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Examining Under-the-Radar Pac-12 Prospects
When looking at the top prospects in the Pac-12 this year, it’s been a down year for the conference. There definitely isn’t an Evan Mobley level prospect that we saw a couple of years ago, and there also isn’t a Bennedict Mathurin level of prospect like we saw last year, but that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t intriguing players in the conference.
One of the more impactful players in the country has been Jaylen Clark, who has a 9.4 C-RAM and a 100 DSI (Defensive Statistical Impact). He’s someone who will most likely get a chance at the NBA level because of what he brings to the floor with his instincts and playmaking on the defensive end. There’s still room for improvement on the offensive end, but he’s improved in all four of the offensive metrics in the Cerebro 5-Metric Suite, with the 5th being the previously mentioned DSI.
While Jaylen Clark is one of the more intriguing players in the conference, he doesn’t fall into the “Under-The-Radar” category. However, someone who does fit the mold is Tristan da Silva. Similar to Jaylen Clark, da Silva has been one of the most improved and impressive players in the conference this year. He’s improved in 4 of the 5 Cerebro metrics, with the exception being FGS (Floor General Skills).
Along with da Silva’s year-to-year improvement, he’s also improved in the middle of the season, and his recent stretch of play has really stood out:
Tristan da Silva’s First 10 Games: 12.3 PTS (49/36/59), 4.0 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.0 STL
Tristan da Silva’s Last 15 Games: 19.3 PTS (54/47/78), 5.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.5 STL
Listed at 6’9”, there’s a lot to like about da Silva’s game on both ends of the floor, but let’s start with the offensive side, specifically his shooting. The shooting isn’t the only reason to buy into him as a prospect, but when thinking about how his game translates and fits on an NBA roster, it’s a really important aspect of his game.
Here’s a quick video of da Silva’s shot, along with a chart underneath.
As you can see in the video – and in the numbers – Tristan da Silva is more than capable of knocking down catch-and-shoot 3s, whether it’s spotting up on the perimeter or off-movement. While he hasn’t been used off-screens very often on 3s, he has shown the ability to relocate along the perimeter or step into shots while running in transition to shoot off-movement. Something that is not shown in the video above is pick and pop 3s, but that will be discussed later when looking at him in some scenarios as the screener.
On an NBA roster, it’s likely that da Silva would be asked to spot up on the perimeter and help space the floor, and that’s perfectly fine because his game should scale back pretty easily. The intriguing part about da Silva’s offense is how he should be able to take advantage of mismatches if teams decide that they want to try and hide bad defenders on him.
Before we get into how da Silva is able to take advantage of mismatches, it’s worth noting one of the areas of concern with his game. One of the main worries/concerns is that he’s an underwhelming athlete, and he isn’t able to consistently beat guys off of the dribble because of that. But on the plus side, da Silva has been able to find ways into the paint to a certain extent with an effective pumpfake and really good footwork, and once he’s around the basket, his ability to use either hand around the rim helps his finishing. Whether this is something that will translate to the next level is up in the air, but he’s at least been able to find ways to get points at the basket still.
Tristan da Silva taking advantage of mismatches – whether it’s a bigger or smaller player – has shown throughout most games this year, but one game that specifically stands out is the first matchup against Oregon on January 5th, when Colorado used him as a small-ball 5 and Oregon had to defend him with either N’Faly Dante or Kel’El Ware.
Here’s a video of da Silva taking advantage of mismatches throughout the season.
And here is a video of da Silva being used as a screener when playing as a small-ball 5 that shows his ability to hit pick-and-pop 3s, and finish on the roll as well.
Before moving onto the defense, another thing to bring up is that while da Silva generally has a good feel for the game, it hasn’t fully translated into being a good passer. It’s not necessarily a huge weakness – and he’s had some impressive passes and reads this year – but definitely an area for improvement.
Now let’s take a quick look at the defense. At 6’9”, da Silva brings good size to the floor, and he should bring a little bit of defensive versatility as well. As seen in the chart earlier, he has a DSI of 79, and even though there isn’t a publicly recorded measurement of his wingspan, his ability to use his length on the defensive end to impact plays shows on film.
Here’s a video highlighting a variety of defensive possessions from Tristan da Silva this year.
Overall, da Silva has a really good feel on the defensive end. He makes good rotations to contest shots at the rim or force kick-outs, and he also knows where to position himself on the floor. Additionally, he has the capability of flipping his hips quickly when sliding his feet on the perimeter. His lack of athleticism can show up when defending the perimeter occasionally, but that’s mostly only against quick, small guards or elite athletes. Generally, he’s been able to do a good job containing players while defending at the point of attack.
Putting on some more strength would be beneficial for da Silva’s defense, especially if he is asked to guard some of the wings in the league, and definitely if a team wants to experiment with him as a small-ball 5. It’s probably unlikely that he’ll get much of a chance as a small-ball 5 because there are so many talented bigs in the league and it’s a tough role to fill, but his ability to play on the perimeter offers another path to success that is more likely.
While Tristan da Silva may already be a junior and will be 22 when the draft comes around, it’s important not to overlook talent. If he continues his recent level of play to finish out the season, he should at least get draft consideration if he decides to enter the draft.
