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The Archetype - The Connector
Being a connector means different things to different people, which makes talking about them somewhat difficult - for the purpose of this piece, I used the Cerebro metric suite to find players who are fall in a narrow band of positive across the board of our 5 skill scores, good but not great in any of the offensive areas, with a usage cap placed on top. The idea being to look for a player currently being used in a connector type role and making an outsized impact without having an outlier trait - when we look at playtype and rate stats, we will be able to get more granular, but for now it’s good to set the boundaries of the archetype.
In scouting report terms, we know we are in the right realm when we see phrases like role player, high level decision maker, additional playmaking, positional rebounding, versatile, instinctual, high feel woven throughout their profile. Bonus points for scrappy, do-it-all, wins on the margins, makes winning plays or a winner. When thinking about a connector in team building, it’s through the lens of finding a decision maker who uses their high level feel to and adapt to different lineups, playstyles, usages & defensive assignments. Connectors often have their smallest impacts as on-ball creators, and are likely to be very efficient with the limited usage they carry - thriving on closeout creation, turning defense to offense and attacking a tilted floor. In short, a versatile player who offers lineup versatility (& at the highest levels can play teammates onto the floor) through a heady mix of creation, off-ball skill, defensive playmaking & opportunistic scoring.
The label of a connector may seem like a backhanded compliment to some people. It has a connotation of jacks of all trades, a genre of limited role players, glue guys, but if you are dyed in the wool draft twitter or a fan of a playoff basketball team, you know the type of value that connectors can bring to the table as a force multiplier of offensive and defensive goodness. Even this narrative is an oversimplification of how connectors have developed when placed in the right situation, after all being impactful at a broad swath of skills means it takes only a few developmental advancements as an on-ball creator to result in a major leap forward. For every playoff tested piece like a Derrick White, there is a Haliburton who ascended into primary status, a De’Anthony Melton & a Dejounte Murray. Or, said differently, a connector is a cat who can really play, but has a game and 2 way impact that is mixtape unfriendly.
Aesthetics aside, separating a dribble/pass/shoot wing and a connector seems harder than it actually is - the shooting is the central trait of D/P/S wings, it is extremely difficult to provide offensive value & stabilize lineups without offering spacing & pressurizing rotations with shooting gravity. Connectors can often, but not always, be among the best players on a team & drive winning at a high level, without a jumper (see Mo, Slo-). I find that more often, the central challenge of connectors is impacting winning while maintaining a usage rate and usage style that keeps a defense honest, as it can be difficult for connectors to climb the usage ladder on opportunistic scoring alone, regardless of context or role. This group (Dalen Terry, Vince Williams & Jake LaRavia) have a great deal in common that could qualify any of them for inclusion in the D/P/S category but there are 2 really interesting commonalities.
This group is all weirdly young - Dalen Terry was a 19 year old sophomore, Vince Williams played his senior season at 21 & Jake LaRavia was a (
22) 20 year old junior.
Total isolation possessions among them - 40
Terry - 1
Williams - 5
LaRavia - 34
Connectors generally aren’t isolation mavens, and the general profile is players who either are solid-very good at all play-types they do often. Connectors are all about efficiency & it’s very rare to find one that is using a large volume of their play-types on a poor fit with their skills - the whole thing is adapting their skillset to find optimal results. That malleability of usage also makes querying for them difficult - I used our metrics to set a broad-band query (one with ceilings and floors) & then added a usage cap on top to return a small list. For each, we will be looking at how to optimize their skills, pathways to further upside & the challenges they will face as connectors.
