After far too much time spent watching tape on college players, and a fair amount of guilt that I didn't watch even more before writing this piece, I am ready to finish writing about this year's guard class. I am fairly certain that none of the players covered here will become a credible primary offensive option, so much of their value will be as floor spacers, defenders, and secondary creators. As you will read, quite a few of these players have significant questions surrounding one or more of those qualities. That means that my take on most of these guards boils down to, "might take a flyer on as a second rounder or undrafted free agent, but wouldn't expect much." The biggest exceptions are the players I am more confident can both shoot and play defense, including Pat McCaw and Malcolm Brogdon.
|Per 40 Pace||8.9||17.7||.501||4.3
What is there to say about Buddy Hield that hasn't already been orgasmically spewed by NCAA broadcasters or snarkily dissected by the NBA twitterati? The man named after your favorite movie character's favorite pet is a fantastic shooter who comes up short in every other facet of the game. The immediate question is, how real is his historic shooting? Hield was a good, but unspectacular, shooter over the first three years of his college career before making the leap to "unguardable" before his senior year. Hield hit nearly half of his threes on a high volume of attempts despite being the focus of every opposing defense. He hit them off the catch, he hit hit them off the dribble, in transition, in the half court, with a mouse, in a house. If Hield can be as effective a shooter in the NBA as in the Big 12, he automatically becomes a valuable player irrespective of the concerns surrounding the rest of his game.
What other information can we use to answer this question? One indicator is Hield's free throw percentage, which he raised to 88% this year, from the low 80s, suggesting that this shooting improvement may be real. In contrast, Hield also shot 37% on (almost all self-created) non-rim two point shots. However, he had a low number of those typically inefficient shots. That might indicate that Hield is not suited to be a primary ballhandler, but the expectations surrounding him seem to already be set to "spot up shooter." If I had to guess, based on the volume and accuracy demonstrated by Hield despite being faceguarded for much of the year, he'll be a very good NBA shooter, but any prospect has a low probability of reaching Kyle Korver or Klay Thompson status as a perimeter threat.
Unlike those aforementioned shooters, Hield's defense is not even average. During the times I watched him, I paid special attention to him on that end of the floor, as he would be an extremely valuable prospect if he could be expected to defend at a NBA level as well as shoot. What I saw was not good. Hield was stronger than most of his opponents, probably as a result of his age, but did not exhibit good fundamentals. I am not confident whether this was a result of poor fundamentals or slow feet, or some combination of the two factors, but I often saw him reach and lunge at the ball instead of using his feet to slide and contain penetration. Landing in a situation where he can learn good fundamental defense from Day One of his career, aka not Sacramento, will be very important for his development into a player who can help his team win.
The other factor that causes me to be slightly less enthusiastic about Hield is his college context. Oklahoma spaced the floor as well as any team in the country, starting three guards who shot better than 40% from deep and even playing with an undersized stretch big as their 4th option. Hield had lots of space to work with, a very good point guard to get him the ball, and complete freedom within the offense. In a less favorable context at the next level, it is possible his shooting will be easier to take away and he won't have the wide open driving lanes he enjoyed this season. I would still draft Hield late in the first round, behind the younger Jamal Murray, who is an inferior shooter but has a better chance to develop other offensive skills, and would be extremely reluctant to take him in or near the top six, where the Wolves are likely to pick, as I would prefer to draft a two way player.
|Per 40 Pace||5.3
Speaking of two way players, Patrick McCaw might be my favorite sleeper in this year's draft. McCaw played for a seemingly talented, but completely dysfunctional, UNLV program that has spent the past few years turning highly touted high school recruits into college disappointments, whether Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood last year, or Stephen Zimmerman this year. The rail thin, lanky McCaw is the rare player that has seen his stock ascend after suiting up for the Runnin' Rebels.
The lack of team success leads to the most glaring criticism I have of McCaw, and connects to the only factor that might prevent me from nabbing him in the late lottery, his occasionally lackadaisical demeanor on the court. On some defensive possessions, McCaw was ball-watching or not in a stance, and don't even get me started on the "defensive principles" in UNLV's "system", leading to breakdowns that I'm honestly not sure whether I can blame McCaw for causing. This is a shame, because McCaw has the tools and anticipation to be a fantastic defender, whereas most of the players in this draft top out as "average if you squint hard enough." He has an astronomical steal rate that he comes by honestly, often swiping the ball right out of his man's hands, instead of hiding in the passing lanes of a zone like so many other college ball hawks.The other concern surrounding McCaw on that end of the court is his lack of muscle. He is as skinny as a young Corey Brewer, but as long as he is matched against opposing guards, I think his length, speed, and anticipation should help him survive after a year or so in a NBA weight room. He might never be an asset on the boards, though.
