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MAILBAG: My Eval Process, Cam Whitmore, Emoni Bates, OTE, and more
We take some Twitter questions, many of which are interesting on the evaluation process and draft philosophy.
It’s Mail Time! We asked for your questions, and we gave our responses. With a look at the best players from this draft class in mind, we weigh in on certain team fits. We also answer a few philosophical questions on our evaluation process and how we try to grapple with complex basketball issues.
Let’s get the letter-opener out and get to the questions…
“How many full games on average do you need to watch on a prospect to come away with a full picture?”
I thought this was a great question, and one that I wanted to answer first. Process is really important for this job, and a huge part of that is in trusting full games FAR more than clips. Clips are a quick and convenient way to do some postseason work, and as I put together scouting reports or dive deeper into guys individually, watching clips can be a quick way of finding trends.
Full games are the only way to provide context to see how prospects impact the game positively or negatively, how much they stand out, and what their team is trying to accomplish with them on the floor. I watch games throughout the season and have a notebook with game observations on everyone I pay attention to.
By the time I release a scouting report with our major takeaways set, I make sure I watch at least five full games. For big-name prospects (lottery-type talents) or guys on good teams that I’ll see a lot, that’s an easy mark to meet. When it’s time for scouting report season, we don’t have to do a ton of re-watches and seeking out games. But if I’m starting from scratch at the end of a cycle on a prospect, I’ll have some parameters around the games I choose — two against the same opponent (in-conference to see adjustments), at least one game that the box score would dictate will be their best, and at least one that would be their worst performance.
Once the full game watches are done to the best that I can in the time I have, clips become a good reinforcement point to see larger trends on the player. That’s what I call ‘confirmation time’, where I’m looking to closely check if the notes I gained from the first five games are backed up when watching all sorts of plays individually. For example, if I have in my notes that Franz Wagner seems to only drive right off handoffs in the games I watch, I’ll go back and check all his handoff clips to see if that’s the case — and the ways he’s most effective.
While I trust myself as an evaluator and believe I put in the work, I also am aware that my time is much more scarce than I’d like it to be on these prospects. I have a full-time job as a teacher and coach which is my first obligation before I get to The Box and One. I’ll have to make some snap judgments at times with guys at the back end of the draft and don’t get to pour in all the time I’d like to watch every guy. Maybe someday that will change, but for now, the five-game minimum is the best I can get.
“When comparing prospects, how do you compare across different levels? OTE against high school, NCAA and college competition, and international players facing face adults…”
Another great question, one that I’ve struggled with in the past as a scout. The constantly-changing field of pre-draft leagues makes this a constant battle. For example, we’re only in year three of the G-League Ignite experiment and year two of Overtime Elite (year one with elite prospects). The jury is still out on all the alumni from those programs in the NBA, so the confidence in each level being able to translate is fluid.
Playing against pro competition will always be the most impressive to me, simply because older, stronger, and more experienced players generally have an advantage. If a player can produce against high-level pro competition, I’ll generally tend to advocate for that being able to translate to the NBA.
With OTE, I’m trying to focus more on the tools and individual skills of players. Until I get a multi-year sample and feel comfortable with answering how their level of competition translates, the best to do is to pay close attention to the tools that a prospect shows. That’s what I’d do for any high school prospect anyway, so I treat it like I’m just watching AAU or pre-college tape.
“What aspects do you value the most when projecting a shooter to the NBA level? Shooting mechanics/form, shooting touch, percentages, volume, shot versatility/difficulty of attempts, etc.
Also, which aspect do you think most people overrate when projecting a shooter to the NBA?”
From my pal Ignacio, my favorite question in this mailbag. Shooting projection is a delicate art. Pay attention only to form and you can easily get burned — several guys have pristine jumpers but never seem to make them. Conversely, others have great numbers pre-draft but have some real mechanical flaws. For one-year or two-year shooting samples, blind trust in those numbers can betray an evaluator.
To be honest, most shooting evaluations are pretty simple. Great shooters are easy to identify — they check all the boxes with great form, difficult makes, shot versatility, repeatable mechanics, and efficient numbers. Good shooters who make their attempts are guys whose might be able to get away with different or unique form. I tend to go to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ school of shooting form. The awful ones are easy to spot too; they either don’t shoot them or have inconsistent mechanics while missing them.
