Discover more from Cerebro Sports
The Archetype: Modern Forwards
Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr, Keegan Murray, Jaylin Williams & Tari Eason
For this edition of The Archetype, we will be looking at a category that we are calling modern forwards. This group, unlike the D/P/S group, wasn’t put together with a baseline query of expected skills, it's a bit more of a vibe. The modern forward is asked to do so many things as an archetype - be strong enough to handle the 4s who learned to shoot, mobile enough to handle the 3s who have slid down, hold together lineups with creation, space as needed, cross match as a 3 on offense, a 5 on defense and then the inverse after the media timeout. The 4 position, as much as positions even exist, are the rosetta stone of any NBA lineup and any NBA organization. Right now, a team is either using one to enable all kinds of lineup theories, to accommodate multiple team building pathways & to pursue multiple different developmental directions at once - or there is someone lobbying for one being the missing piece to do so. A modern 4 is definitely more of a “you know it when you see it” type thing than the clear expectations of a lower usage do-it-all wing. And we can get into the expectations from isolation scoring, pnps, some pnrs, seals, mismatch actions, slips, transition, lob finishing, high lows, grab and goes, etc. But that’s the easy stuff, let’s talk about identification, here are some quick questions that can be asked to determine if any player’s archetype is in fact, a modern forward -
Who do they defend in an ideal situation?
If the answer is “some 3s, some 4s, some 5s” that’s a strong indicator that this player is going to be a modern forward, ie expected to pick up the slack of any organizational, personnel, scheme or lineup challenges - become a 1 man solution to any 5 man problems. A situational agnostic player with positive impact, a totally flexible problem-solving cheat code on both ends. You are hearing the infomercial tone here right?
What are they expected to do most on offense?
If the answer is something along the lines of “adapt to the personnel and adapt their diverse skill set across usage and play-type to create a version of themselves that makes this group run good offense”, prolly on the right path.
You see how hard this is to define and also to fulfill, like, no player can be everyone’s everything. The opaqueness is the whole appeal, from a FO they could be anything! Even the most versatile players had immutable strengths and definite weaknesses, and very very very few players are optimized by optimizing the rest of the roster. So, rather than trying to find a near-mythical forward, we have used this label to suggest some versatility on both ends, but trying to dispel some of the unrealistic expectation on the optimization for others within the org. In this way, versatility can be a curse, and basketball has lacked language to explain the unique team-building challenges of do-it-all (or quasi-do-it-all) players. In time I want to revisit the name, as positions are less descriptive and less useful than ever, in a world where 7 foot shooting guards and 6’4 centers both have incredible positive playoff impact, it is the mix of skills, schemes & tendencies that matter most. There are not useful offensive sub-archetype, since it’s more a matter of degrees of use than the styles of use I think it's best to use a continuum - on one end are the more self-creative players, the ones that are more asked to get a bucket for themselves and others, and the opportunistic type, which live on the edges and generate offense with play finishing (transition, o-reb, etc). & then to answer the defensive end there is another same continuum for optimal impact - on one end those who do more rim protection and the other rim deterrence.
Meet our group of Modern Forwards.
Keegan Murray, So, Iowa
Creation: In this context, we are going to exhaust every style of creation, because Keegan has multiple positive creation pathways - they just aren’t the usual way of “off the dribble” creation, instead we will focus on the more peripheral ways of creating. Murray was used in 2x the possessions as a PNR roller than PNR handler, with only 18 total ball handler possessions (24 poss when including passes) & as a roller was actually a pop guy on 80% of used possessions. Combining the two main creator play-types, isolation and PNR ball handler, add up to roughly the same # of possessions as off screen, which was Keegan Murray’s 4th most used playtype. Where Keegan did most of his real creation work was through closeout creation, with leveraging gravity with his movement and facing up in the midpost. Any catch from Keegan is going to generate a hard closeout, as he averaged 1.13 PPP on C&S attempts as a sophomore. The blend of his shooting mechanics (almost a no dip shooter, resulting in quick attempts with a high release) and his advanced, variable footwork patterns allowed any movement to threaten as a potential movement shooting opportunity. Keegan’s game is built on his comfort with playing off movement & shooting off movement. With defenses rotating hard, the handle limitations were less present & quick decisive reads turned perimeter catches into 1st step advantage, despite Keegan’s solid, not spectacular, 1st step. He is an effective straight line driver, with counters to fade out or craft back to his right hand. Reading a tilted defense to pick out the right pass is another area of peripheral creation strength, Keegan never turns the ball over, sporting an unprecedented 7 TO% for a perimeter player on a large usage (28%).
