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10 Things: Incoming Freshmen
Setting baselines for the 2023 NBA Draft Cycle
As the 2022-2023 season nears, I thought this would be a good time to highlight 10 things that I am keeping an eye on from incoming freshmen. Using a mixture of the data compiled in the Cerebro platform & my final scouting passthrough, it seemed important to establish some priors and baselines on a handful of players all around the NCAA sphere before we kick this whole 2023 draft cycle off properly.
Judah Mintz’s 3pt Shooting Volume
Syracuse’s highest-ranked recruit in the class of 2022 had a meteoric rise over the last season, becoming the primary scorer for Oak Hill, de-committing to Pitt, & becoming a nationally sought-after name. What makes Mintz unique as a prospect is the tenacity of his scoring and his ability to turn his mix of slithery handle & advanced craft to hold a huge usage. It sounds crazy, but there may be no better freshman free-throw tank than the (listed) 172 lb Mintz. For reference, looking back on his 2021 EYBL numbers, Mintz sported an otherworldly 47.5 FTR, with a deep bag of tricks to get defenders into compromised situations and off their feet. The next development for Mintz is continuing his upward trajectory as a shooter, specifically by raising the volume of attempts. There are really encouraging shooting indicators for Mintz potential freshman year growth at Cuse - across 43 games in the Cerebro platform Mintz is shooting 77.3 FT% (225a) & 45.3 3P% (64a). That’s the thing, there is a sign of great touch at every level - again, at EYBL, he knocked down 45.4% for his OTD looks, good for .955 PPP (83rd percentile) but those kind of shots made up a small fraction (18%) of his shot diet. Those 3s across 43 games knocked down at a wild clip, come at a rate of 1.5 attempts per game & 15.8% of his shot diet. Should that volume come to a more modern shot diet & fall at an above-average level, that would turn Mintz into a scalable 3-level scorer with multiple pathways to efficient value - as a downhill threat, as a free throw maven & as a self-creator - pathways that Mintz will be given an opportunity to explore in full as a starter for the Orange. That’s a recipe for a potential rise in the 2023 draft.
Terrance Arceneaux’s Defensive Range
Among draftniks, it’s generally agreed upon that the ground coverage gods of the 2023 draft are Amen & Ausar Thompson, that conversation gets contentious when discussing spot number 3. There are a lot of great names, hell, there are some great names on this Houston roster, but my pick is Terrance Arceneaux as the guy. At 6’7 he may be a bit taller and more stocky than the OTE twins - more able to cover the big burlies when need be, but still more than able to slide with guards, read the floor & react for highlight reel quality havoc plays(blocks, steals & deflections). Arceneaux is an extremely productive defensive player, to the point that I don’t remember seeing a game of his where he didn’t get at least a block or steal. Placing him in a defense like Houston’s, with its emphasis on havoc and effort plays on defense, seems like a perfect match for his development in the future & his production right now. Where the Thompsons have specific limitations, namely, the shooting - Arceneaux has multiple scalable pathways to offensive and defensive value, while also binge a very good shooter. TA really blew up last summer at EYBL, where he shot 40.3% from 3 on his way to being the top overall performer by C-RAM. When looking at his full sample of games in the platform, his jumper tailed off a bit, with his shooting splits at 52.4/80.3/35.8 57.9 TS% - although the form is extremely projectable and he certainly takes enough jumpers (34.5 3pr) to believe that he falls somewhere along the good - very good shooting continuum.