Dalen Terry, So, Arizona
Of all the prospects in The Archetype series, no player better exemplifies the definition of their archetype than Dalen Terry does The Connector. The package of passing vision, funky creation, tempo pushing and finishing allow for the guard/wing to be a very valuable player who can find easy buckets, without a large usage or volume shooting. It can be hard to contextualize what a 15% usage on a good team means, so here is a list of players who were drafted in the Top 20 with a usage at or below 18% in the Barttorvik Era:
Josh Primo, Fr, (16.9)
Jaxson Hayes, Fr, (16.9)
Kendall Marshall, So, (17.1)
Matisse Thybulle, Sr, (17.2)
Pat Pat, Jr, (17.2)
Trey Murphy III, Jr, (17.3)
Steven Adams, Fr, (18)
To get the same level of offensive production, Dalen’s offensive role is going to center around operating in a scheme that engineers movement where he can attack rotations in progress or a defense that is leveraged on the second side. He shines brightest in improvisational and opportunistic settings - in movement as a relocator, as a cutter, in transition and operating with advantage in the halfcourt.
Defensively, Terry is huge for his projected role - 6'6" barefoot with a +6.75 wingspan, and it seems natural to anoint him as a natural wing defender who can slide between multiple archetypes at multiple positions, but I think he is a bit better used in a narrower role. My favorite trait of Dalen’s and the one that I think translates best is the way he leverages his quickness and length at POA vs smaller creators, rather than asking him to defend bigger wings. He is a good not great events-creator, (1.1 block% , 2.5 steals%, 78 DSI), that’s best seen as an addition to his defensive solidity in scheme, rather than the havoc of blocks and steals being the biggest driver of defensive value.
I think Terry could play immediately in teams that are fully stocked on shooting (Golden State comes clearest to mind there), or have a whirling dervish multi-side offense that allows Terry to feel for blind spots in the defense & create opportunistically (think peak Utah or Atkinson’s Brooklyn). The defense is an easier fit, as most defensive schemes that allow Terry to defend down positionally and then rove around a little off-ball will be a fit.
Despite being used in only 1 isolation possession all season, the Arizona playbook’s wide varieties of PNRs did allow for flashes of passing and handling in Terry’s tape. He has moments of slinky movement skills and unique tempo to get to the rim, but there is not as much self-creation volume as one may assume from the highlights. 46.2 % of shots were at the rim for Dalen, a very high rim attempt rate for a wing & he shot very well from there (68.9%), but he was assisted on 50.7% of his makes. That’s a really high number for a player with real wiggle in a well spaced offense. Where I believe the long term upside resides in Terry’s continued development in finding easy buckets, without upping his usage or having a spike in his 3Pr. After using a meager 9 PNR ball-handling possessions as a freshman, PNR (including passing) made up 31.9% of Terry’s offensive burden & he handled this bump in playmaking volume pretty well: .959 PPP on 121 possessions. There are other pathways for development, but this seems to be the most likely given his unique (among this group & maybe the class) creation moments and the year over year improvements as a long term second side advantage creator.
The good news is that Dalen Terry shot 36.4% from 3, with a 33.6 3Pr - the bad news is that low usage warps those numbers to be lesser data points than an average wing prospect. The way that we have calculated 3PE (our shooting metric) is designed to punish shooters who take 3s at a lower volume but put up high percentages on those shots, given y’know, the whole not taking as many 3s as the other players who shoot that same high level percentage. This is how a 36% shooter can be at 63 3PE (think of these as being out of 100, a la grades in school, though there is a soft cap, so Steph Curry has some silly did all the extra credit imaginable type 3PE seasons).
Looking at the historical database, we can see the same patterns emerge - high efficiency, high 3PR, low attempts.
