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Early Season Scouting Notes
A couple of years ago, I wrote my first ‘Early Season Scouting Notes’ and really enjoyed looking back at it after the season ended, and even multiple years later. Aside from a few of the top guys I discussed, I enjoyed re-reading my thoughts on then-future-lottery pick Corey Kispert, Tre Mann’s resurgence after a disappointing Freshman season, Ayo Dosunmu’s breakout, an unknown Dalano Banton, and more.
My plan is to do something very similar with this piece, where I discuss a few top guys, some under-the-radar guys, and some players who might not be great prospects but are just enjoyable to watch. With games being played every day, it would be impossible to get this piece out with an updated take and numbers on everyone, so I’m going to include a date at the end of each summary in which the write-up was written. As a heads up, the order of prospects below isn’t a reflection of my rankings, but I will start with prospects who are ranked higher according to consensus and work my way down from there. With that said, let’s get into it.
Keyonte George has had a nice start to his season. While George is known as a really good scorer, he’s been quite patient with the ball in his hands so far and has been looking to make the right play. He’s had an impact with and without the ball in his hands on offense, which has been great to see. With the guard talent on this Baylor roster, I assume we’ll continue to see George’s production vary from game to game. In some games, he’ll look to distribute more, and in other games, we’ll see him score a bunch, whether that’s creating for himself and knocking down shots spotting up on the perimeter. When looking through the Cerebro Sports Database, there are 50 verified games for George pre-college from when he was with Team USA, IMG Academy, and more. In those 50 games, George shot 38.1% (96-252) from 3. The defensive consistency has still been up and down and is something to keep an eye on. (12/02/22)
Anthony Black had a rough first couple of games, but since Maui, he’s been one of my favorite players to watch. How his game best translates to the next level is not the easiest to figure out, but he’s a great defender with very quick feet defending the perimeter, and smart instincts off of the ball. His offense is the question, but he has found success on that end in the last couple of weeks. In Arkansas’ first couple of games, teams were completely ignoring him on offense, some even giving him the Ben Simmons treatment of defending him in the paint when he’s behind the arc. But since Maui, he’s been able to show how he can use his change of pace and use of angles to get deeper into the paint, and that has opened up his passing, which is good, especially at his size. Additionally, he’s been able to use his size to finish over some players as well. Something that should be watched closely is how he looks going forward now that Nick Smith Jr is back. Will that move him off-ball more often? From an evaluation perspective, it would be nice to see him play off-ball next to Smith and see if he is able to find success there. From Arkansas’ perspective of trying to win, it might be best to keep him on the ball because Smith is capable of playing off-ball and use Smith on the ball when Black is on the bench. (12/02/22)
Brandon Miller’s numbers to start the year are so interesting. Through 7 games, he’s shooting a ridiculous 48.0% (24-50) from 3, while consistently showing NBA range, but is shooting 32.7% (18-55) on all 2s, and is struggling to create any good looks at the rim. Miller is a good prospect, and being able to shoot at his size is really valuable, but one of the things I’m currently worried about with him is how he looks if given a lot of on-ball responsibilities at the next level. Players being put in a position to succeed is really important, especially for rookies, and if he’s asked to create for himself, it most likely won’t end well. That concern is what has me against him as a top 5-7 prospect in this class at the current moment, but I think he can succeed in an off-ball wing type of role. We’re still early in the season, so I want to see how good the shot actually is when the season comes to an end, and if any improvements inside the arc are made. He has shown the ability to snake some pick and rolls to get to a floater in the paint, but I think an avenue for improvement inside the arc is learning how to change pace better, and improve his footwork/pump fakes. One positive note inside the arc has been that he’s been able to draw fouls at a good rate so far. (11/29/22)
Gradey Dick’s shooting and off-ball movement on offense have been a joy to watch. Through 7 games, Dick is shooting 47.7% (21-44) from 3 while displaying his ability to hit shots spotting up, off-movement, and off-the-dribble as well. And according to Barttorvik, Dick is shooting 76.2% (16-21) at the rim. Dick’s understanding of off-ball movement to find openings for shots on the perimeter, or cuts to finish at the rim is a great combination that has played a part in his early season success. Something to keep an eye on is how often he gets to the rim the rest of the season, as he had 19 total FGAs at the rim in Kansas’ first four games but only 2 total FGAs over their last three games (11/28/22)