Opportunistic scoring: The player described above doesn’t particularly scream “absurdly efficient offensive weapon” and yet, Keegan Murray finished as the best performer in the all in 1 metric C-RAM (14.1) for all of the NCAA & graded damn near off the chart in PSP (96). How, by being the best opportunistic scorer in this draft. Murray wins with strength against mismatches, especially in the post where Murray was 100th percentile high volume post scorer. Yes, for players with 75+ possessions used, he was the best low-post option in the country, averaging a cool 1.38 PPP & shooting 63.5%. For projection purposes it’s important to note that Murray used his post game as a counter when covered by smaller, thinner players, making up only 15.8% of possessions used, not as a primary mode of attack. Similarly, Keegan defending by wings ate on the offensive glass, any way you slice it - averaging 3.24 OR per 36, 9.8 OR% (his 2nd year at 9+ OR%), 83 BMS, 1.34 PPP. Each of those stats has Keegan either being either the best or narrowly 2nd best among this 5 man group. The standout skill among this group is the transition effectiveness, as a play finisher and as a passer. Across 127 poss, Murray averaged 1.5 PPP (!), the best of any player with over 60 logged possessions, and retained that efficiency as the grab and go ball handler, (1.29 PPP), where he made smart hit-aheads and continued his low turnover ways. The area of concern is finding the projected volume of these opportunistic opportunities. For most opportunistic scorers, there is a concern of scaling - of the ability of getting enough opportunity to impact the game to make this hardscrabble style work on an NBA floor. O-Reb or cutting can’t be manufactured in the way that isolation possessions can be for great mid-post scorers or PNR reps for a PNR savant, summoned by intention and a clever play call. Murray scores in bunches as a technician (70% ATR on a volume parallelled by other 1st round prospects), able to seamlessly integrate his approach into many different styles of halfcourt usage, with 6 different usage types above 10% of usage. This playtype versatility allows Murray to score without having creation versatility. Said differently, he scores 1 or 2 ways in a diverse mix of situations, rather than 10 different ways in a small clump of situations. Murray’s case for scalability is based on the accumulation of multiple styles of opportunism, rather than a singular skill in a singular approach.
Rim protection & rim deterrence: Keegan grades out as a wild havoc creator defensively, (100 on DSI, 6.9 b%, 2,3 s%) despite having solid but not awesome defensive tools - so what’s the best way to optimize a productive defender with limitations who has positional optionality as a defender.
ill struggle defending against the shiftier wing/guards. Many of Murray’s disruptive moments come by pairing his strength with his good feel for timings and rotational angles, a combination that will serve him well defending 4s and stronger ground bound wings in small spaces than sliding with shiftier wings and guards in big space. The value is going to come as a weak side rim protector who can enforce angles as needed with strength and gets up quickly, then when the shot goes up, will finish possessions with great hands on the defensive glass (20.2 DR%, 83 BMS). A value add on this end for good defenses to take a step forward, but not a swing defender who will turn around a bad defense.
The next frontier: Keegan is an interesting evaluative exercise, being both basketball young in terms of how long he has had his full powers and much older than his class after the prep school year - turning 22 before the NBA season begins. There are cases for his continued steep developmental trajectory to continue for a few more years, as happens with late bloomers, or his development to stagnate like many other players who have been drafted high at age 22. Regardless of where you fall on the philosophical debate on the development arc, where the development can come from is clear - self-created advantage and playmaking. Currently, there are handle and athletic limitations for Keegan when he is used in more wing-y playtypes in big space & for next steps, he has to be able to move more fluidly and tilt a defense on his own. He can be pushed into finishing angles that require great touch and his counters often tend towards a strength approach to create space, a strategy that will encounter problems in a league more populated with stocky wings & forwards. The developmental benchmarks are clear - filling out his acumen in OTD shooting (86% asstd on 3s) , self created ATR looks (45% assisted on makes, 88 total unassisted makes), and upping the PNR usage (both as ball handler and roller). These are difficult developmental mountains to scale, these are the same areas where a leap can be seen from last season, for example, Murray had only 17 total unassisted rim makes in 31 games as a freshman.