There are a few microskills when it comes to shooting that I tend to lean back on when trying to dive into those few prospects whose projection is more complex. Mechanics are a big one. Balance of the lower half is a big deal, as are quickness of the release, height of the release, and overall fluidity from load-up to launch: “hitches get me hitchhiking” as one shooting coach friend of mine says.
More than the specifics of the mechanics, I look for the consistency of the shot. Are they able to replicate the same motion every time? That’s a key question I ask when watching guys shoot, especially off the catch when square to the hoop. If I’m struggling to get an evaluation on guys, I’ll watch their misses frequently, looking for a ‘why’ for their lack of results. If there’s one identifiable flaw that I believe can be fixed, I’m more likely to buy the shot. If the misses are all over the place with differing mechanics, depth perception issues, and they tend to be off laterally, then I’ll be a little down on the prospect.
“Could Cam Whitmore reach Jaylen Brown's level as a scorer in the NBA? If yes, does that make him a top-five lock?”
Frequent reads of The Box and One will know I’m not very high on doing player comparisons. I tend to think that sets players up for failure when judged next to lofty goals, and that each player is like a snowflake: unique and individual in their own way.
The point about Jaylen Brown’s scoring is a good one to take in stride when thinking about Cam Whitmore, though. Both came out of high school to college as tremendous athletes with a fairly raw offensive game; they both relied on their athleticism in college. Cam is slightly more developed as a shooter at his age than Jaylen was.
Brown has gotten better literally every year in the pros; he’s had one of the steadiest and most successful development trajectories I’ve ever seen. Brown’s hips are also really different than Whitmore’s. Brown has a fluidity to how he moves that allows him to turn in mid-air and be a really good mid-range scorer. I’m not sure Cam has that same body pattern, so if he will reach the same level of impact that Jaylen is at right now (26.5 PPG on 49/33/78 splits), he’ll do it a bit differently.
I still think Cam has clear top-five upside, and he’s currently at number five on my board. Whitmore’s athleticism, physicality, and shooting touch are too impactful of a combo to ignore offensively. His upside is really high, he just isn’t quite as creative or shifty as Jaylen.
“What are your thoughts on Brandon Miller’s fit with Houston?”
First off, I love Miller. He’s a big wing who can really shoot, is competitive, handles a bit, defends a little, and has untapped upside in the mid-range. Players like him can fit in well in almost any environment or scheme, offensively or defensively.
Miller in Houston is interesting. From a Rockets perspective, he and Jabari Smith are a really good offensive tandem at the 3 and 4. Both are big, both can really shoot, and Brandon’s pick-and-roll handling would alleviate many creation challenges that Jabari could have. Defensively, there’s a good amount of size on the floor (that would help Alperen Sengun if he’s to be the center of the future), but Miller isn’t a great defender to alleviate the issues placed on Sengun as their anchor.
As far as Miller goes, there are teams that I think would service his development style and reps better. Jalen Green and Sengun are guys who like touches, and it seems like the Rockets intend on having another handler or purer creator on the floor next to Jalen. If that’s the case, there are only so many touches left over for a guy like Miller. It’s not that there are too many cooks in the kitchen in Houston, but that kitchen is getting pretty crowded.
“What prospect does New Orleans go after if they land 5-10? Has to be a guard or a center, right? They are very wing heavy at the current makeup.”
The Pelicans have so many good young players. Their future is really bright, with Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones, Naji Marshall, and Jaxson Hayes all 25 or younger. They’re very wing-heavy with that group; everyone has length and nobody is a true guard.
While I appreciate this question and the desire to draft for fit, I still think the Pelicans are in a position to go after best player available. This lottery has several guards — Arkansas’ Anthony Black or Nick Smith, Baylor’s Keyonte George, or Kentucky’s Cason Wallace — who fit well positionally and bring different points to the table. None of these guys would be a reach, in my opinion, in the top ten.
There’s something to the idea of ‘point Zion’ that we’d love to continue to see explored. A long, lanky, switch-everything defense would fit well with a bunch of interchangeable wings. Skill becomes more important than position if they can find another similar frame, and the one skill that stands out as being a must is shooting. A guy like Gradey Dick could be a major piece in New Orleans, providing floor spacing and opening up the playbook next to Zion in unique ways.
