Ben Sheppard: 2023 NBA Draft Scouting Report
The four-year wing from Belmont is a great sleeper prospect in the second round with a signature skill and high basketball IQ
Belmont wing Ben Sheppard is definitely my kind of guy.
So many of the boxes that I look for are checked by Sheppard. He’s a long, lanky 6’6” with decent positional size. He’s got a terrific feel for the game from growing up as a point guard; he’s posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio each of the last three years. He’s also an exceptional shooter with a buttery stroke and insanely impressive metrics.
Tall guys with high feel who can shoot work in today’s NBA and have a high likelihood of sticking as role players.
Sheppard checks more boxes than that, though. He was a late bloomer in terms of growth, standing closer to 6’1” until the end of his junior year in high school. My affinity for late growth spurt guys who grew up with guard skills knows no bounds, and such a trait has helped the likes of Jalen Williams, Trey Murphy III, Anthony Davis, and several others. Additionally, Sheppard is incredibly mature and aware of how he should play the game as more of a role player. He’s adjusted well to different teammates during his time at Belmont and utilizes his feel to make the right basketball play.
High feel, low ego… those are the guys who we’d count on to stick.
From a skill perspective, Sheppard has enough to hang. We love the fact that he has a signature skill as a 3-point shooter who can provide floor spacing off-ball. He’s tall enough at 6’6” to be an NBA wing, and good enough as a passer with his background to do more than just stand on the 3-point line. Of course, he’s excellent there… he knocked down a whopping 49.1% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts, according to Synergy.
Where I have some worries is on the defensive end. At first glance, Sheppard has some length (though we cannot verify his wingspan at this time) and a solid steal rate. He was named to the All-MVC Defensive Team as a senior, clearly showing he’s respected by the coaches in the league.
But from a biomechanical perspective, there are questions. We’ll dive into those to see what they might reveal about Sheppard’s ability to stick in the NBA, because we’re really captivated by his offensive translation to a low-usage role.
To me, the right place to start with Sheppard is with his shooting ability. Although he was classically trained as a point guard (and in younger years that’s the role we saw him in), he improved his shooting every year in college to the point where it is now his signature skill.
Sheppard was efficient as a senior in literally every category amongst every type of shot. He was 43-95 (45.3%) on dribble jumpers, and 27-60 (45%) off screens with a 60.8% eFG% from the play type. He drilled 40.5% of his catch-and-shoot looks, including a whopping 30-61 (with an insane 73.8% eFG%) when unguarded from deep. Teams should see Sheppard’s primary value coming from spacing the floor, being able to hit shots on the move, but being best while standing on the perimeter and letting other players operate with the ball.
My favorite trait of Sheppard’s is how he relocates without the basketball around that dribble penetration. He’s mastered loops and slides on the perimeter, knowing how to find the shooting pocket for his teammate. When Sheppard’s defender sinks in rotation, Sheppard raises on the perimeter to create a longer closeout. When his defender turns his head, he moves. All the little things make Sheppard tailor-made to thrive in a spot-up-centric role:
Last year at Belmont, only one-third of his overall attempts were catch-and-shoot looks, with about 12.5% being simple spot-up jumpers in the half-court (as opposed to movement shots). Those numbers could take a stark leap outside of Belmont’s system and while flanking some of the best players in the world.
Sheppard doesn’t have to be entirely a catch-and-shoot guy, though. He’s quite solid as a passer due to those old point guard traits. However, Sheppard’s passing is much more measured than it is a result of him being a threat to get to the bucket as a scorer. He doesn’t force many defenses to collapse. He’s a wiry driver without taking straight lines to the hoop, doesn’t separate well in space, and is often out of control trying to get to the hoop.
Athletically, Sheppard’s big concern on offense comes with his vertical burst. Sure, he’s played above the rim a fair amount. But many of those opportunities come in space or in transition. The most deceptive number in his statistical profile is that he shot 57.3% at the rim. He feels like much worse of an interior scorer. Sheppard gets a ton of shots blocked for someone his size (he had 24 attempts blocked on the year) and does not handle physicality or contact well on his layups. Teams with good rim protectors in the MVC (mainly Indiana State and Drake, who played in a deeper drop and would meet him at the rim) really gave Sheppard trouble.
All this is to say that while we like the passing feel, Sheppard isn’t likely to be getting many pick-and-roll reps at the next level. He’s not explosive enough of a scorer at the bucket. His feel translates more toward connective tissue passing and general high-IQ plays, like the ‘one more’ passes he makes that we really love within the flow of offense:
Collecting a bunch of high-IQ former point guards doesn’t mean they all need to get touches. Instead, it’s a safety valve that gives coaches trust that the ball will keep moving when an advantage is gained. Sheppard’s athletic limitations lead us to believe that he won’t be the cause of many advantages — at least in terms of getting a paint touch and bending a defense. But he can sustain them with his passing, exploit them with his shooting, and punish them if he’s ever left alone.
Here’s where the complicated portion comes in for Sheppard, and where we struggle with the evaluation. There are some intriguing defensive possessions where Sheppard looks good at the point of attack. He’s so smart at using his length in passing lanes. In the Missouri Valley, he stood out as one of the better and more versatile defenders 1 thru 3.