Jabari Smith Jr, Fr, Auburn
Creation: Jabari’s creation style is all about leveraging his pure shooting stoke to force defenders to crowd, cajole and be entirely too aggressive - Smith Jr can make defenders pay with straight line drives, foul craft like face-up rip thrus & an eerie ability to get shots off with little to no breathing room. With the ball in hand, denials or hard closeouts are not really effective on the 6’10 forward, he has extremely versatile footwork (what I would call high flow, a term for shot variability), has little to no needed dip & uses his length to the fullest extent on an extremely high release point. It’s how you get something like Bari’s guarded/unguard splits on C&S (which i’ll use since midrange jab is not yet a dedicated playtype sub-section), with a near 5:1 ratio (110 guarded 1.045 PPP, 23 unguarded 1.96 PPP) on his 133 C&S possessions. 6’10 dudes generally aren’t supposed to shoot like this, 42% from deep. 10.7 3s per 100 poss, only 73% assisted on made 3s. We may need to redefine what closely guarded is for a player like Jabari Smith Jr - he only needs about 1 mm of space to get shot off in scramble situations, getting wanted to in the midrange by way of rise and fires, pivots to fade and little push shots. He took 105 OTD attempts (.981 PPP) on the year, with most coming out of isolation or spot up possession (23.8 & 14.7% of usage respectively). Now, this cuts both ways - Jabari can get his shot off in all manner of ways, but he has a comfort level with living on a diet of tough shots that can stall out an offense when they stop falling. It’s a categorical distinction of shotmaking, and it does limit some of the ways Jabari could use his processing to find easier looks. Was used more frequently as a post up option than as the PNR options combined, same with off screen and hand off - usage options that will eat into the post-up and isolation usages as his NBA team tries to hunt for mobility mismatches against 4s and length mismatches against 3s. Optimal on-ball creation style is going to require triangulation his usage between 2nd side actions (hand offs and PNPs), shooting (off screen & spot ups) & bucket getting midpost looks (OTD and midpost creation) as Bari has a struggle being the offensive fulcrum from a floor game perspective. He can do well in these playtypes, but allocating the usage is going to need rebalance after a year where some of these categories, thinking specifically about shooting off movement, were not as featured as they could have been.
Opportunistic scoring: Here is where the efficiency give back happens for Jabari - he ended the season at 57.1 TS% & 74 PSP, which is not aligned at all with what’s expected given the general shooting slash line (43/42/80) and attempt rate numbers. There has to be a place where there is a back slide & digging deeper we can see that it’s in the bad “easy look” numbers: transition efficiency (1 PPP, 43rd %ile), on cuts (7% of total usage, .825 PPP, 9th %ile), the aforementioned lack of clean C&S, & on putbacks (3.8% of total usage, 1.23 PPP). These are areas that the other players on the list use to counteract their specific struggle areas & thrive on that game’s particular mismatch. For Jabari to grade out this poorly in the opportunistic areas & for them to account for only 25.7% of his usage is a concern for his lineup flexibility within this archetype. The skinny is that he didn’t use these playtypes very often and was particularly very good at them in the times that he did. This playtype profile may actually explain, in part, the other quirks of Jabari’s stat profile, specifically the lack of rim volume and the relatively low usage. He was the main option guy on Auburn, yet doesn’t have a Johnny Davis type usage - and we can see it as a function of the limits on his peripheral usage opportunities. These peripheral usage types, generally, lead to a set volume of stable and easy rim attempts, and for a player who has trouble with his handle against a set defense who needs a higher rim volume to offset the rim opportunities that will be lost acting as a primary - is how you wind up with 14 dunks on the year & a 14.7 rim attempt rate. This, maybe even more than the dribbling concerns, will bring about questions of scalability and alternative usages for the shotmaker.
