylor, similar to Georgia State, played a lot of 3-2 matchup zone which relegated Hunter to running baseline corner to corner for virtually 37 minutes of the game until his late game explosion. When he got the ball in a middle pick and roll setting Baylor consistently showed two guys in a pseudo-trap (by the design) to force a quick pass. Hunter did not force many plays, and when he did get the ball in the middle of the zone he showed good court awareness in making cross court passes for open looks.

Defensively, Georgia State played almost solely a 3-2 zone for the entirety of the contest (with some 2-3 zone mixed in), so Hunter’s individual defense is hard to analyze. He played the passing lanes reasonably well, including a transition anticipation steal off an inbounds pass. He also got burned twice off gambles for steals, where Hunter’s man was able to convert a layup once. There weren’t a lot of situations where Hunter was left in an isolation situation that required him to wall off penetration. He did double down on Baylor bigs several times to contest and alter shots, showing good team defensive awareness.

Overall, Hunter is only converting an inefficient 39.4% from the field and 30.4% from three this season, which is concerning given his level of competition in the Sun Belt Conference. But he’s the obvious focal point of every defense schematically he faces, and in the NBA that would not be the case. How he fares in the NBA will ultimately boil down to his ability to hit spot-up three point shots, attack closeouts, wall-off more athletic penetrating wings and his cognizance in off-ball team defense. He appears to be a high IQ player, but schematically this game made a lot of these questions hard to answer. Based solely on today and on his measurables (6’9.5’’ average wingspan, 180 slight frame, thus a lack of defensive versatility at 6’5), as well as his age, Hunter will likely go late first round, early second.  Ideally a “3&D” prototype would be longer, more athletic and a more proficient shooter.  I’ll be paying close attention to him in round 2 to see if he gets more man-to-man looks.

2.Myles Turner 6’11 242 Texas (Almost 19)

Turner played limited minutes for the Long Horns, but his NBA translatable skills were showcased. He relentlessly attacked the glass, identifying players to box out and high-pointed rebounds using the combination of his frame, length and athleticism. Turner also put his soft shooting touch and comfortability operating on the perimeter on display (despite misses), showing fluidity in a post up turn around jump shot over his right shoulder (his go-to move) and an early-clock transition three. His one made shot was a turn-around face up jump shot out of the post. Turner has great form for a 7 footer and a soft touch, affording him rare perimeter skills for a big.  Lastly, his effectiveness as a weak-side help defender in challenging shots was on display, as Turner showed plus timing to rotate over and block/alter shots.

In regards to negatives, Turner showed his limitations in laterally agility, as he was unable to contain and wall-off a far less athletic Butler big on a close-out, resulting in a foul. He also failed to show even average foot speed in a side pick and roll situation where Texas iced the pick, forcing the ball-handler sideline to Turner, and Turner was unable to contain the guard from getting around him towards the baseline, resulting again in a foul. Turner has huge feet (size 21 shoes), and his lack of lateral agility and foot speed is clear when watching him, which is the primary cause for a high foul rate.

Overall, Turner is probably underrated as a prospect given his reduced role on Texas, but the talent is there. Turner projects as a rare combination of size, rim protection and floor spacing for a big. He’s not overly comfortable on the block and does not have fundamental footwork, but post ups in the NBA are largely falling by the wayside. Turner will be a fluid pick and pop big in the league, providing invaluable three-point shooting from the four or five spot (ideally the five). Defensively, Turner is best suited as a backline defender that minimizes his exposure to playing in space and exposing his lack of footspeed. Given the current state of the lottery, Turner looks to be an ideal fit for the Kings in pairing him next to Boogie, where Turner can space the floor offensively operating on the perimeter and protect the rim defensively, allowing the more nimble Cousins to defend on the perimeter if matchups allow.

3.Kevon Looney: 6’9 220 UCLA (19)

Looney’s role in the NBA is easy to see. He projects as a pick and pop stretch 4 with transcendent length to deflect passes, alter shots and snare rebounds. Watching Looney high point rebounds or challenge shots with his superior arm extension stands out when you watch any UCLA game.  Length is all the rage in the NBA right now, and Looney has Kawhi Leonard sized arm disruptors.