Tarris Reed, a Different Style of Big Man
I’ve been a long proponent of the NBA-style offense that Michigan has run - inverting offense, consistently scheming smart passers into high leverage areas against zone & building modern archetypes for their guards and wings. As a 6’10 F/C with a +6 wingspan, Tarris Reed presents a new weapon for the Wolverines, the first modern-styled offensive big of the Juwan Howard era. Reed offers up a malleable lineup solution in his big frame - able to make quick decisions on the catch or on a short roll, a physical finisher with a grappler’s low center of gravity & maybe most importantly, offers a unique dimension with his ability to shooter and space the floor. The jumper is a classic big man form, a bit of a slower developing set shot, but it’s mechanically smooth and it comes out his hands very softly. In the 19 Link Academy games on the platform last year, Reed took the 3s that came to him in the flow consistently (18.5 3pr) & knocked them down at a very nice clip (40%, 30a)Having a big man who is equally as threatening to sprint down the floor for an early seal as knockdown a trail 3 is really a different sort of look than the Michigan big men have offered of late. 7’1 Hunter Dickinson is surely going to be one of the best players in the Big 10 this year, but having a big who can offer a different type of look - I’m thinking specifically of facing up in point or 21 actions for a more free-flowing offense, will unlock a lot of the pace and space wings that dot this roster.
Jaylen Thompson’s Usage
Stop me if you’ve heard this script before: an off-the-radar rangy 3&D wing with a 2-motion jumper that’s quickly developing across multiple archetypes is given early playing time. Development is the key word for Thompson, it’s come up over and over in his early career, taking multiple leaps forward in his senior year at SCA & it was one of the factors he listed as being alluring about Stanford. Another similarity, maybe coincidentally so, between Thompson and other players in this archetype is that he played his grassroots basketball off the circuits, making him an under-evaluated national prospect going into his final season of high school basketball. The 6’8 wing does all the small usage stuff well - knocks down 3s (38.6 3P%, 137a), is a smart cutter, attacks closeouts well & has the positional length to defend up and down the lineup. The larger intrigue is how much additional offensive burden can Thompson grow into, the Stanford offense is a multiple ballhandlers and decision-makers system resulting in an egalitarian usage allocation, so returners like Harrison Ingram & Spencer Jones aren’t going to be climbing into the 30s. The creator pathways are newer for Thompson, coming in small flashes at a time, but his movement skills and length really shine through in the moments where he put it together. It’s worth monitoring to see if Thompson’s handle progression and aggressive continue to progress enough to take some of the slack usage on 2nd side actions.
The Shooting Priors of Cam Whitmore
Unfortunately, Whitmore had a thumb injury that will keep him out of the early part of Villanova’s November schedule - but there is a lot to discuss in the meantime as we wait for his debut. There is a perception of Whitmore as a remedial or even poor shooter, supported by some elements of his shot mechanics and the poor shooting splits from 2021 EYBL. It’s not to say that Whitmore didn’t struggle in those 11 games in Augusta (50.3/21.6/45.7 53 TS%), it was objectively rough, but it does not paint an accurate picture of Whitmore’s shooting numbers. Zooming out to include everything in the Cerebro platform Whitmore’s shooting splits look different:
Oftentimes with outlier grassroots performances, a player will play out of their mind for a short period of time, playing themselves into a different archetype & evaluators will assume that this is roughly their normal distribution. Whitmore has about the same playstyle in shot diet, with a big difference in the results from 3 & from the FT. What can we take away from these priors- that there is a huge efficiency available from Whitmore’s lack of trips to the free throw line, that his shooting performance is in the decent range & that the uptick in 3-point volume at FIBA U18s is a recent development. Smoothing out the hitch at the top of the jumper will ease the concerns of the more mechanics-interested scouts, but having defenders worried at all about shooting behind screens pressurizes his coverages even further, opening up driving lanes to exploit. Whitmore does have a startlingly low FTr for a wide-framed turbo athlete, which I’m curious to see develop as he matures, Whitmore is actually one of the youngest big-time prospects in this class (7/8/04). It’s going to be interesting how 1st year Nova coach Kyle Neptune balances scheming Whitmore into downhill actions to increase his rim frequency & the standard play types of a primary creator, the role that has burgeoned him into a projected lotto pick.