Rim protection & rim deterrence: Smith Jr is a fine havoc defender and rim protector, he put 3.8 block %, 2.1 steal% 81 DSI in his sole year at Auburn, which is good for a skinny forward in the most physical conference in the NCAA - but where he shines is in the rim deterrence category, able to use his movement skills to mirror a ball handler, slide his feet and prevent penetration from reaching the next level of the defense. I think it is more useful to think of Smith as a oversized wing defender than as a big who can move, as he is best in big space as a fluid moving funneler, often against shifty wings or guards. Smith uses his length better to close down space as a rotational defender than a vertical defender protecting the front side of the rim, as he lacks the physicality and core strength to enforce difficult finishes with verticality. A positive defensive rebounder, but considering him a wing is not too much of a tradeoff as he does his best work outside of his area. There is real rim protection, especially from the weak side, but I consider it a fringe benefit to the scheme versatile wing defense, rather than the inverse of being a scheme locked big (switch or other above the screen coverages). Smith can be expected to play as a bigman for stretches in time, but does not have the specific sort of frame to hold up at length against the stronger 4s and 5s.
The next frontier: There are two pathways for Jabari Smith Jr to improve as a creator - advancing his self-creation, or in the direction towards decision making volume. There are flashes of handling, aided by his long strides & good movement skills, however, these flashes are to seek advantage and get a bucket, not in the functional or procedural stuff that allows for more variety of offense to be run through Jabari. He’s much closer to being a good isolation handler - the pathway to developing further advantage creation on some of these possessions is very obvious & pretty low hanging fruit, specifically getting a bit more comfortable with creating space under pressure. It’s a matter of flexibility and power generation, generally things the NBA has had great results with for players of his frame. The question is - Can getting semi-contested jumpers at will, & going from a 18 foot 1d pullup to a 12 footer is a big leap in expected value for a shooter like him, be a driver of good offense? And what volume of shots and play type allocation for other offensive players has to occur for middy shotmaking to impact the decision making process of a defense. The foundational handling is farther away - he can make decisive reads as a passer, but it’s mostly as a set player, against a static defense. Jabari rarely ran PNR as a handler (15 total possessions used, including passes) and struggles with processing reads and navigating tight spaces simultaneously, preferring to find a solid look than to manipulate defensive decision making.
Tari Eason, So, LSU
Creation: LSU’s system rarely asked Tari to create in the halfcourt for consistent stretches, making the case for his live dribble creation based on attacking slow footed bigs and non-weight-room-loving wings. There is upside present, it’s just going to take a deeper dive to focus on, as only 19.6% of Tari’s possessions were used in the creation play types (PNR roller, PNR ball handler and isolation). Eason’s role was as a downhill play finisher, a sort of combo forward who was given runways to attack, & attack Eason did. This may be hair splitting, but Eason’s style of creation was less opportunistic than many with similar play logs, as he would often throw his massive frame into situations to create advantageous angles that were not present moments prior. The benefit of being a strength based creator is having the option to use the truck stick to create daylight to finish over, around or through defenders, as needed. The playstyle is chaotic, both as an expected negative of turnovers (1:2.2 A:TO & the lowest FGS of the group by a good amount, at 46) but as a positive of Making Stuff Happen™ as a play finisher, at a higher pace & in a context that strongly encouraged downhill aggression. Efficiently used his 30% usage, to the tune of 61.5 TS% & 79 PSP - especially driving and earning trips to the line. The free throw rate of 51.5 is eye popping, but so is the amount of Tari’s usage that came at the rim (58% of shots), with 44% of his makes being assisted. It points to a player who has been given handling responsibility, often putting together a good flash, or a chain of good flashes, followed by the second order mistake as he would find himself in tight quarters or in a difficult read - as a consequence of his ability to move well in big space. The handle is interesting, because of how related it is to the strength, often versus pressure, Eason would bump players off balance to his right and then counter away to create space, often with a behind the back wrap going left. Tari is a developing shooter, the form is stilted and totally powered by the arms - but it’s been on an upward trajectory year over year from a volume and percentages standpoint. Tari Eason's 50+ FTr, 20+ 3Pr & 80+ FT% is a feat only done by 6 1st rounders since 2012: sophomore Ja Morant, sophomore Josh Okogie, freshman Tyus Jones, junior Dame Lillard, sophomore Nik Stauskas & senior Delon Wright. It’s an eclectic mix of great rim attackers, with different approaches and a broad mix of shooting outcomes. Sophomore Sauce Castillo never missed, and others on the list… struggled. What’s important to Tari is the progression as a shooter, he has continually year over year found more jumpers in great variety, while stabilizing FT%
