They used to be all the rage. Every team wanted one. Almost every team could still use one. The best ones are often found in the 2nd round. The Timberwolves are several games worse because they don’t have one.
I am writing, of course, about 3&D shooting guards. This player archetype can often be found after the lottery, and these guards can be very valuable next to star wing creators or ball-dominant point guards. Using SMILODON, my draft projection system I spend a couple thousand words explaining here, I examine several players currently mocked in the mid to late first that could, with a little luck, fit into this NBA archetype and help a team.
The youngest of these is Lonnie Walker (#4 in the video below). You’ll notice him immediately due to his amazing hair.
Walker is the Zach LaVine of this draft. Despite mediocre counting stats, he’s young, athletic, has a good looking shot, and there are a lot of questions about the way his game will translate to the NBA.
Walker is a good bet to shoot NBA threes off the catch and nearly 30% of his made threes have come off the dribble. He also has the tools to get to the basket, which he has shown in flashes this year. On the other hand, he has been very inconsistent, his defense is charitably described as a question mark, and his team has played better when he has been on the bench. It may be his second contract before he can actually contribute to a winning team.
Khyri Thomas, on the other hand, is advertised as a “plug and play” 3&D guard. The Creighton junior likely owes part of his first paycheck to Donovan Mitchell as a superficially similar 6’3, long-armed defensive dynamo. (The issue with that comparison being that Mitchell was better at everything except scoring efficiency at a younger age.) Thomas also receives a lot of Avery Bradley comparisons, as a similar standout man defender who doesn’t post outstanding steals and blocks numbers.
However, the reason steals & blocks are so important to draft evaluation is not because they are indicators of pure defensive ability; in fact, they are often more useful as indicators of overwhelming athleticism. What Mitchell’s superior defensive numbers, at a younger age, showed is that he could overwhelm other NCAA players in a way that Thomas hasn’t yet demonstrated. It is that intersection of awareness and athleticism that is letting Mitchell succeed this year.
For all my nitpicks, Thomas probably does have the shooting and defense to stick on a NBA roster, so long as his shooting improvement this year is real. Along with the fact that over 90% of his threes are assisted, however, his lack of playmaking, both for himself and others, is worrisome for a player who is point guard sized and nearly 22, and may prevent him from starting at the next level.
While Thomas might be described as a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, Jacob Evans is a small forward in a shooting guard’s body.
You might look at Evans’ lack of driving ability and think “how bad could his handle be? It must be the system.” Folks,
This video, unlike normal highlight videos, does a really good job of showcasing Evans’ strengths and weaknesses. His jumper is solid, he’s a terror in transition, and is a threat on the glass. When he tries to drive into the lane, though, it’s not good. The Wolves’ front office will have to decide, does Minnesota have enough ballhandling to hide Evans’ flaws? Is Evans big and strong enough to slide to small forward?
(For those wondering, famed non-dribbler Danny Green had much better shooting & defense indicators at the same age. Green, in the simplified version of SMILODON, posted green flags for both shooting and defense during his age 20 & 21 seasons.)
Of the 3&D guards mocked near the Wolves’ pick, Bruce Brown has shown the most ability to get into the lane and operate as a secondary handler. He’s a big, tough defender who has guarded two positions and can run the point in a pinch. The problem?
While he posted a semi-respectable percentage on worrying low volume last year, Brown’s shooting cratered for 20 games before his season was ended with an injury. For his career, Brown has shot .316 from three and .702 from the line, while making a measly 1.2 threes per 40 minutes. If he figures out how to shoot, Brown could be an interesting player, but the odds are against that, as he will turn 22 this summer. Of these four players, I would be least likely to bet on him as a positive player because of the importance of shooting from the guard positions.
Or, maybe Brown just had a cold streak this year. That’s what makes the draft so interesting.
All of these players made the tournament, though Brown is injured and did not play for Miami. As it turns out, only one of the four made it past the first round. Lonnie Walker and the Hurricanes lost in the first round to Illinois-Chicago in a 6-11 matchup on Thursday. Jacob Evans and 2nd seeded Cincinnati beat 15th seeded Georgia State on Friday. (Georgia State’s point guard D’Marcus Simonds is elite at getting to the rim; if only he could shoot.) They play Nevada on Sunday. Khyri Thomas and Creighton lost to Kansas State in an 8-9 matchup, also on Friday.
As UCLA was eliminated on Tuesday night, and Aaron Holiday has been shooting up draft boards, here is how their team fares by SMILODON.
Holiday gets a subjective “nepotism bump” from me because he has two brothers who made the league, suggesting that his transition may be easier than for other players. Even so, he looks like an Aaron Brooks type sparkplug of debatable usefulness. Kris Wilkes is an interesting forward who definitely needs another year of college ball. Jaylen Hands was horrible, but I would not write him off until he shows what he can do when Holiday is not dominating the ball. Thomas Welsh is big, can shoot, and is an excellent defensive rebounder. He’ll be on a summer league roster and will probably get a two-way deal at some point next season.