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NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Duke

Draft Radar Part Four: Devin Vassell

Examining the skill set and fit of the Florida State sophomore.

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

As each day passes by in this barren basketball wasteland, it seems more and more unlikely that we will get to experience the frustrating and (albeit rare) beautiful Minnesota Timberwolves team we hate to love.

That makes finding things to scratch our hoops itch even more appealing, and the NBA Draft is the perfect way to get your mind off the bizarre climate we are living in and back onto sports. It’s now less than a month before the draft lottery is (currently) scheduled to take place and we still don’t have any word on a postponement — which is great news. Hopefully, they can take a page out of the WNBA’s awesome social distancing lottery and we can be picking apart something new in just a matter of weeks.

The Wolves currently hold the third-worst record in the league which, per Tankathon, which lands them with the odds you see below to rise or fall in the lottery. They also have Brooklyn’s first round pick, which will convert if the Nets land outside of the lottery, which they are currently slated to do.

Keep in mind that, within the true spirit of Minnesota sports, the Timberwolves have never been lucky enough for the ping pong balls to fall their way and move up in the draft standings. Even if that doesn’t change this year, you can bet president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas and his front office cohorts have a plan for any and every scenario.

With that depressing statistic in our collective mind, we take another trip down draft lane with part four of our Draft Radar. We have already run the microscope over Deni Avdija, Patrick Williams and Isaac Okoro and today we will dig into Florida State sophomore Devin Vassell.

Profile

Team: Florida State Seminoles
Draft Age: 19.82
Position: Wing/Small-ball power forward
Height: 6’7
Wingspan: 6’10 (unofficial)
Weight: 195 lbs

Statistics

Per Game: 28.8 Minutes, 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assist, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 0.8 TO, 49% FG, 41.2% 3PT, 73.8% FT

Per 36 Minutes: 15.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks, 1.0 TO

Advanced: 58.5 TS%, 56.5% EFG, 20% Usage Rate, .218 WS/40, 10.8 BPM

Overview

Vassell played just over 10 minutes per game in his freshman season, struggling to find his way into Leonard Hamilton’s rotation to begin with. In his second year, he quickly became a focal point for the Seminoles on both sides of the floor. He led the team in scoring, rebounding and 3-point percentage and is rising up draft boards around the country.

If you look at the latest mock drafts from various outlets, you can find him going anywhere between the 6th and the 13th pick. He is in a precarious position for Minnesota, who might be reaching for him with a pick between one and seven and will probably just miss out on him with the 16th pick owed to them by the Brooklyn Nets. However, with his skill set, he will certainly be worth consideration whenever they are on the board.

Strengths

  • 3-Point Shooting

The ability to shoot from deep efficiently and in multiple different ways is arguably the most important skill for wing to possess in today’s basketball landscape. Devin Vassell fits that mold to a tee. He shot over 40 percent in each of his seasons with FSU, but his stock as a shooter has risen considerably in his sophomore year as he has continued to rip nets from deep to pair with his increased volume and responsibility in other offensive areas.

His allure begins with the high release point on his jumper. By the time he is at the summit of his action, he is launching from above his head (it doesn’t take him long to get it there, either). He is always shot-ready and fires at a split second when he gets the opportunity. Some of his mechanics are a bit funky compared to a textbook shooter, but a quick and towering shot allows him to get it off over most defenders.

It’s hardly just the process of his shot that is impressive. The 19-year-old drains triples at a rate that should be mouth-watering to any NBA scout. According to Synergy Sports Tech, he ranked in the 86th percentile in overall half court offense, the 80th percentile in spot-up plays and in the 95th percentile off hand-offs.

He is an awesome catch-and-shoot bomber, which should bode well for him in the big leagues. He spent a solid chunk of his time running corner to corner early in Florida State’s offense, where he often spotted-up and made a tantalizing 42.4 percent of his 39 attempts.

A hard and decisive mover, never roaming without reason or into ineffective areas, Vassell is able to shake his man and snatch the minuscule amount of space he needs to launch.

After the shot clock ticked down in coach Leonard Hamilton’s offense, Vassell did plenty of good work above the break, connecting on 42.1 percent of the 67 triples he attempted. If he is allowed in-rhythm catch-and-shoot jumpers, he is money. But, he can also come off screens or hard cuts, get his feet set quickly and nail off-movement 3-pointers.

Offensively, Vassell butters his bread with his catch-and-shoot prowess and adds some red meat with his relocation and off-movement shooting capability, but the dessert is the long-range pull-ups he flashed sparingly throughout the season. If he can master this art and pair it with his other shooting talents, he could find himself a legitimate long-distance weapon at the highest level.