LSU: 33 g, 80.3 FT%, 188 FTA, 35.9 3%, 78 3PA 21.4 3Pr, 75 3PE
Cincy: 23 g, 57.4 FT%, 47 FTA, 24.1 3%, 29 3PA, 20.3 3Pr, 63 3PE
HS/AAU*: 31 g, 60.9 FT%, 205 FTA, 42.3 3%, 26 3PA 9.3 3Pr
*from Cerebro database,
Opportunistic scoring: There is little projection needed for this one - in both college seasons Tari Eason found peripheral moments to turn into points. His huge frame (stop me if you have heard this one before, a physical profile that is reminiscent of Kawhi Leonard) pairs with a high energy level to produce efficient offense on noisy play types. The 3 playtypes that I think best characterize this playstyle (transition, offensive rebounding & cuts) made up 41% of Eason’s offensive profile, the highest of this group - with each playtype of the 3 ended up above 1 PPP & taken as a whole were at 1.28 PPP. These are skills where Eason’s blend of strength, length and aggression pay dividends, and his limitations are mitigated or at least minimized. The 30+ usage rate is functionally lesser than most of this group because of how much of it was created consequentially, after missed shots, after turnovers, after actions run for others, which makes it scalable in a different way that a 30 usage as a pure primary would be. It’s really interesting that Keegan and Tari were the top 2 in pts per 100 poss (41.9 & 39.4 points), considering they are the fire and ice of this ultra-efficient archetype. As a finisher, there is craft, but Eason is about as hand dominant as they come, with the upside being that he does try to dunk everything (47 dunks of 137 rim makes, a very centerishly rate), which mitigates needing an off-hand as much as like, a Killian Hayes does.
Rim protection & rim deterrence: The most divisive evaluation of the cycle is how to interpret the LSU scheme and Tari Eason’s role within it. On one hand, there is a toolsy, big ground-covering deflections & stocks monster, posting 4.5 steal%, 6.5 block% in the SEC after a 3.4/7 freshman season at cincy. On the other are the missed rotations, over-ambitious gambles, fouls & minutes played (55% of total) that can lead some to the conclusion that Tari is a highlight reel defender who lacks play to play consistency. The defensive scheme is havoc driven, a Will Wade scheme honed from his time under Shaka’s… Havoc defense at VCU & it does give huge amounts of freedom to its weak side players off the ball, under the premise that they will net out as positives- the more positive, the bigger the area, the more freedom allowed, provided it brings results in the aggregate. As great as the stock % numbers are, DSI is less kind to him than other defensive metrics due to how few (relative to impact) minutes he played, and how much he fouled in those minutes. As an aside, DSI wants to see players who can play extended minutes and punish chaos agents for not having the option of spreading their defensive impact over a full 36 minutes & Tari does have that limitation. He has played under 60% of available minutes in both college seasons, despite wild per minute effectiveness numbers (there is quite a bit of chicken and egg stuff happening here) - to the point that it is either too much to ask him for someone to play this aggressively over a large minutes load, or not possible (averaging 6 PF per 100 poss in his college career). Ultimately, I believe that Tari is both too good and too inherent of a chaos agent to be asked to be the primary rim protector in a scheme - he is best optimized given a degree of freedom on the outside, with crash down & helpside responsibilities. The ground coverage for a strong forward sized player gives him a number of coverage and scheme possibilities, including as a blitzy change of pace option on primary wings. That same ground coverage will cause mistakes of audacity, attempted pick sixes that lead directly to dunks, that’s the price of admission for this type of defensive playmaking - that will eliminate certain conservative coverages from the coordinators repertoire, or even remove possible drafting teams who are entrenched in a bend, bend, don’t break base scheme roster.
The next frontier: Filling in the gaps. Eason is the most jagged player of the group, with sharp strengths and dull weaknesses - there are play-types and even whole play styles that are incongruent with Tari Eason’s current approach. There is low hanging fruit in terms of turnovers, be it situational avoidance or developmental progress and in terms of finishing, where getting a differentiated & well-rounded approach can clean up some of the bigger challenges. Shooting similarly can be optimized, by slimming away the OTD attempts (11% of jumpers, .73 PPP) & going to the simpler PNP and corner attempts that can add immediate spacing. By using versatile lineups on his rookie contract, there can be live-ball carve outs to develop for the niche microskills - such as a small ball 5 rolling, using inverted PNR, the spacing stuff, pressuring the stronger class of initiators, and blitzing PNRs. There will need to be a plan, but there is so much to work with here.