Jarace Walker’s offensive production in the early parts of the season has been all over the place, and a lot of that has been due to his role. A good amount of the time on offense, he finds himself just spotting up in the corner. On the plus side, he’s showing the shooting flashes that everyone wanted to see entering the year and has been able to attack closeouts and get to a floater, but there hasn’t been much else on offense besides some timely cuts from the corner when teammates get into the paint. He only has one FGA through 6 games as the roll man in the pick and roll, and I hope we get to see that increase. (11/28/22)
Jett Howard has been one of my favorite players to watch in the early parts of this season for a variety of reasons, but the main one is that I always love big wing shooters (see: Cam Johnson, Corey Kispert, Trey Murphy III, Sam Hauser, etc.). The exciting thing about Howard is that he is still a freshman while all of those players were upperclassmen. Howard’s volume from 3 has been really impressive to go along with his efficiency, as he’s shooting 42.6% (23-54) through 8 games. He has rarely been bothered by contests because his size and high release allow him to just shoot over most players. He’s also been able to show the ability to curls screens and making the right play/read in those situations. His on-ball upside is still up in the air, but he has had several nice flashes running side PnRs. I still have some questions about Howard’s defense, but if he can clean a few things up on that end, there is legit top-10 potential with him. (12/04/22)
Maxwell Lewis has had a really promising start to his sophomore season. As I mentioned in ‘The Returners’, Lewis had a chance to jump into the first-round conversation if he was able to show more consistency, and he has done just that, at least on the offensive end. It’s not perfect, but his offensive approach looks so much better this year, even if he forces up a bad heat check after making a shot on his previous possession here and there. Lewis is currently in the 99th percentile for C-RAM and 98th percentile for PSP (Pure Scoring Prowess) out of all Division 1.
For those who are not familiar with our terms, please click here for our glossary with definitions.
His passing looks much better this year, and he’s making quicker decisions. Another thing that Lewis has added on the offensive end is finding ways to get easier buckets. He’s done a good job taking advantage of smaller players defending him by putting them in the post and just scoring through or over them. On the defensive end, the inconsistency is still there. You still see the flashes of him locking in on defense when needed (see clip below of the end of the Cal State Fullerton game), but he still can get beat on the perimeter because of bad footwork, or be lost on defense. The biggest question for me is still with his feel, but the talent, athleticism, and physical profile are all there. (12/04/22)
Terrence Shannon Jr. has been the most impressive returner, in my opinion, so far. While it should be noted that a lot of it has been dominating bad competition, the shooting improvements have come a long way from early in his college career, as shown below by his consistent improvement in 3PE (3-Point Efficiency).
Since the beginning of last season, Shannon is shooting 40.8% (49-120) from 3 and is actually shooting 47.2% (34-72) on C&S 3s in that same span.
In addition to his shot, his speed and quickness have helped him be incredibly effective in transition, and he has a nice first step in the halfcourt as well. All of this combined with having good size for a wing is what had made him an intriguing prospect in the past (especially with the shot improvements last year), and he should get first-round consideration, maybe even top 20, if he can keep up something close to this level of play. (11/28/22)
Taylor Hendricks is a fascinating prospect, and someone I’m really interested in watching more of, especially in UCF’s two matchups against Houston. The 6’9” freshman has displayed a variety of intriguing skills on both ends of the floor, but the odd thing is that his offensive role seems to vary from game to game. Overall, he’s shown some driving ability, the ability to hit shots (including a few off-movement 3s), and more. His lower body has some inconsistencies in his shot, and he has a kick in it as well, similar to how Deni Avdija’s shot was as a prospect. On defense, he’s had some very dope rotations to protect the rim and did a great job defending Drew Pember in UCF’s matchup against UNC-Asheville (more on Pember later). (11/28/22)
Kris Murray is having a breakout season as a returner. It’s not to the same level as his brother, Keegan, but he’s had an increase in usage, volume, minutes, and more, and has been pretty effective so far. The chart below shows Kris Murray’s improvement across the charts using Cerebro’s metrics.
