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The Case for Houston Mallette, A Special Shotmaking Prospect
By: Zach Milner
When looking at the class of college returners, there are not that many names that stand out and give the level of excitement that we have gotten in previous years. As a whole, there are fewer consensus bets in this returning class, but Houston Mallette might be one of the best returning prospects, and he rarely even gets mentioned when talking about returners.
Before Kessler Edwards was drafted in the 2021 NBA Draft, Pepperdine did not have anyone drafted out of the school since 2005, and there’s a chance that there could have been a streak of consecutive years with players getting drafted out of Pepperdine had Mallette entered the draft. It’s no surprise Mallette didn’t even test the waters, as it is very hard to be a one-and-done at a mid-major school like Pepperdine, but one thing was clear… the talent was obviously there.
In the first game of the season. Mallette came off the bench and instantly stood out when he stepped on the court. He finished with 18 points (5-10 3PT), 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, while also showing a few nice defensive rotations, and that was only the start to his incredible season.
Listed at 6’5”, the Houston Mallette intrigue comes mainly from his potential to be a special shotmaker. Just watch the following video, and you’ll at least be interested.
Every single clip from that video was only from a six game stretch towards the end of the year. During that stretch, Mallette averaged 24.0 PPG with a shooting split of 53.5 FG% / 44.4 3PT% / 73.3 FT% and had a 63.6 TS%. And as you could see in the video, Mallette was able to shoot over taller defenders like Chet Holmgren, Julian Strawther, Anton Watson, etc. He also displayed his ability to shoot off-the-dribble, off-movement while coming off of screens, and showed his ability to expand to NBA range.
The video shows how Mallette was able to get his shots in a variety of ways, whether it’s running off of screens off of the ball, getting a ball screen (a pick and roll or handoff), trailing in transition, spotting up, and more. Additionally, the video also shows that Mallette is comfortable using different types of footwork and gathers when getting into his shots. He can knock down shots using a 1-2 – whether it’s left-right or right-left – and can hop into shots as well.
Here is a screenshot of the top possession types for Houston Mallette on Synergy.
As you could see in the video and in the Synergy screenshot, Mallette was used a lot running off of screens this past season, and was very successful when doing so. According to Synergy, there were only 12 Division 1 players who had at least 100 “Off Screen” possessions this past season, and the top three ranked by points per possession (PPP) were:
Houston Mallette (1.16 PPP)
Hyunjung Lee (1.116 PPP)
Tevin Brown (1.106 PPP)
Below is a picture of Mallette’s shot chart on “Off Screen” possessions that led to shots 17 feet and beyond. As you were able to see in the video above, Mallette was able to knock down midrange shots after curling screens, while also knocking down 3s coming off of screens as well. On these jumpers, Mallette shot 50% (29-58) on the season. That type of efficiency on shots from this distance with some tough shot difficulty is extremely impressive. One more thing to touch on is that Mallette has shown that he is comfortable coming off of screens going in either direction, and has no problem shooting when running off to his right or to his left.
Any team that decides to give Mallette a chance should definitely take advantage of his ability to run off of screens and punish defenses. In addition to it being one of Mallette’s best skills, it can also help mitigate his lack of strength for the time being. Too often, we see players that excel off of screens in college, and then the team that drafts them doesn’t have the offensive system in place to cater to such players. This could also be because the team has a different vision for the player and envision them in a different type of role, but that’s a whole different story. It is totally understandable for a team to not change their offensive scheme to cater to an incoming rookie, but if that is going to be the case, those same teams need to know what a players’ strengths and weaknesses are. If you aren’t going to optimize their skillset, then maybe that specific player isn’t the best use of a pick. This last point isn’t specifically tied to Houston Mallette, because he does have other ways he can have an impact on the game, but it would still be nice to see his skillset be optimized.
When thinking of special shotmakers in this previous class, Jabari Smith Jr. and AJ Griffin are the two names that come to mind. Well, according to barttorvik, there were only two true freshmen this past college season that met the following filters:
3PA ≥ 175
3P% ≥ 0.38
Height ≥ 76 inches (6’4”)
Usage % ≥ 18
The two players? Jabari Smith Jr. and Houston Mallette.