For more info on Tari, as well as Jeremy Sochan, more can be found in this wonderful piece by Jake Rosen.
Jaylin Williams, So, Arkansas
Creator: Williams may have the best passing flashes of the group, with an argument being made that he may be too limited across the versatility of passing to claim the title of best passer outright from Banchero - he does Grades out 2nd in FGS behind the Duke forward. Williams' comfort as a mobile offensive hub within a nice little portfolio of actions netted him the 2nd highest assist percentage, but the lowest assist% relative to his usage. Similar to his NBA role, he was asked to do much less, but to be creatively efficient with the decision making volume he was given as a secondary playmaking piece. Where Williams falls behind the others in this group is the personal usage - he doesn’t take anywhere near the volume of shots, doesn’t hunt them and is far more assisted than any other player in the group (the assisted slash like, 66% of in the midrange where 52.8% of his makes were assisted, as well as 100% of made 3s). There are flashes of self-creation, mostly based on crafting angles with fakes and then using his strength level - but the handle and movement skills are currently lacking to really make his improvisational passing work to its full capabilities. There isn’t a specific creative playtype that has immediate low hanging fruit, as he was used in his NBA role at Arkansas.
Opportunistic: Williams is the most susceptible to small sample size theater as he just didn’t use enough possessions to establish statistically grounded play-type data. Take Transition as an example, it made up 10% of his total usage, but was only 44 possessions in total, with 31 total shots taken on those possessions. There are granular jumper subtypes for Jabari and Paolo with that many possessions. It makes for a fuzzier evaluation of the offensive end, especially for a player who’s central appeal of hard-playing high skilled prospect who makes a bunch of little plays that impact winning in the aggregate - be it as a small ball 5 attacking closeouts, in the short roll, as a cutter or as the hub in horns sets. The aggregate is hard to make coherent on such small, spread out usage. As you may have guessed, the opportunistic numbers were a big part of Williams’ offensive diet, with those 3 categories making up 32% of his offense, although not in the allocation you may think. There are clear avenues for offensive reallocation, given how high post-ups were in his usage (12.6%, .75 PPP) vs transition (9.9%, .955 PPP) - where transition will have to be a key area of success when Williams is acting as a primary rim protector. When considering post up with passing, Williams has a spike in efficiency, up to .95 PPP - and this lines up with my scout as I believe his best microskills are all in understanding rotations and making the right read at the right time. The finishing is sneakily quite good for a forward who is 6'8.75" w/o shoes, and there are 2 years of great FTr in the SEC (44 in fr & so years). Jaylin is generally below the rim finisher (14 dunks on the year, tho he does seem to make the ones he gets count) who clears out space with an assortment of fakes, high touch and unpredictability that may turn into a larger percentage of offense if he can generate closeouts/live-ball advantage. Sets great screens.
Rim protection & rim deterrence: If you want to know how Jaylin Williams is wired - here’s a telling fact, he was taking charges during NBA combine scrimmages, which are maybe the least charge-taking per minute setting in competitive basketball. Are charges rim protection, are charges correlated with rim protection, do current charges have predictive value for future rim protection talents? These are questions evaluators are going to have to ponder when scouting Williams, a player who’s place on the continuum between protection and deterrence was easily the most hotly debated thing surrounding this piece. I fall on the side that charges are a great indicator of deterrence, that they demonstrate a great rotational understanding of angles, of timing and of ground coverage - but they are not particularly indicative of future rim protection potential. I think of charges as deterrence because if there is a gifted charge taker, it does limit the volume of drives in a game in a way that looks similar to the effects of switching on drives. Williams is the most prolific charge taking prospect in my time covering the draft - to that point, he is the only prospect to send me scurrying for charges drawn per game as a quotable stat (1.45 CDPG btw).