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This kind of improvement year to year is exactly what you want to see from returners. Kris Murray has been able to knock down shots at high volume this year, 40.5% (17-42), and then has a nice first step to attack closeouts as well. His shot versatility or his touch isn’t as good as Keegan’s, but he has attacked closeouts off-the-catch more often so far. (12/04/22)
Jalen Wilson is another one of the most impressive returners this year, along with Terrence Shannon Jr who was mentioned earlier. While I think Wilson’s translation to the NBA level is a bit more difficult to project than Shannon’s, he’s looked so much more confident on offense this year compared to previous years and seems to have been given more control of the offense as well. While Wilson’s shooting looked like it might have turned a corner in the opening games, the shot has been up and down since. This a good example of being cautious with using numbers as hard evidence early in a season. Even in games where he struggles shooting, he’s still been able to dominate games with his aggressiveness, and a small improvement with his touch as well. Overall, I’ll be keeping a close eye on where his shot and touch around the basket end up looking at the end of the year. (12/04/22)
Coleman Hawkins’ play to start the year has been quite inconsistent, but when he’s playing well, he can bring a lot of valuable skills to an offense at 6’10”. In Illinois’ first game of the season, he went 5/6 from deep in the first half, which was great to see, but over the next couple of games, he started to take fewer shots after missing a couple in a row. Shooting 3s at good enough volume is pretty important for Hawkins because it would open up a lot more to his game. Going forward, I’d love to see him be more willing to shoot 3s when he has some space, especially because there are times when he’ll catch the ball without looking at the basket when he has space. In Illinois’ game against Syracuse, Coleman Hawkins was able to pick apart the zone with easy by playing the middle and making quick passes, using pass fakes, or scoring himself when needed (although could have done it more often, honestly). Hawkins is a really intriguing, smart prospect who has first-round potential if he can play with a bit more consistency and less passiveness on 3s. (12/01/22)
Josiah-Jordan James is someone that I was really excited to pay attention to this year, mainly because of his name coming up when I wrote about ‘Projecting Shooting & NBA Range: Findings From The Database’. If you’d like, you can scroll down to the 3rd finding in that piece to see what query he appeared in. In the 3 games that James has played in, he’s shooting 52.6% (10-19) from 3. It’s still very early, but the volume has been nice to see at least. Unfortunately, James wasn’t able to play in their last few games because of his knee which he had surgery on in the offseason, which is not ideal. He’s just labeled as day-to-day for now though. (12/04/22)
Harrison Ingram has, unfortunately, had a pretty underwhelming start to his sophomore season. He had flashes throughout his freshman year, but the areas of concern have still been… concerning. Ingram is a good passer at his size, but he still struggles to create space for himself when the ball is in his hands, and he isn’t a good shooter to move him to play more off of the ball. The hope is that playing next to Spencer Jones and Michael Jones creates more space for him to attack with, but he just isn’t able to beat his man on the perimeter. Not someone who should be given up on yet, but he’s not playing like someone who is worth a draft pick at the moment. (12/04/22)
Eric Gaines is one of the most athletic players in the country and is having more success in the early season this year at UAB than he did in prior years at LSU. The athleticism combined with his handles, creativity with his passing, and defensive playmaking is what makes him an intriguing prospect, but there are some real concerns as well with his shot, taking care of the ball, and more. Someone to keep an eye on as a draft prospect, but also someone to just watch and enjoy the ridiculous athleticism. (12/02/22)
David Jones had been someone who has stood out in the past when watching DePaul, but he never really showed much consistency to buy in fully. While the shot has still been inconsistent this year, the flashes look more promising, and he’s still having an impact on the game when the shot is falling. His combination of first step/burst and handles at his size is really intriguing, especially if the shot is able to come along. He’s shooting 32.7% (17-52) from 3 so far, but he’s putting up over 7 3s per game. Something that has also stood out is that he has been more efficient shooting off-the-dribble than he has on catch and shoots. Overall, someone to keep an eye on going forward. (11/28/22)