On offense, McCaw has good role player skills. He is a solid shooter, a blur in transition, and a good passer. He doesn't have an exceptionally tight handle or the strength to get to the rim, but his creativity and skill have the potential to be well above the standards of most defensive specialists. His passing ability also bodes well for his feel for the game and eventual ability to adjust to the NBA. Proving that his three point shooting is at least passable is important; 37% 3P% and 75% FT% over two years are competent marks, providing a case that McCaw might be the best bet in this draft for a genuine 3&D player who can switch 1-3.
McCaw's draft stock is quite volatile at the moment because he played in relative obscurity and dysfunction this year. As a NBA front office, determining the level of his defensive intangibles would be my number one priority in evaluating him during the pre-draft process. Also, as he was an unheralded recruit, his physical measurements are not publicly available, so he could see his stock rise or fall on the merits of his wingspan or shuttle run or egg toss or what have you. But, like Wade Baldwin, even though McCaw didn't light the NCAA on fire, he has the skills to be an excellent role player in the NBA on the strength of his athleticism, defense, shooting potential, and passing ability. For those reasons, I would draft him higher than most of the more highly touted guard prospects.
|Per 40 Pace||7.0
Beasley is one of many prospects in this year's draft who are good shooters and have maybe one other aspect of their profile that gives some cause for optimism, along with a few red flags. For Beasley, the causes for optimism are that he is a good shooter and only a freshman, albeit one who turned 19 at the beginning of the season. That youth is barely enough to earn Beasley his own few paragraphs instead of being lumped in the "miscellaneous shooting guards" category at the bottom of the page.
Beasley is one of those players who has a habit of ripping down rebounds aggressively, even, or especially, when he is the only one near the ball. Despite this impressive looking habit, his defense overall is suspect. Some of his mental lapses can be blamed on his status as a freshman, albeit a relatively old one, but the extent to which he got beat off the dribble made me apprehensive about his eventual potential on that end of the court.
Like his unrelated namesake, Beasley's real calling card is his offense. He is an excellent scorer for his age, though he often depends on others to create for him, with half of his makes at the rim and over 90% of his made three pointers coming off an assist. He does not yet create for others, sporting a negative assist:turnover ratio. This is due in part to his limited handle, which prevents him from effectively breaking down the defense. He also struggles driving to the basket, because he is light and weak by ACC standards, not to mention NBA standards. This may have also contributed to him fading down the stretch in conference play. Beasley started the season on fire, scoring at least 15 points in 18 of his first 23 games, but he only reached that mark in 2 of his last 11 contests. Of course, this stretch also coincided with the tougher conference schedule and better defenses.
As you can probably tell, I am not too sanguine on Beasley's prospects, being of a melancholic disposition. His youth, rebounding ability, and nose for the basket are all enough to make him draftable, but I would be surprised if he turns into an average NBA player by the end of his rookie contract, and players with a decent shooting stroke but glaring defensive deficiencies can wash out of the league fairly quickly if they don't land in the perfect situation to develop their talents.
|Per 40 Pace||8.2||17.8||.457||2.7
In contrast to the freshman Beasley, the senior Brogdon was one of the best players in the NCAA this year, with a case to be made that he was a more valuable player than even the more ballyhooed Buddy Hield. He's also 23 years old and is not a particularly impressive athlete. Understanding how to balance those pieces of information is the key, or perhaps the super secret decoder ring, needed to understand Brogdon's pro prospects. One of the common rules of thumb for evaluating an older prospect is that the older the prospect is, the more he has to dominate the NCAA to pique the evaluator's interest. Brogdon doesn't appear on first glance to have dominated the NCAA this year, but that is partly an illusion caused by Virginia's unusual pace and system. Virginia plays very slowly in a conservative defensive system that deflates its players blocks and steals, making them seem less dynamic than is the case.
To better understand Brogdon, let's do a simple pro and con comparison. Pros: Brogdon is a very good shooter, hitting 39% of his threes (on high volume) and 89% of his free throws. A very intelligent player, Brogdon is excellent at cutting, making good reads on offense, and avoiding turnovers. He has excellent defensive instincts and is always in the right position. Brogdon also has a 6'10 wingspan, enabling him to ably contest perimeter shots. Strong for his size, Brogdon can hold off college bigs on the block and on the boards. His length, strength, and instincts allow him to guard 1-4 in the NCAA despite mediocre jumpiness. Many players won't even challenge him.
Cons: He is mediocre at getting to the rim. No burst. Doesn't have the handle and athleticism to be a primary scorer. 23 years old this season, how much of his apparent strength and BBIQ is due to playing against younger players? Doesn't have the athleticism and shotblocking ability of elite shooting guard defenders like Danny Green or Tony Allen.