There are real havoc chops on Williams, despite his time at C in a conservative drop PNR coverage as a forward sized big with a solid (+4.25) WS as a reactive athlete - yet he posted 4 block% & 2.3 s% (84 DSI). Williams can be categorized as a defensive tweener, though I think that is more based on his measurements than his defensive abilities. Every prospect has their own coverage limitations, with Williams its putting a lid on the rim as a drop big against true NBA vertical spacers. But I think there is enough tape to call him coverage versatile to a good degree across 2 positions/different lineup ideas. There is schematic versatility and perimeter movement skills, especially using his strength and quickly developing footwork to enforce driving angles towards help, rarely overreacting to moves at the cost of scheme. This also applies as a rim protector, where he uses verticality well, with the note that I may be higher on his ability to rotate and block shots, it’s just that he often rotated and took a charge instead. As a 5 the idea is that Williams plays bigs off the court and hopefully turns the game into a 5-out-a-thon, where his weaknesses as a low post defender are less relevant and he can stick to his strengths of playing smartly in scramble situations & using his instincts to leverage his quick hands for deflections and stocks.
The next frontier: Finding a pathway to soak up more usage in the halfcourt. There will be a natural tradeoff of less PNR possessions as a 5 man, as he will be being played as a 4, alongside another big, at least part of the time on his rookie deal. There may be a larger percentage of short roll options if he is drafted by a team with a dynamic PU3 threat, but does Williams present with enough scoring acumen to make teams react fully to the threat at the front of the rim instead of stunting and recovering to shooters. Cutting and hand off possessions seem like likely bets, but the next level up is getting hard closeouts, as a PNP option or anytime he is spaced out to the corners. The jumper is still pretty early in its development, with some hesitancy in shooting - but it’s hard to parse if that’s not wanting to call his own number on a particular possession or a discomfort with his shot mechanics (similar to HS Scottie Barnes in that specific dynamic). It’s hard to say too much positive about a sub 25% 3pt shooter, but the form is encouraging in that there doesn't seem too much that would be a difficult fix. The energy transfer along the upper body is a bit segmented, but there are positive indicators for him to become a solid C&S option in time, look at indicatoes live dribble passing, floaters, finishing touch and the small sample shooting in college. Diving deeper into the same we see:
Sophomore: 37 g, 72.9 FT%, 140 FTA, 44.5 FTr, 23.9 3%, 71 3PA 23.1 3Pr, 49 3PE
Freshman: 27 g, 74.2 FT%, 31 FTA, 44.9 FTr, 30.4 3%, 23 3PA, 33.3 3Pr, 47 3PE
HS/AAU*: 18 g, 60.7 FT%, 84 FTA, 56 FTr, 41.3 3%, 29 3PA, 19.3 3Pr
*from Cerebro database
It’s not earth shattering progress, or proof of a shooter hiding in plain sight, but it does add a degree of clarity about the pathway of Jaylin Williams’ usage, to earn/attack closeouts in big space, to get fouled and to make smart decision with ball in hand. This seems particularly relevant given the natural frontcourt pairing for a player like him is next to a jumbo skinny wing, more so than any other player on this list. That’s going to require punishing the undersized bigs that get played onto the floor in those circumstances, especially with spacing.
Paolo Banchero, Fr, Duke
Creator: Paolo is the hardest player to optimally place on the creator-opportunistic spectrum, because optimizing him is an unsettled premise. How does a team best allocate the possessions of a player who grades out good-great at pretty much every skill that composes this archetype. Jabari’s pathway lies thru shooting, Tari & Keegan thru maximizing their opportunistic matchups, Jaylin thru passing, but where is the low hanging fruit for Banchero as a creator? This problem isn’t going to damage him, he is the easiest player to get value out of, but the hardest to pinpoint and then actualize what ideal context and usage are going to be. To a point, basically every playtype with a large enough sample size for Banchero is at or around 1 PPP, and it’s hard to look at his numbers across the board and say “here is the easiest optimization for him as a creator”, because there is a case for all of them to be a focus.