AJ Brown & Ohio’s Offense Approach
Going by RSCI consensus, Brown is the lowest ranked of the featured players, but when you dig in, I think there is a case he may have the best chance to make the biggest impact here. Brown’s recruitment was a bit stop-and-start, linked with multiple HM powers before committing to the Bobcats - a commitment that got more important when rising junior Mark Sears transferred to Bama. Brown’s profile as a recruit also may have been hampered a bit by his HS & AAU situations, where he played on stacked teams alongside the likes of Dillon Mitchell (Texas), Ven-Allen Lubin (Notre Dame), 2023 big man Jayden Hastings, Bruce Thornton & Brice Sensabaugh (OSU), Taylor Hendricks (UCF) & Fabio Basili (Louisville). Sans Sears, Ohio looks to the 6’5 slinky freshman guard as the next offensive engine in Todd Boals’ system. Unlike Sears and Preston before him, Brown is wired to be a bit more of a scorer & it’s going to be interesting to see him navigate the flurry of read-and-react horizontal actions given his comfort taking PUJs out of PNR when defenses give him any amount of space. AJ Brown projects as a 3-level scorer (in 33 games, 45/41.2/80.8), who’s proven a high level of comfort as a versatile shooter using his positional length and good self-organizing footwork allow him to get into shots quicker than expected by form alone. While Brown is not a poor decision-maker, it’s important for his outlook to be in a scheme that has a great track record of developing & leveraging passing feel. The MAC is a deep conference of guards, but Brown looks to stand out with his good tools in terms of length and movement, covering ground very fluidly on both ends, allowing for slashing & a good amount of havoc plays in big space.
The A-10’s Collection of Talent
As a lifetime patrician of the mid-major prospect industrial complex, I know that you already know that the A-10 is a league after my own heart. In fact, like, fully half of this piece was originally A-10 prospects until The Powers That Be (my editor) demanded (asked) more (any) Power 5 prospects be included. Reluctantly, I agreed in exchange for a free space to show love to the nearly dozen (!!) of players worth getting on your radar early from the almighty Atlantic 10 Conference.
Tafare Gapare at UMass
Lanky, playmaking jumbo (6’10) wing who’s most comfortable pushing the tempo and playing out of high PNR.
Will Richardson at Fordham
The all-time leading scorer at Bergen Catholic, the 6’2 NJ kid stayed local & will be the best freshman scoring threat (esp as a shooter) that has played for Fordham in the last 15 years.
Justyn Fernandez at Mason
Graduated early to practice with Mason last year, but hasn’t yet put on the uniform, so I’m counting him for our purposes. HM-level athlete wing who impressed with his tenacious defensive playmaking & shooting development during his final high school season.
Yann Farrell at St. Bonnies
Super upsidey 6’7 forward who can defend 1-4 & is a great bet to pop up on shooting + stocks queries early.
Mike Sharavjamts at Dayton
Alphonzo Billups & Christian Fermin at VCU
Billups is a classic VCU size+length+athleticism havoc-creating wing who has shown interesting playmaking chops in high school. Fermin is a 6’10 twitchy 5 man with a huge motor who flashed some interesting PNP 3 ability at EYBL.
Reed Bailey at Davidson
Long forward who has all the shooting versatility you could want, will fit right in into the motion-heavy Davidson sets that we all know and love.