Sophomore: 37 games - 73.6 FT%, 53 FTA, 36.4 3%, 77 3PA, 33.6 3Pr, 4.1 3PA/100p, 63 3PE
Freshman: 26 games - 61.4 FT%, 44 FTA, 32.3 3%, 43 3PA, 45.7 3Pr, 4.7 3PA/100p, 55 3PE
HS/AAU: 20 games - 48.2 FT%, 85 FTA, 40.5 3%, 37 3PA, 29.8 3Pr
This brings us to the largest and most contextual dependent challenge - finding a usage solution. There are two ways to go about having a prospect with such a low usage, to raise the usage through playtype optimization, or finding a context where the limited possessions can be most impactful. The shooting volume is the most direct pathway of raising the usage, but given how every NCAA team went under and sagged really hard off Terry, it’s hard not to notice how defenses used his catches as a chance to reset advantage. I do not think that the jumper is broken by any stretch of the imagination; it’s overly segmented, where energy transfer is halted at the core before Terry pushes the rest of the way with his arms. It will require reps and convincing 2 different parties that Dalen is a viable shooting threat, Dalen himself & defenses. After all, henerating closeouts & coverage manipulation requires being treated as a scorer, which hesitancy to shoot open 3s undercuts actively. Another option is raise the PNR volume on the second side (14.9% of used poss, .545 PPP) by putting Terry next to a wing creator or creators in a motion scheme. The goal of creating double gaps and more advantageous driving angles to generate easier rim attempts.
Vince Williams Jr, Sr, VCU
It’s a truism that every prospect will benefit from the switch from college to the modern NBA game - bigger spaces to attack, more shooters to keep defenses from collapsing, greater offensive movement - with that in mind, maybe no player outside Johnny Davis will see a better contextual adjustment than Vince Williams Jr. I see Williams Jr as a small ball 4, the sort of PJ Tucker style of strong wings who have the strength, length and versatility to hold down a wide variety of defensive roles. At 6'4.5 w/o shoes, it’s not the easiest pitch as, but a +7.5 WS along with good movement skills & outstanding havoc sensibilities will compensate for being slightly undersized for the position.
Of the 3 prospects discussed here, I believe Vince to have the most drag and drops fits across the NBA landscape - he is the most traditional player (which is saying a lot, because Vince has serious funk to his game) in that he has conventional strengths and weaknesses for his intersection of size and archetype. He creates a ton of defensive events, he takes and makes 3s at high level & he reads advantage well.
There are aesthetic biases in shooting evaluation, with Williams Jr suffering from having an unorthodox form, despite 2 years of shooting 3s very well, at high volume. The shooting development is as stark between underclassman Vince and upperclassman Vince as any player in this class who was taking 3s with any real volume, with the early years spent as negligible shooter and the final years as being the best shooter of this group, all things considered.
Senior: 38.3%, 162a, 58.5 3Pr, 81 3PE
Junior: 41.3%, 140a, 51.2 3Pr, 79 3PE
Sophomore: 20%, 30a, 22.9 3Pr, 41 3PE
Freshman: 24%, 25a, 38 3Pr, 40 3PE
Versatility & volume are the buzzwords that will linger around Williams Jr - he shot well across the board (CNS, OTD, off movement) despite some low hanging fruit in his base, specifically his catch footwork and how much instability can be present in his base. It’s a touch dependant jumper as the mechanics currently stand, however, Williams Jr has really good touch indicators (SSS but 84th %ile OTD, 97th %ile runner, 74.1% career FT%) to the point that I’m comfortable projecting him to be a movement shooting asset. The lefty wing can be ghosted into short-roll type playmaker duties with advantage or into space as PNP guy. While this was not how he was used at VCU, with only 8 possessions logged in PNPs, there is a ton of tape of Vince lifting and shaking smartly to force longer rotations and create more advantageous angles for his creation.
Williams Jr is a solid but not great defensive athlete, using his length and savvy to create most of his stocks. He has a pretty big wingspan and strong hands that always seem to trouble creators with well timed digs, well positioned deflections and off-ball ground coverage ability, all of which bode well for his ancillary rim protection from the weak side and in recovery.
To the point of clear NBA archetypes - there have been 10 seasons in the Barttorvik era that eclipsed 2.5 block%, 2.5 steal%, 18 assist% and 6 3s attempted per 100 possessions. It’s an illustrious list of prospects & players - Draymond (2x), R.J Hunter (jr), Paul George (so), Glen Rice (jr), Klay Thompson (so), Deandre Bembry (so), Jacob Evans III (jr), Tyreke Evans (fr) & Sindarius Thornwell (sr). Turn the shooting volume dial up to 10 3s per 100 & the list is RJ, Klay, PG & (pending the events of today) Vince Williams Jr.