Banchero finished the year with solid efficiency numbers overall for his usage (55.7 TS% & 74 PSP) but there are questions of proportions. Take the midrange for example, where Banchero was the least assisted of the group at 21.6% of makes, knocking non rim 2s at 37.9% clip. That’s a lot of OTD creation burden to make out of isolation (20% of total usage) & where is the optimal line for those possessions relative to the 9.3% of possessions used as a part of PNR? There is a strong case for an isolation heavy (he can get to those shots in a rare way) or a PNR roller heavy (great finisher with good touch) or PNR ball handler (varied passer with creative understanding of angles, highest FGS of the group) to the point that no universal case is readily apparent. The best area for redistribution from a creation sense are the spot up looks (20% usage), his lowest rank of PPP at 43rd %ile, but diving into the numbers, they are tanked by an higher than usual guarded/unguarded split (42.7% guarded) - common for mediocre shooters (which Paolo isn’t) or for shooters who turn down open looks, which goes to the concerns about shot selection and processing that have been following Paolo for a while. I personally read it as Banchero not wanting to settle for as many C&S 3s (25.3 3Pr) than turning down open looks to drive into tougher ones. Either way, Banchero’s optimal creator usage is a fascinating little puzzle to work out. It’s not to say that he was outright misused as a creator at Duke, or that the context is lacking, it’s that getting the right mix across so many good to great play types and usages is especially difficult to nail in a limited amount of college games.
Opportunistic scoring: Imagining you may be a little lower on Banchero as an out an out creator - that his early dribble pickups or lack of big space wiggle portend in a not-so-rosy way as the main HC guy, there is a great deal of slack to be found where opportunistic creation could be beneficial. The 3 opportunistic offensive play types made up only 26% of his usage, with the most alarming being his lack of transition ball handling reps. For a big with clear grab and go utility, he used only 25 possessions as a transition ball handler at Duke, basically once every other game he would use a possession this way, as a player with a 19% DR%. There’s the argument that there is low hanging fruit on the edges of Banchero’s game, using his movement skills in big big space like transition or leveraging his finishing and frame in small space with advantage already created for him, for example as a cutter (9% of possessions, 1.44 PPP). While Paolo’s creation abilities make it the easier to project as a usage sop and efficient scorer who can handle a variety of uses and variety of roles, there are lens to see him as a player who could be used (in lineups or wholly) in more similarly playstyles to Tari & Keegan than to Jabari. The challenge being that teams in the lottery are going to have a very hard time finding players who are talented enough to put Banchero, a natural star usage style player, into a more compact and defined role than the everything, all at once that he has been.
Rim protection & rim deterrence: My priors with Banchero shade my opinion here slightly, I saw him as a HS freshman executing verticality as well as I had seen for a player that age, and his strength level has not waned. The Duke tape had its moments of havoc (2.7 b%, 1.7 s%, 81 DSI) & technical rim protection, though at this point it may be too much to ask a young big to saddle such a big offensive creation load in the style that Banchero most likely will & also be QBing a defense as a 5. In time that may be possible, but for now, getting the rim deterrence as a 4 with weak side rim protection is the goal, and a worthwhile one at that. There are lapses in attention and technique for Banchero, who moves well for a huge forward, but not well enough to consistently wipe away any technical mistake. He is as good as his pre-work in big space, and often his worst possessions can feel fated as he will miss early angles in his setups or getting low & it results in a blowby. That isn’t a problem for the springboard athlete types, and that’s not where Paolo’s particular talents lie. As a rim protector, his strength allows for walling off and forcing tough adjustments from drivers - he gets off the floor quickly, but does need a touch longer to power up as a leaper. His style of rim protection, as a frontside or weak side is to keep attempts down with movement skills and then challenge without fouling or trying to block shots, with help over top for a more shot blocking front-court partner.
The next frontier: Defining his secondary playstyle. There are only so many 6’10 dudes who can create for themselves, pass off a dribble, isolate and shotmake at the level of Paolo - but what does he do on possessions that aren’t those things & how do those skills align with multiple balhandlers or being a small ball 5 or all the fun little wrinkles that define NBA basketball. In some ways, this is the easiest frontier of this group because it could be so many things, but it’s also going to take a smart FO & coaching staff to optimize Paolo fully, given how much variability there could be in his options of future playstyles and usages. He could become a free throw tank in the short roll (36.6 FTr), could be upping his 3pr (35.3 at Duke & 20.4 in across all 91 games in the Cerebro database) or could become more savvy in the specifics of a PNR coverage as a 5. I wouldn’t bet against Paolo’s shooting given the historical success, but that’s me, there are many valuable pathways, & a team is going to have to choose wisely between good-great options on the best way forward.