GG Jackson’s Positional Usage
After a much-ballyhooed classing up from high school class 2023 to 2022 to play right away at South Carolina, the 6’9 forward from Columbia, South Carolina is the youngest player forecasted to be picked in the 2023 NBA Draft (12/17/04). Due to the later in the cycle re-class, many fans will not be as familiar with the ins and outs of Jackson’s game as they would be with other 5 stars - so let’s consider this a reset about the strengths & areas of development on GG. The stats and my own in-person scouting paint Jackson as an interesting puzzle piece - a competent volume shooter, very good stock numbers, but a little undersized to play the 5, a good reader of the floor in short rolls, but struggles to make consistently incisive reads when facing a set defense. Our database has 61 games of Jackson’s pre-college sample between USA, CP3 & Ridge View HS & there are huge vacillations in how Jackson is used offensively, there are huge usages (up to 36%) playing as a wing as a primary perimeter option & a more connecting role as a play finisher, with no clear through line in terms of performance level according to role. It’s a picture of a talented player who has plenty of composite skills on both ends of the floor, yet those skills are spread between 3 or 4 different archetypes - presenting a real challenge on how to get the optimal deployment for 1st-year coach Lamont Paris at USC. Tweener has become a muddled label, referring to more abstract positions than concrete roles, but there is a bit of it that fits Jackson’s current situation - will how he find his usage, will more effort be put towards cleaning up his footwork on CnS jumper or developing passing reads, what percentage of his possessions come on ball, will it be possible to maximize his skill for cutting, cleaning the offensive glass & rim running while pushing the 3 point volume (16.9 3Pr in EYBL) upward? It’s going to be fascinating to watch GG’s development play out in Columbia.
Daniel Skillings, Late Blooming Wing
Wes Miller’s reshaping of Cincinnati into a more uptempo program ready for Big 12 play continues in the 2022-2023 season & no player may be more emblematic of the change in the program than freshman wing Daniel Skillings. Skillings is the exact sort of wing an uptempo team demands: high energy, explosive in the open court, able to cover big ground quickly in rotation, strong hands to disrupt passing lanes, Philly tough & able to create his own shot. He arrives in Cincy from Roman Catholic (PA) full of plaudits, being named PCL MVP, and finished as a gold-level performer according to C-RAM as a junior and a senior in a fully talent-stocked league. I’ve been extremely impressed with the well-roundedness of Skillings's development, basically doing everything pretty well while acting as a primary initiator for Roman. For this sort of long and strong wing archetype, there is often weakness in the shooting department & Skillings has bloomed as a shooter over the last couple of years. As a junior in the PCL, Skillings shot 33.3% from 3, 32.3 3pr, 45 3PE & as a senior he shot 44.4% from 3, 27.8 3pr, 83 3PE - showcasing cleaner mechanics and a softer release. The adjustment of scaling down from the offensive engine to more of a second-side creator is going to depend on that shooting development holding, but if defenders have to run Skillings off the line, there will be highlights. High feel havoc defenders (1.3 blocks, 1.2 steals, 91 DSI in PCL as a senior) who can shoot is an alluring mixture that NBA teams have proven to value over the last few drafts.
Wake Forest’s Next Connective Wing in Line, Bobi Klintman
On the heels of connective wing supreme Jake LaRavia getting drafted in the first round of the 2002 draft, Wake Forest went out late in the cycle and snagged another high-ceiling glue guy in Sweden’s Bobi Klintman. Listed at 6’9, Klintman has a broad blend of skills, coming from his time as a high-usage primary in international play & as a 2nd side option at Sunrise Christian. Klintman struggled a bit to find his footing during his senior season at Sunrise - the challenge of adjusting his game as a jack-of-all-trades type wing on a stacked team with conservatively, 3 other players who fit that billing, into more of a true 3&D type wing. There is a really sharp difference between the player that Klintman showed himself to be on the international stage when with Sweden, looking more confident as a high-volume decision-maker. It’s pretty easy to point out the differences in usage (25% usage in FIBA Euro B U20s vs ~16% with Sunrise) but it’s also in the construction of the team - Bobi led Sweden in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals & blocks. (It probably shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that Klintman finished those U20s as the 2nd highest-rated performer according to C-RAM) What Klintman will be asked to do at Wake should be a fusion between the two roles - taking a larger usage especially needed now that Alondes & LaRavia are among the professional ranks, while using his further developed off-ball acumen to move for open 3s and create off closeouts. The Wake Coaching staff has a proven track record of building offenses around high-feel wing decision-making and building positive environments for specific skill sets as needed. Should the shooting development hold, and the assertiveness stay, look for the long, smart, stridey Klintman to make noise in the ACC.