To be clear, there aren’t many guys who wouldn’t be great fits in New Orleans. Amen and Ausar Thompson are really the only two who we can’t see a great fit with, and while shooting is preferred over non-shooting, we could justify or see ways to make everyone else in this range mesh.
“What is Emoni Bates’ ceiling and which team is the best fit for him?”
Emoni has become a polarizing prospect. Those who love him point to the unconscious zones he can get into as a shot-maker, and his ability to get it going from DEEP range is notable. Those lower on Bates see the athletic flaws with a lack of separation off the bounce and general inefficiencies he has on offense, from both an inability to create for others and the cold nights where he keeps pulling without knocking them down.
Bates needs to add strength and curtail his shot selection a bit. He feels a lot like a boom-or-bust prospect because of his playstyle. The ceiling is super high, where the one-on-one shot-making translates and he is instant offense for a team whenever he plays. That type of upside is why teams are still so interested in Bates as a prospect (and he just turned 19). The downside is considerably notable though, where he never finds a way to reel in his game or provide positive contributions on defense.
As for best fit, I don’t think it’s as much about naming a specific team for the players they have now, but identifying what type of organizational support he’ll need. He needs a place that can strike the right balance between letting him be him (which means, yes, a decently long leash on offense) and that can harness his shooting ability to teach him to play off-ball. Any player development staff will need to work with Emoni on some small mechanical points as a driver and decision-maker, and he needs a good strength program with discipline.
That last word is key: Bates needs to be at a place where there’s discipline without zapping his joy. He’s a joyous player with a ton of emotion. We saw how quickly that joy can go when he’s playing too confined, like at Memphis.
“Who is the oldest player you project getting drafted this year?”
Between now and draft day, we’ll likely have about 40-50 different players cycle through the second round on our mock drafts, big boards, and evaluations. Instead of trying to project forward who could be included in that large of a group, we’re going to look at the guys who have a more reasonable chance of going in the first round.
Right now, Kris Murray (22 years old; will turn 23 in August) is the oldest guy to be a potential lottery pick. For reference, GG Jackson won’t turn 19 until a few days before Christmas — a massive age gap between two potential lottery picks.
Trayce Jackson-Davis is getting some first-round love, and he’ll turn 23 next week. Marcus Sasser, Jaime Jaquez, and Terrance Shannon Jr. will all be 22 on draft night. But this is a very young draft, with 13 of the top-16 on Tankathon’s current mock draft being 19 or younger on draft night.
“Which players are the best multi-positional defenders with elite 3-and-D potential outside of the first round?”
NBA teams love multi-positional defenders, and fans love the 3-and-D label. The game is evolving a bit to the point where more skill is a benefit from wings, and there are only a few guys who can be purely catch-and-shoot threats on each roster. But if someone can shoot and defend multiple positions reliably, they’re likely to receive a fair amount of interest from NBA teams.
As such, most of those guys end up in the first round. Taylor Hendricks and Kris Murray are the bigger guys who will play more on the wings getting legitimate first-round interest, while Rayan Rupert and Jordan Hawkins are more backcourt defenders.
We have a few guys who are on the second-round radars with a few smaller flaws. Julian Strawther is a really good shooter for a big wing, but there are some defensive concerns about his quickness, thus limiting the multi-positional label. Tucker DeVries can really shoot and is more well-rounded on offense, but footspeed will really hurt him. Terrence Shannon Jr.’s shot can be hit-or-miss, though the defense is solid.
One guy who might be a sleeper to check all these boxes is Tyler Burton from Richmond. Really like the way he moves without the ball, is a good athlete, and can really shoot it. He’s a very real sleeper from this class.
“Does Taevion Kinsey have any chance to be drafted?”
Kinsey has a slight chance to go in the later part of the second round. We’ve been really impressed by how his game continues to grow. The athletic tools are there, here’s a really good passer, and there’s a lot of upside for him defensively. Teams will have to evaluate the 3-point shot closely. His role is likely to change in the NBA; at Marshall, he’s their offensive engine and rarely plays off-ball.
The importance of his catch-and-shoot arsenal will exponentially increase at the next level, and unfortunately, the up-and-down nature of his five-year college career makes it difficult to trust without getting a close look at his mechanics.