Mallette’s C-RAM stands out when looking at his Cerebro metrics as well. His C-RAM (8.3) grades out in the 89th percentile out of all D-1 players, and his 3PE (82) grades out in the 95th percentile.
To add some more data, here’s a quick screenshot of Houston Mallette’s numbers on Synergy
As mentioned earlier, Mallette was able to display his ability to expand to NBA range, and I wanted to dive into that a bit more.
Once the college season ended, I started a project of my own, which was to create a database that included how prospects shot from NBA range. To do this, I was able to use Synergy’s shot chart data and filter shot distances to exclude 3 point shots that weren’t deep enough to be considered NBA 3s. I have some interesting plans for this in future, and I am going to go back to gather the data from previous years as well, but for now, I just wanted to touch on how Mallette ranked compared to other prospects in my database.
Before this past draft, my database had a total of 180 college + international prospects. Of those 180 prospects, 59 players attempted at least 75 NBA 3s this past season, and only 13 shot above 40% on those attempts.
Houston Mallette was one of those 13, shooting 43.02% (37-86) on NBA 3s.
To break down those attempts even further, Mallette shot 40.38% (21-52) on NBA 3s above the break, and 43.02% (16-34) on corner 3s.
There is just an endless amount of data that backs up how great of a shooter Mallette was during his Freshman season, and the film obviously backs that up as well, so let’s dive into other areas of his game.
Like a lot of elite shooters, Mallette doesn’t attack the basket as often as you’d like, but when Mallette did attack the basket, he actually did a solid job finishing. He showcased the ability to finish through contact and was comfortable finishing with either hand.
Mallette did not show the best vertical explosiveness throughout the season. At 6’5, he did not make a dunk all year, which is a little concerning, but he did display nice touch when trying to finish around contests as shown in the video above.
Mallette’s shot diet is very jumper heavy, and even that might be an understatement. According to Synergy, 90.4% of his shots in the halfcourt are ‘Jump Shots’, which is ridiculously high. For reference, Duncan Robinson had 79.5% of his shots in the halfcourt as ‘Jump Shots’ in his final college season. A couple of players that were closer to Mallette’s number were: Bryn Forbes, who was at 89.8%, and while Isaiah Joe hasn’t had a successful NBA career yet, he also was at 89.8%. It’s not impossible to succeed while relying so heavily on jump shots, but it does make things that much harder, and I think Isaiah Joe is actually a very good example of how tough it can be.
Even shooting specialists will have bad shooting games, so finding other ways to have an impact on the offensive end will be important, and that can come from passing, attacking the basket, shooting gravity, etc. Additionally, if every team knows a player doesn’t like to attack the basket often, it makes it that much easier to gameplan against them. Teams could just do their best to run that player off of the 3-point line, and force them into a midrange shot or giving the ball up, and that is something a lot of defenses will live with. Just being able to get to the basket more often when attacking closeouts to get some easy looks, or get to the free throw line, could be really beneficial for Mallette’s game.
One thing that is worth noting is that Mallette did a much better job attacking the basket as the season progressed. As you can see in the previous video, all of those finishes were in that same six game stretch at the end of the year. Mallette only had 3 makes at the basket in the halfcourt in the first 23 games of the season, but had 9 in the last 9 games of the season, with 6 coming in the last 4 games. The hope is that this trend continues into this next season.
Moving onto his passing, here’s a video of some of his best passes throughout the season.
Mallette is a capable passer with some impressive flashes, but does not have an impact as a passer consistently. An improvement in this area of his game would be nice, although not a necessity for his success. There were times throughout the season where Mallette saw the right pass, but he’d sometimes take an extra dribble before throwing it, and that would ultimately lose the advantage.