A shooting threat that doesn’t require isolations or picks to impact the game, the likelihood is that Vassell is introduced to the NBA in an ancillary role. That should bode well for him. Everyone needs low-usage, high-efficiency shooters, and Vassell is just that.

  • Defense

Vassell is everywhere defensively, using his physical tools and smarts to make plays defensively on-ball and also cause chaos as a wildly productive team defender. This projects to be his foremost skill when he he hits the hardwood in the pros.

The former Seminole’s wingspan (drink!) isn’t officially listed anywhere (the guesstimate seems to be around 6-foot-10), but the way he uses every last iota of it makes it seem much longer. When Vassell is launching his limbs around the court, it’s like a dragon’s wings outstretched and casting a shadow over the opposition’s entire offense. He doesn’t just flex his wingspan, he uses it to constantly smother smaller, shiftier players and get a hand in to poke balls away.

With his slight frame, Vassell makes himself skinny and slips past screens pretty well. Coach Leonard Hamilton switched everything at Florida State, so he had plenty of practice for switch-laden NBA coverages. Here, you can see him pick up his man full court and perfectly execute multiple switches. Through all of this, he still stays attached to his final opponent’s hip and helps smother the shot attempt.

Again, he picks up the ball-handler full court. This time, he eludes the screen and uses those long arms to jam a hand into his man’s airspace, force a turnover and eventually drains a pretty pull-up jumper on the other end.

At times, when an opponent has the speed advantage over him, he tends to forget to slide his feet and forfeit good positioning. Hopefully, that can be coached out of him, but his elite recovery skills and non-stop motor giving Vassell a fighting chance no matter who he is facing.

All of his on-ball exploits are fun, but it’s the 19-year-old’s team defense that really gets the blood pumping. Vassell wreaks havoc as a team defender in just about every way possible. There really isn’t a single area of his off-ball defense that doesn’t project to help any team’s defense when the NBA comes calling.

A lot of his work goes unnoticed to the naked eye, as he shuts down plays before they even happen at a high rate. When he is called into action, Vassell makes winning plays consistently. One area he is extremely proficient in is digging in off his man and swiping the ball away — another product of his high IQ and those arms that never end.

Awareness is perhaps the most vital skill for a defender to possess, along with tenacity and effort. Vassell packs all of those traits in his lunchbox. When you add that to the physical make-up of a high-class defender, the makings of a special stopper are there. With his head permanently on a swivel, Vassell puts out fires and covers his teammates exceptionally well.

In the first section of this clip, you see him dig in and make the steal, using elite timing to dislodge the ball and start the break. Then, you see him exhibit some of that mouth-watering awareness, playing between opponents and rotating with perfection to make the steal.

Another area Vassell displays his rotational aptitude is his ability to slide over and block or affect shots at the rim. To go along with his long limbs, he has great hand-eye coordination, and he is never one to conserve energy on defense or give up on a play.

Vassell makes a lot of his help-side blocks when his man is in the corner or the slot, allowing him to zone off and obliterate shots at the rim. If the ball-handler does find his man, Vassell’s long strides allow him to recover and contest without giving up open looks. In the play below, he rotates and forces the ball-handler to stop and reevaluate and then covers a ludicrous amount of ground in two steps to contest the shot.

Like any 19-year-old, Vassell isn’t a perfect defender, and he will undoubtedly still have to sharpen some of his tools when he takes the step up to bigger, faster athletes with a wider variety of shot-making skills. And, while he plays stronger than his lanky 195-pound frame suggests, he will have to spend some time in the weight room to be able to handle the physical toll of NBA basketball.

With that said, he is an elite defensive prospect and should be treated as such when evaluating the upcoming draft.

Buy Stock

  • Mid-Range Shot Creation

As a spot-up shooter or off-ball mover, Vassell is already a strong prospect. As a shot creator, though, it’s easier for teams to be on the fence. This could be a huge swing factor for him, and could turn him from an elite 3-and-D player to a fringe or full-fledged star. Personally, I’d be willing to wager on him becoming a decent-to-good shot creator from the in-between area.

He has a fairly basic ball-handling package, but the former Seminole makes it look remarkably easy to get his shot off. Along with the high and quick release that we’ve examined already, he uses simple but effective step-backs and half-spins to get himself enough space to let his jumper go. He also has a fruitful pump-fake and one-dribble pull-up which allows him to see off hard closeouts.