Taran Amstrong is someone who was on my radar last season because of his passing at his size, and it’s been great to see him improve in other areas of his game so far this season. He’s getting to the rim more often than he did last year, and even though the finishing still has some concerns, it’s improved a bit as well. Additionally, the shot looks better, and I’m buying that it’s at the very least improved based on the early season sample. The overall 3-point volume isn’t much different on a per-game basis at the moment, but the shot looks better, and the efficiency has also been better. So far this season, Armstrong is shooting 50% (11-22) from 3 so far, but he’s actually made 6 off-the-dribble 3s compared to 5 C&S 3s. He shot more and was more efficient with C&S 3s last year, but this is something to monitor going forward. One thing that stands out with his OTD 3s this season so far is that he’s been able to do a better job creating space with his handles to get into his shots. If the shot and finishing continue to improve throughout the season, Armstrong is a very legit prospect with his already great passing. (11/28/22)
Ricky Council IV’s finishing has been amazing to watch this year. In the opener against North Dakota State, he had a bunch of ridiculous finishes that you can see in the tweet below. I was not exaggerating when I said that it was one of the most impressive ‘finishing’ games in recent memory.
Council IV is someone who stood out previously at Wichita State but looks even more impressive this year so far. Aside from his finishing, he’s had to take on more on-ball responsibilities with Nick Smith Jr out and has flashed some passing. His defense has also been impressive. I’m very interested to see how his role looks when Nick Smith Jr returns. (11/28/22)
Drew Pember’s skillset at his size is very intriguing. He dropped 40 points in the season opener against UCF, and some of the stuff he was able to do at 6’10” was really impressive. Can jab-cross into shots, attack from the perimeter and rise over smaller players, etc. In addition to that, he’s a good and smart defender and the reigning DPOY in the Big South. All of this has contributed to Pember’s dominant season, where he ranks 15th out of all Division 1 players in C-RAM according to the Cerebro Sports Database. That being said, there still are some questions about what role/position he should play at the next level, and if everything is translatable. But regardless, he’s someone to keep an eye on as an under-the-radar mid-major player, who can rise on draft boards throughout the season. Really looking forward to the matchup against Dayton and DaRon Holmes II on Dec 10, and then Arkansas on Dec 21. (12/01/22)
Tucker DeVries is one of the best shotmakers in this class. DeVries is currently shooting 45.5% (15-33) from 3 over 6 games, and also shooting 92.1% (35-38) from the free throw line. He does a great job using his size to shoot over defenders, and contests don’t bother him too much, especially in the midrange. (11/30/22)
Jaylen Clark and Montez Mathis are two players that I’m more cautious about with the small sample size because neither has ever shot above 30% from 3 in any of their previous seasons (Clark: 2 seasons, Mathis: 4 seasons), and both are sitting at 46.7% (7-15) this season. Jaylen Clark is the better prospect of the two and has probably been UCLA’s best player so far this season. Clark has a DSI (Defensive Statistical Impact) of 92, which ranks in the 96th percentile out of all Division 1 players. Both have been able to have an impact on the defensive end, which is why the shots falling has been nice to see. That being said, they’ll both need to prove they can hit shots over a long period of time, especially Mathis, to get strong consideration as a draft prospect. (11/28/22)
Sir’Jabari Rice has been a very nice transfer addition for Texas, and I’m looking forward to watching him throughout the rest of the season. He makes it really tough on defenses because he’s capable of knocking down 3s, but also has one of the most effective pump fakes in the country. He uses it time and time again every game, and it continues to work. He should be worth two-way consideration if he can continue to play at his current level. (12/02/22)
Some other players that deserve a mention: Brandon Podziemski (Santa Clara), Aziz Bandaogo (Utah Valley), Tyreke Key (Tennessee), Mike Sharavjamts (Dayton), Curtis Jones (Buffalo), RJ Luis (UMass).