Something to keep an eye on this year is how Mallette’s production looks with Maxwell Lewis being healthy and most likely having a larger role this year. Lewis was another intriguing freshman and deserves more recognition as well, but his play did have an impact on Mallette this season. There was a pretty significant difference in Mallette’s productions in the games where Lewis missed or got limited minutes, compared to the games when he got big minutes, so it will be very interesting to see how that goes this year.
Lewis only played in 21 games this past year, and only played in 16 games where he played at least 15 minutes. In those 16 games, Mallette only averaged 10.7 PTS, 2.7 REB, 2.1 AST with 39.7% / 33.0% / 79.6% shooting splits.
In the other 16 games where Lewis did not play at least 15 minutes, Mallette averaged 16.6 PTS, 4.0 REB, 1.6 AST with 49.4% / 44.0% / 61.0% shooting splits.
This now brings us to looking to Houston Mallette’s defense. Overall, Mallette’s defensive numbers don’t look good, but there are some encouraging moments on film. He doesn’t create many events on the defensive end (although he draws some nice charges), and it’d be nice to see him get more steals, but Mallette is a sound team defender who understands the basic fundamentals of defense. He generally does a good job swiveling his head between ball and man, and will make necessary tags on the roll man or cutter. One of the things that stands out with him is his ability, and the effort he gives, when chasing guys around screens on defense.
A quick side note, but even when Mallette is not chasing guys arounds screens, his effort and hustle is something that really stands out. He seems to constantly be sprinting throughout the game, goes hard after loose balls, and doesn’t look tired often.
Now back to Mallette chasing around screens. There were definitely times where he would lose his man or get killed by a screen, but overall, he showed the ability to show good technique getting around screens and staying attached to his man. Improving his consistency here would be very nice as it could potentially be his best defensive role at the next level.
While Mallette’s pick and roll defense has also shown some flashes of being able to get over or through screens, his consistency is further behind here than it is with chasing around screens. To be fair, a lot of pick and roll defense also relies on teammates, but there is definitely room for improvement here. Towards the end of the season, Santa Clara played at Pepperdine and they were consistently letting Jalen Williams run pick and rolls against Houston Mallette, and they got a bunch of easy looks at the rim.
One of the main things to look for with Mallette this upcoming season is if he was able to add some strength because it will benefit him on both sides of the court. On defense, there were times where he’d be able to slide his feet quickly enough to stay with his man, but he’d still get bumped off his spot because of his strength (or lack thereof). There were also occasions where his technique of sliding his feet wasn’t great (whether it was bad footwork, taking bad angles, etc.), but improving that along with adding strength to hold his ground would be really beneficial for his game on both ends of the floor.
Having the potential to not be a complete liability on defense like a lot of other shooting specialists is a positive sign for Mallette. Improvements definitely need to be made, but there are definitely things to look forward to. Cam Johnson is a good example of someone who had some defensive flaws in college, but he also showed some very nice defensive flashes, and specific instances where he could be successful. Johnson still has some defensive flaws in the NBA, but he’s been able to hold his own for the most part, and not roll over on that end. As I’ve stated before in previous pieces, potentially elite shooters don’t necessarily need to be good or great defenders, but they do need their offense to outweigh their defense. This might seem obvious or a low bar to set, but there are players like Duncan Robinson and Davis Bertans who have less room for error with their shot because of how bad the defense can get. And in Duncan Robinson’s case, he was still an above average shooter this past year, he just wasn’t having a historical shooting season like he had previously.
Overall, there is a lot to like about Houston Mallette’s game, even if there are some very fair concerns. Relying on special shotmaking is always risky because if the tough shotmaking doesn’t translate to the next level, it is more likely than not that the player is out of the league rather quickly. On the other hand, having a special shotmaker like Mallette who can hit tough shots off-movement and off-the-dribble can bring a lot of value to a team’s offense and could be worth the risk, especially if he is able to hold his own (to a certain extent) on the defensive end as well. Mallette is by no means a ‘safe’ prospect, but the upside is too intriguing to ignore, and if he can just improve in an area or two, there is real first round potential with him.
Zach Milner, @ZachMilner13 on twitter