In the 30 games he featured in last season, Vassell shot 33-77 (42.8%) on all shots that came from outside the paint (but still within the 3-point arc). It’s not an elite number, but it’s certainly encouraging. That also includes short jumpers and floaters, where he displayed a soft touch and a good awareness of when to take them.

He will have to get shiftier with his dribble moves and his space creation at the next level, but being able to get his shot off over most defenders gives him an advantage even without top-tier wiggle.

Weaknesses

  • Slashing and Handle

As we’ve already explored, Vassell is a promising shot-maker. However, he needs to increase his volume and efficiency as a slasher to really bump up his stock. As it stands, he is not only virtually incapable of driving all the way to the rim from the perimeter, he seems reluctant to even try.

This stems mainly from his mediocre ball-handling ability, which prevents him from breaking down defenders. Instead, he tries to get his shoulder past them with straight line drives. This usually fails immediately and he ends up taking a mid-range jumper or passing the ball out. Fortunately, Vassell isn’t overly hungry for buckets and doesn’t often take bad shots just because he feels he needs to score.

Of course, he makes up for some of his deficiencies with the aforementioned mid-range jumper being fairly profitable, but it’s concerning that Vassell can’t seem to get himself easy buckets in the restricted area. In this vein, he is similar to Minnesota’s D’Angelo Russell, despite their differing sizes, strengths and positions.

You can see here how, even when he does get a step or two past his usual pull-up zone, Vassell tends to try tough, contested short jumpers, instead of powering his way to the rack.

Of all the areas of his game, this is the one that will improve most as he becomes stronger. If Vassell was able to lower his shoulder and dislodge the defender out of their stance, that would give him the room he needs to take another stride and get in layup position.

Even when he does get his shoulder past his defender and a lane opens up for him, Vassell tends to try and avoid any sort of contact at the rim, which leads to wild-looking attempts that have a much lower success rate. Shying away from contact also dramatically drops his chance of heading to the charity stripe. Despite leading FSU in scoring and assuming a key role on offense, he ranked 11th on the team in free throw rate (22.1%).

When you consider that getting points at the rim and the free throw line are the most efficient ways to score in the NBA, Vassell will definitely need to figure out a way to become more prolific in both those areas if he is going to really tap into his overall potential.

  • Cutting Toward Basket

Around the perimeter, Vassell is a good and decisive mover who has the potential to become even better. But, he is quite the opposite as a cutter toward the rim. Unlike his slashing ability, which is derived from his handle, this seems to be a product of his environment and his eagerness to get open for 3-point attempts, instead of getting inside where he isn’t as polished.

When he does cut toward the rim, Vassell’s long strides help him get nice momentum, but he still struggles to finish at the rim if he has to go through the tall trees. According to Synergy Sports Tech, the sophomore had just 19 possessions cutting directly to the rim, and of those 19 possessions, he only scored a mere 22 points. That equals out to 1.15 points per possession and ranked him in the 53rd percentile nationwide. Not quite good enough for someone of his athletic profile.

As he enters the league and is forced into a smaller role offensively, the hope would be that Vassell learns how and when to jet toward the basket more efficiently, and how to finish better once he gets there.

Fit With Minnesota

Of the four players that we have put into the Draft Radar so far, Vassell is easily the best fit for the Timberwolves. In fact, he might be the best fit in the entire draft and should genuinely warrant selection no matter where the team ends up picking.

On offense, he would fit snugly into an off-ball role in a team that loves to launch triples. He would operate fantastically spotted-up in the corner, waiting for Karl-Anthony Towns to find him out of a double-team.

Or, he could work around the arc as a movement shooter who can punish teams as the pressure valve in a Russell-Towns pick-and-roll. With those three and Malik Beasley littered around the arc, practically every other NBA team would have trouble outshooting Minnesota. When he is asked to do more than just launch bombs, Vassell can work into the mid-range and keep defenses honest at a good enough clip to keep him from being pigeonholed as a one-dimensional player.

Defensively — where the Wolves need the most help — his fit is even better. He would slide in as a small forward who can pick up players at the point-of-attack or roam free as a defensive safety off the ball. The way he digs in from the perimeter would give Russell extra time to catch-up in pick-and-roll defense and would create quite a few turnovers. And the way he rotates and puts out fires as a team defender would greatly benefit Towns and the rest of the Minnesota big men. There is real Robert Covington-lite vibes about him.

Of course, he would need to improve on his flaws and continue to polish his strengths, but that’s true of any 19-year-old. It’s very unlikely this draft has an out-and-out star that’s easily detectable, but Vassell might just be the best 3-and-D (plus a little more) prospect around. That’s exactly what Minnesota need.