This list generally reflects where the NBA has been with prospects, these are favorite wing bets of the last decade - but also prospects that were clearly what they were. There is low danger of misevaluation and drafting into a sub-optimal context. It’s a basic formula - keep usage down early, find easy shots from multiple other creators, attack a tilted defense & use their off-ball defensive feel as a value add to scheme solidity.
The creative upside is not in the tier of someone like Jalen Williams or other potential primary bets, however, when looking at his creation through the connector archetype lens, we see Vince as a unique bet to create for himself and others. As a primary, Williams Jrwas a bit too limited off the bounce and too 1 handed to be a true high usage holder, even with the high shooting volume. Attacking on the second side, that funky, old-head style of manipulating rotating defenses to pick out cutters/shooters and using his strength level (45.8 career FTr) to drive his own efficient offense. Vince was turnover heavy for relative to other connectors, or the platonic ideal of a connector prospect (23 TO%), but there is such a versatility of his fakes, passing deliveries and tempos that were made only so useful by his lackluster advantage creation - liberated by more advantage catches will allow the fun to flow without as many giveaways.
There is a year over year growth in offensive burden (usage + assist%) and in finishing, but some of that is the benefits of climbing the age and experience curve. It’s more likely that Vince is somewhere between the jr finisher (50% at the rim) & sr finisher (68% at the rim) as the relative strength advantage diminishes as an NBA defender. Think of Vince’s best moments as a guy who’s pet plays are going to be of the horns DHO keeper variety - picking on tilted defenses as a decision-maker and holding up advantage with his strength level to craft his finishes.
There are some team building constraints in terms of value provided, and I can see a situation where a team tries to add additional value by trying out Williams Jr as a wing stopper or a coverage agnostic defender. I think of him as a position locked 4, best deployed in a pressurized bend bend don’t break scheme with help over top and rotations to be memorized (any no middle scheme for example).
This may seem silly, but Williams Jr is best cast as an annoying defender than a disruptor. I see a player who can enforce scheme with his core strength, understanding of angles and gets his havoc through that blend of feel and technique - rather than a rangy off-ball type who can rove & recover outside of scheme. At POA in big space, Vince can get caught up in his mediocre hips and clunkier movement skills when he has to mirror and weave with smalls. There are good moments of stopping against wings, however I think using him as a high energy footspeed based POA guy limits a lot of what made his college tape great. His ability to read an offensive player’s balance and counteract it by being lower is a wonderful tool for funneling defenses & not really as valuable in more switch heavy schemes. He sets angles better than he readjusts on the fly, which points to a group of schemes with more scripted geometry on and off ball, allowing Vince Williams Jr to do what he does best: recognize and read.
Jake LaRavia, Jr, Wake Forest
LaRavia’s appeal is really easy to understand, a strong wing with great feel, good shooting indicators who isn’t really bad (or even mediocre) at anything he will be asked to do at the next level. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Cerebro metrics love LaRavia - grades out in the 99th %ile of C-RAM for minutes qualified D-1 players, we also have him as the best performer among this group in 3 of our 5 metrics (PSP, FGS & DSI). That falls in line with the eye test, where I see a player who makes a meal out of the amount of possessions he is given & does a great job of not putting himself in bad situations.
At 6’6.75 w/o shoes, +2.75 WS, LaRavia is a big, broad 3/4 who I think it’s fair to say is the most versatile, in a skillset and lineup sense, of this group on both ends. LaRavia knocks down 3s at a high percentage with his feet set (1.19 PPP, 58 poss), makes clever .5 decisions all over the floor with good passing chops, uses instincts on defense well (2.7 steal%, 83 DSI), and finishes with craft as well as patience (1.17 PPP, 122 poss). One of only 2 NCAA players in this draft class to TS% over 60, o-reb% over 3, assist% over 20, & steal% over 2 - the other being Wendell Moore.