Offensively, Looney has a fluid release and range to shoot threes. He missed all three attempts from behind the arc today, but mechanically his shot is good and he has a quick release. On the season he shot 45.8% from three, albeit on only 1.5 attempts per game, but the floor-spacing upside is there. Most of his production came on the glass, resulting in a few putbacks where Looney established good position, used a soft touch and finished through contact on one play.

Defensively, Looney can cover ground, play in space and recover to his man out of pick and roll sets. UCLA used him on several defensive sets as the top player in their zone scheme, where Looney ranged from outside the three-point line all the way to the baseline causing havoc with his range and length. Looney had an excellent play off an a side pick and roll set where UCLA iced the pick and roll, and Looney contained the guard’s dribble penetration and then recovered to his man where his length forced a contested pass and a turnover. Looney also altered several other shots both in post defense and recovering from behind, while also rotating from the weak side to take a charge. His length in playing passing lanes and deflecting entry passes was on full display as well.

Looney is not an explosive athlete and does not possess a plus first step, which limits his upside somewhat. He had one face-up isolation dribble drive against SMU that resulted in an awkward unsuccessful running floater when he tried to create space. It’s hard to see him developing into a go-to scorer who you just throw the ball to for buckets in the league, and his ceiling as a creator looks to be attacking closeouts with a few dribbles to either pull up or collapse the defense. Looney did show a promising emerging skill-set in his passing ability, with his play of the day being leading the break and making a perfect read to locate a teammate for the finish, affording some positives to his potential of beating defenses with the pass off of closeouts. However, Looney projects as a limited scorer with average athleticism, who right now is somewhat over reliant on his length. Still, pick and pop bigs who have length defensively are a coveted asset in the league, rendering Looney a surefire top 20 pick, especially if he adds muscle.

4.D’Angelo Russell: 6’5 175 Ohio State (19)

Is anyone still trying to claim that Russell isn’t an NBA lead guard? Because you shouldn’t be. Russell handled VCU’s pressure defense and consistent traps off of middle pick and rolls without issue. His height permitted him to still see over traps and locate open teammates on skip passes, resulting in 4 on 3 settings for the rest of the team over the opening half of the game. Russell also beat traps by going away from the screen several times, using his advanced ball-handling (most notably his right to left cross-over) to break down his man.   Russell had one turnover when being trapped, where he threw a pass slightly behind his big man, but the ball should’ve been caught. Russell also had no issue handling the ball against chaotic full-court presses, using again his ball-handling, size and change of pace to advance the ball.

Thad Matta made an adjustment almost halfway into the game, smartly utilizing Russell more off the ball as VCU was trapping Russell on every pick and roll. The result was significantly positive, as Russell showed his versatility scoring on catch and shoot threes off baseline flex cuts, as well as converting layups off back door cuts, most notably out of after timeout plays. Russell was able to exploit even the smallest windows with his patented deadly pull-up and quick trigger catch and shoot ability.

Russell’s typical warts were on display, particularly on defense with an assortment of the following: lackadaisical closeouts, slow weak-side rotations, losing site of his man in picking up the dive man, turning his back in a pick and roll, not fighting aggressively over screens and reaching when getting beat off the dribble instead of sliding. He also had one of his patented unnecessary lookaway passes in transition that resulted in a turnover. But we knew all of this already. Russell has several issues to work on technique wise, especially defensively, but his size and length, the latter, put on display in collapsing down to block consecutive shots as well as contesting perimeter threes, will overcompensate for some of Russell’s lack of effort (it also bears mentioning it’s taxing to play both sides fully while playing all but 50 seconds of a game when you’re the offensive focal point).

Overall, Russell solidified a top 5 draft selection, even though his passing prowess was not permitted to be showcased because of VCU’s scheme. The looming matchup with Arizona will test Russell’s one last unchecked box: whether or not his reliance on size and cleverness with the ball instead of raw explosion will allow him to turn the corner and beat athletes like Johnson or Hollis-Jefferson off the dribble, and if he can finish over length.