It's easy to dismiss Brogdon's accomplishments as that of a man among boys, but his skillset is that of a practically perfect role player. He doesn't need to be able to break down defenses off the dribble or physically overwhelm his opponents to be successful in a reduced role, and there's a good chance he will end up on a team at the end of the first round that will be able to slot him into the correct role. For instance, he seems like an excellent candidate for the annual "the Spurs got THAT guy? Of course" reaction.
Other Middling Prospects Who Could Be Useful 3&D Players At Some Point
|Per 40 Pace||6.4||12.7||.504||2.0
Josh Hart, Wayne Selden, Michael Gbinije, and Sheldon McClellan are all older prospects with some 3&D potential and slightly different flags. McClellan is the oldest of the group, already 23, meaning that he should have completely dominated the NCAA. He didn't do that, exactly. He was incredibly efficient this year, shooting 57% from two point range, over 40% from 3, and over 80% from the foul line, but often he would let long stretches of the game pass him by, deferring to mighty mite Angel Rodriguez. This could be taken one of two ways; either McClellan's skills aren't fully developed, a death knell for a 24 year old rookie, or he was underutilized at Miami, accounting for his extreme efficiency. I am leaning towards the interpretation that his handling is underdeveloped for a NBA guard.
McClellan is a good leaper, elevating for several impressive dunks in the games I watched, and I don't think he'll face too many problems adjusting to the athleticism of the NBA. As a shooting guard with limited creation skills, McClellan needs to be a good defender to be an impactful player in the NBA. Danny Green has become the spirit animal of shooting guards who can't dribble but still do other stuff good, but he's a fantastic defender. McClellan is a solid defender at the college level, but I didn't see the sort of defensive dominance - against younger players - that would auger success later on. He is a player worth keeping an eye on as he goes through Summer League and the NBADL next year, but there are probably better candidates for second round value.
|Per 40 Pace||6.4||13.7||.469||2.5
Wayne Selden is that rare 3&D prospect who I do not trust to be good at either 3 or D. Merely watching the Jayhawks play this year, Selden's teammates Devonte Graham and Frank Mason were far more impressive on the defensive end of the court despite each giving up several inches to Selden. Wayne's a better defender than you would think from looking at his steal & block numbers, as he is long and moves his feet reasonably well to cut off drives, but he's not anything close to a "stopper." Selden's jumper looks okay by my untrained eye, but his low free throw percentage makes me doubt his shooting ability and the only time he visibly impacted games, during the three I watched, was when he caught fire from 3. There are so many players in this draft that have that ability, I probably would not select Selden, even with a late second rounder.
|Per 40 Pace||6.8
Michael Gbinije has prototypical size for a wing, shot nearly 40% on a high volume of 3 pointers, averaged over 2 steals per 40 the past three years, and has even posted very good assist to turnover ratios. The problems? He is older than Payne was when Payne was drafted, turning 24 before the draft. His free throw percentages have been very poor for his entire career. He plays for Syracuse, meaning that his defensive stats are inflated and he might not know how to play defense at all, a problem when you are hoping that the prospect can contribute immediately. Plus, Syracuse.
|Per 40 Pace||7.5
Josh Hart is rated lower on Draft Express' top 100 than the preceding three players, but I am not sure why. He is the youngest of the group, and while I don't completely trust his 3 point shot, it's at least as reliable as Selden's and Gbinije's. Hart is not particularly explosive, either. Combined with a middling handle, he doesn't appear to have much potential as a primary initiator in the NBA. While that may limit his eventual ceiling, Hart has some qualities that make him an attractive prospect at the end of the first round, one of the most important being his basketball intelligence. He is always in position on defense, as an integral part of the NCAA's 6th ranked defense, and he makes very good decisions on offense, as is attested by an outstanding assist:turnover ratio.
One aspect of Hart's game that I really like is his tenacity. Hart is always sneaking in for rebounds he has no business corralling, attacking the basket even when it appears to be a bad idea, earning some dubious whistles in the process, and he never stops working on defense. I feel much more confident that Hart, despite mediocre athleticism, can be a plus NBA defender than I do about any of the other prospects in this "miscellaneous" section. Villanova played Oklahoma twice this year, losing while shooting 4-32 from three, and blowing the Sooners out in the tournament. During those games, Hart was tasked with guarding the quicker Isaiah Cousins much of the time, but on the possessions he was matched with Buddy Hield, the Wildcats got a positive outcome more often than not. A small improvement in Hart's shooting would make him a useful 3 & D contributor off the bench.