The route to offensive optimization is more of the same as what we same from LaRavia at Wake Forest - play him with other playmaking wings, get him out in transition (1.55 PPP, 105 poss including assists) & allow his high level processing ability to capitalize on where he finds advantage in the half court. I really liked his ability to read and react to a defense, with or without a live dribble, to make smart decisions, as long as he is operating with advantage. There is a fun little dynamic at play here - LaRavia struggles to create advantage off the bounce (57.6% of rim makes were assisted), but he is extremely comfortable and effective as a decision maker in those high leverage advantage situations. So he is a very functional churner of multiple reads, even on the move, but is also wired to pick up his dribble a step early because he wants to make the passing decision faster - which limits his rim pressures. The solution is to get Jake on the floor as many other skilled wings or in a horizontal offense & let him figure out where to find advantage, without putting extra stress on the self-creation skills.
One of the biggest disagreements in this draft cycle is how evaluators feel about Jake LaRavia’s footspeed when defending guards; on one side, we have the quickness testing in the combine (top 3 in shuttle and lane agility) & on the other, there is tape of him struggling to prevent straight line drives against ACC point guards. This is the most extreme example, as 6’8 guys generally aren’t expected to win at POA against the quickest guys, but this is where the broad spectrum of opinions come in. I fall somewhere in the middle - I think the testing showcases why he is so good at getting out of his helpside stance for steals and deflections, but it is a drill that does not have the component that gives him trouble in live POA action as well as in the shooting: the active balancing.
To my eyes, LaRavia looks able to be a multi-positional defender, on and off the ball, provided this balance issue gets worked through. He has the strong core and quickness in tight spaces for POA/screen navigation, and the length and instincts to anticipate actions and react in a scheme appropriate way as an off-ball player. LaRavia projects to be most valuable in a scheme that offers his mobility as a value added, rather than a prerequisite. When we think of upside, very rarely do we think of team upside in the sense of winning games, but that is a very useful lens to use when evaluating a defender who contributes to cohesiveness and solidity of scheme by being in the right spot at the right time and can read the play in front of him the right way. That being said, feel level and coverage acumen do not matter on an island until LaRavia can hold his own 1v1 in big space vs quick guards. It’s really hard for a defense to rotate itself out of straight line drives to the rim.
Offensive adaptability cuts both ways, as LaRavia does not have a primary skill to fall back - no guaranteed way to provide self-sufficient offensive value. He has done a consistently good job of maximizing partial advantage, but the handle and so-so first step make it clear that LaRavia will be mostly reliant on another creator and the general offensive system to create his advantages. I would say that LaRavia is the least gifted on-ball creator of the 3 - with his best dribble/pass/shot moments coming within the flow of the offensive structure, rather than being able to make it happen for himself against a flat defense.
The other concern is the shooting. It’s an odd challenge to have for a guy with a clean & compact stroke who put up 1.1 PPP on all jumpers - but LaRavia doesn’t shoot it like a shooter. Career 37.1% shooters shouldn’t struggle to get a high volume of 3s up, and yet LaRavia’s highest 3pr is 24.5 3Pr, his highest 3s per 100 is 3.6 and his highest career 3PE is 64. The best explanation I have for this incongruity is that while the jumper is really nice in the upper body, however there are rhythm, balance and self-organizational issues in his base that have tamped down the 3 point volume. For example, in CNS these issues slow down his release slightly, it creates better closeouts & gives LaRavia a chance to find a pass rather than taking a semi-contested look. LaRavia’s challenges with shooting out of his natural flow can be seen in the scarcity of OTD attempts in college career, making up 4.2% of his total FGA (.749 PPP, 31a). He isn’t yet comfortable in some key areas of shooting versatility, and that’s my best explanation for the 3Pr.The transformation from a selective shooter into a greedy one is going to be central to his development - to force hard closeouts, to make his cutting more valuable & to get skinny wing covers, where he can leverage his Nova post-ups on drives (96th %ile on post-ups) vs having to create clean off the dribble looks against stronger 4s.