5.Stanley Johnson: 6’8 242 Arizona (Almost 19)

Johnson showcased his NBA ready body, defensive versatility and motor against Texas Southern, with an added spectacle of converting four of five threes (his only miss spun in and out). Johnson’s flat shot has called into question his  floor-spacing ability, despite his respectable 36% three-point percentage on the year, so his three-point outburst was a bit of a revelation, especially considering the diversity of shots made. Johnson hit threes from both catch and shoot and off the dribble settings, his release looking very fluid in the process and displaying a soft touch.

In other areas offensively, Johnson portrayed his usual explosive first step in blowing by his defender in a straight line drive for a floater on one occasion and a baseline dunk on the other, displaying again a soft touch on the former. Johnson also showed incredible body control on another drive in transition where he got into the paint and drifted to the side, avoiding the charge and getting to the foul line. In terms of passing, Johnson was unselfish, throwing two passes into the paint in transition resulting in easy baskets, while not forcing his own offense.

Johnson’s team defense was mostly exceptional. His rotations were timely, including one weak side block.  He’s also the only potential pro player I’ve seen in the tournament thus far execute perfect stunts at shooters while recovering to their man. Johnson did so twice. He showed his quick hands in transition in stripping a ball for a steal and had a fantastic recovery in pick and roll defense where he fought over the screen and caused another turnover from behind.

Johnson did get beat several times off the dribble by Texas Southern’s perimeter players in isolation settings, which is troubling from a lateral quickness perspective. While Johnson’s typical occasional mental lapses defensively were largely absent, he did overpursue in chasing his man on the perimeter defensively, resulting in a defensive breakdown twice by way of dribble penetration, and unnecessarily jumped at a closeout, resulting in a blow-by(a frequent occurrence). But the negatives were largely outweighed by the positives.

Overall, Johnson will be a top 10 pick due to his defensive versatility with the NBA’s increased affixation with switching. Johnson can likely guard 4 positions in the league (most fours with his body type), making him invaluable defensively. He’s better when he can use his body to wall-off offensive players on drives, but given his size, wingspan and defensive effort he’ll be a plus defensive player. His potential all boils down to his three-point shooting. He has the first step explosiveness to attack closeouts off the dribble and the handles to get to the hoop in a straight line, but if defenses sag off that ability is mitigated. Johnson doesn’t have the advanced handles nor athleticism to be a dynamic scorer, limiting his upside, but if his shot is real he’ll be a quintessential 3&D player. He fits the Orlando draft archetype to a T.

6.Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: 6’7 212 Arizona (20)

RHJ is again pretty cut and dry as a prospect. He’s a long disruptive menace on defense with his combination of length and athleticism. He had three excellent closeouts against Southern Texas on the perimeter, where he didn’t jump or overcommit, instead remaining on his feet and letting his arms doing the deterring. RHJ also played the passing lanes well off-ball, reaching in to deflect passes. RHJ’s most notable contribution outside of his defense today was his relentlessness attacking the boards, using his length to high point balls after roaming the paint.

Offensively, RHJ scored in a multitude of ways. He went coast to coast on two instances in transition, finishing with his right hand on one occasion. He scored on an isolation face-up attack off the dribble where he used his length to finish a layup. He also showcased a post-up by using sheer size and athleticism to finish over his left shoulder with his right hand. Rounding out his diverse offensive day, he finished off a pick and roll as the dive man, finished off an out of bounds alley-oop and again off a back pick through contract. It was undoubtedly his best and most versatile offensive outing of the season.

RHJ obviously has his warts, mostly in the shooting department. He has a slow wind up release and limited range. He did convert 9 of 10 free throws despite an “interesting” regiment, but his range does not expand from beyond there. RHJ also has a shaky handle, so outside of straight line drives it’s hard to see him creating offense for himself in the NBA outside of cuts, and due to his slighter frame he even got knocked off balance on some of his slashing attempts today.

RHJ is clearly a great defensive prospect, but it’s hard to survive in the NBA these days as a total non-shooter. Players like MKG have evolved by becoming expert slashers, but even MKG had a much more expanded handle than RHJ at this point (and has developed a respectable mid-range shot).  Someone will roll the dice on RHJ at some point based on his length, athleticism and defensive prowess (staring at Philadelphia), but it will likely be somewhere in the 20’s.