While Tristan da Silva improved in 4 of the 5 Cerebro metrics from last year to this year, another player I’d like to discuss, Kobe Johnson, has improved in all 5.
At 6’6”, Kobe Johnson is one of the best defensive playmakers in the conference this season, along with the previously mentioned Jaylen Clark. And unsurprisingly, these two are the only two players in the Pac-12 with a DSI ≥ 90 this season.
Most of the intrigue with Johnson comes with his feel on both ends of the court. He doesn’t have above-average athleticism or length relative to others at his position, but his feel, instincts, and awareness on both ends of the court help him have a huge impact on the game, and that is what differentiates him from the rest.
Here’s a video of Kobe Johnson’s defensive playmaking, which includes mostly off-ball defense, but also some possessions defending the pick and roll as well.
As shown in the video, Johnson is able to have a big impact on the defensive end, mostly because of how he reads the game. And even though he doesn’t have the above-average athleticism or length mentioned earlier, he isn’t totally below-average either and is more than capable of using his length or athleticism to still get deflections or block/contest shots.
Moving onto other parts about Johnson’s defense, his point-of-attack defense is pretty good as well, even if not to the same level as his off-ball defense. As seen in the earlier video, he does a solid job staying attached after screens. One criticism that could be brought up with Johnson’s defense is that he bites on pump fakes or jab steps a decent amount and that allows players to beat him on the perimeter, but it should be noted that USC occasionally likes to run players off of the 3-PT line.
Johnson hasn’t really been tested by many explosive guards or strong, big wings in college to actually see how he’d match up against NBA players on defense which is noteworthy, especially when looking at a prospect with the main selling point being on the defensive end, but overall, he moves his feet well on the perimeter and has shown he can slide with opposing players.
As a whole, Johnson’s defense is a really big plus in college, and his NBA success will most likely rely on how much of that will translate (both on and off-ball). The off-ball defense should translate a good amount because of how great his feel is, but the on-ball defense translating isn’t as much of a guarantee. If both do translate to a good extent, the next question is “how much value will he be able to bring to an offense”?
Johnson’s offense is where some of the questions come in because he is a bit limited on that end, but his recent play has been promising. Before looking at his shot – and whether or not he can space the floor – let’s start with his feel again.
Similar to the defensive end, Johnson’s feel really stands out on the offensive end because of his off-ball movement and quick decision-making. His ability to read the floor and know when to cut to the basket or relocate on the perimeter opens up a lot for the offense, whether it’s getting them out of tough situations or creating easy looks at the rim.
And aside from his off-ball movement, the video above also shows his ability to make quick decisions when getting the ball, whether that is a quick swing pass, a touch pass, a quick entry, a hit-ahead in transition, etc.
According to Synergy, Johnson is shooting 60.3% (38-63) at the rim this year, but if we filter that down to just half-court shots (excluding transition and putbacks), he’s at 64.3% (18-28). While his efficiency is better, the volume isn’t that high, especially considering that most of these attempts are off of cuts (whether instinctual or schemed). He doesn’t have bad touch, and he’s shown that he’s comfortable finishing with either hand around the rim, but an area that Johnson struggles in is his individual ability to create shots for himself off-the-dribble, whether that being out of the pick and roll, or even just attacking closeouts. It’s unlikely that he will be asked to handle the ball much at the next level, so his inability to get to the rim and finish consistently out of the pick-and-roll isn’t a huge issue, but finishing when attacking closeouts is something that needs work. On the optimistic side of things, he’s had several really nice dump-offs for assists when attacking closeouts and the help defense comes.
Now looking at his shooting, Johnson is up to 37% (17-46) from 3 after starting the year off 0-7 in USC’s first 5 games. Early in the year, there were times when teams would help off of Johnson and leave him open because he wasn’t much of a shooting threat, but since that slow start, he’s actually up to 43.6% (17-39) over USC’s last 18 games. This is obviously still dealing with a small sample size regardless of how you look at it, and he doesn’t have a prior history of being a good shooter, but the progress is at least promising. While maintaining close to this level of efficiency is important, the next step is increasing his volume from 3, as he’s only attempted 4+ 3s in 5 of USC’s 23 games. That being said, 2 of those 5 have come in the last 3 games.
When looking at Johnson’s strengths and weaknesses on the offensive end, it’s clear that his most likely role at the next level will be as a connector. He actually almost fits perfectly into the “The Connector” archetype using our metrics, but he just falls short of meeting the required threshold for PSP (pure scoring prowess), which goes back to what we just talked about with his offense. Increasing his volume from 3 and/or doing a better job creating shots for himself off-the-dribble are the two areas of improvement to keep a close eye on.
At 6’6, Kobe Johnson’s combination of defensive playmaking, quick decision-making, shooting potential, and more definitely makes him someone worth keeping a close eye on as a draft prospect going forward, whether he decides to enter the draft this year or not, because he has potential to fill a valuable role for a team, and it isn’t easy to find players like him.
Overall, it might be an underwhelming year at the top of the Pac-12 in terms of prospects, but Tristan da Silva and Kobe Johnson are definitely intriguing prospects that should be on everyone’s radar, and there is a real chance for them to provide good value if they continue to keep up their recent level of play.