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The X-Out: Who Want The Smoke 2022
Garwey Dual (George Hill Elite), Oozing With Juice
As a non-ranked member of an independent team, Dual was someone I was completely unfamiliar with prior to WWTS. Not even on my radar. Well, that is no longer the case. Dual’s shiftiness and physical profile pop immediately – shaking defenders out of their shoes then galloping to the rim is routine for him. The Carmel native only has two power five offers, which should change rather quickly. It’s not to say that a developmental coaching staff won’t have a checklist to work with, both on-court and in the weight room, but Dual’s current portfolio is far too enticing for his current list of suitors.
Dual’s elevator pitch can be told through a game of 1s. His defender and he are on an island, no ball screen or prior action necessary. That’s when Dual is at his best. You hardly ever see creators beat the defense as often and easily as he did at WWTS, let alone at 6’5” and (what appears to be) a never ending wingspan. It usually only took one combo or stutter jab, but even when walled off initially, he never wavered – digging deep into his bag to precisely counter his matchup. His handle and footwork are pristine, frequently working in conjunction to create the perfect storm.
His overall offensive repertoire still needs some sculpting, specifically as a shooter and proactive playmaker, if he wishes to maximize his role in college. But right now he has the sapphire diamond. The ability that every ball-handler needs, and it was effortlessly displayed in Dallas.
Dual will eventually need to increase his shooting volume. He only took six threes in four games, passing up reasonable shooting windows in the process. Dual suited up alongside a pair of junkyard dogs in the backcourt. They all coexisted with each other and flourished, though at times it felt their success was independent of one another rather than complimentary, with some of that being derived from Dual’s lack of off-ball contribution.
An area where Dual infatuated me was around the rim. All throughout the weekend, he got wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. This inevitably led to a boatload of rim attempts and more impressively, free throws. As a finisher, Dual didn’t back down from rim protectors, challenging bigger opponents head on at the basket. His slender frame held him back occasionally here, but he was still able to be effective with creativity and body control. Dual lived at the line, finishing 3rd in the entire event with 18 FTA – canning 83% of them. His slashing brilliance was exhibited, aiding other facets of his game as well.
Earlier in the write-up, I said that Dual needed to improve as a proactive playmaker. He didn’t necessarily flash high-end processing that you might hope to find in creators, but he still maintained effectiveness here. Due to his creation chops, Dual garnered the attention of multiple defenders more times than not. In addition to punishing them as a scorer, he showed an encouraging foundation for recognizing advantages and capitalizing on the rotations he spawned. Continuing to expand these building blocks should be a priority moving forward, however I still walked away content.
According to our database, Dual’s DSI of 100 was his most proficient metric. His length and accurate hands were disruptive at POA and in help, poking the ball away from lackadaisical handlers and mucking up passing lanes. Dual charted 11 stocks in his sample, which likely buoyed his rating. I do think there is more nuance on this end. His underdeveloped athletic profile showed up here, his upright defendensive stance left him prone to blow-byes from higher-level creators. All in all, I’d probably call it assortment, filled with some tremendously sweet highs and extremely sour lows.
Garwey Dual might have a ways to go before the final product is actualized. But this is about projection: properly evaluating a unique bet when you see it and then reasonably wagering how likely certain improvements are to occur. I’ll say it, Dual instantly became one of the most fascinating (in a good way) prospects in all of 2023 after WWTS. Players with this frame and skillset are all but regular, and I urge more high-majors to take a seat at the table.
Dennis Evans (Inland Empire), The Marathon
Dennis Evans is most likely not on your radar, or prolly wasn’t until the clips of the gangly rising senior tenaciously defending the rim & showcasing a developing perimeter skillset. That isn’t an accusation or a slight, Evans isn’t unranked in the sense of being on the fringes, but unranked in the sense that many in the industry had never see him in person (including myself), or were totally unaware of him as a prospect. Who Want The Smoke was, if not the first, one of the first chances for national evaluators to see Evans against varying styles of high level comp. (EDITOR’S NOTE: While this piece was being written, Evans was given 5* status by 247- a storybook rise up the national rankings, due in large part to his showing out on The Platform in Dallas. So, let’s meet the newest 5* big man)
Evans is a pretty striking figure - a 7’1 thin lefty, sporting rec-specs and a huge wingspan (reported +7). The 16 year old Hillcrest (CA) big man is currently both potential and player, with alternating stretches of domination on both ends that are balanced with the stumbles and odd landings of a still growing teenager adapting to a new frame. It’s to be expected that proprioception is going to be an ongoing battle until he settles into his final frame, however it’s unsettling that for every one of these growing pains possessions (especially with regards to catching outside his frame) where Evans hasn’t adjusted for his body, there is one of deep technical understanding & schematic feel on the defensive end. Dennis has already developed in his ability to cover ground within scheme - a repeated theme was Evans helping over early and sitting deeply in his stance, goading the ballhandler into making an early pass/shoot decision & jumping 2nd to pin a layup/dunk on the glass (4.8 blocks vs 2.4 fous per game at WWTS, 97 DSI)
For many bigs, especially skinny bigs and growing bigs - there is a hesitance or a processing delay on bang bang plays that can read as soft or indecisive. Oftentimes I think it’s more not wanting to stumble into fouls thus playing themselves off the floor & Evans has none of those tendencies. He discerns quickly, he acts directly and he sticks his nose into messy situations, like loose balls or long rebounds. This often ended up with Evans on the floor, catching a bows or getting his goggles separated from his face - not positive plays on the scoresheet, but a big positive from the will to win perspective. This would have been enough for me to write about on it’s own, but quite often, the big guy used those moments to put a battery in his back and would sprint his lanes harder than ever to try and punish the rim on the next possession. Unafraid to mix it up, unafraid to try high flyers, unafraid to try and dunk everything. Until his frame and coordination mature over the next few years, that mentality will be enough to keep him challenging bigs further along in their physical development.
Offensively, Evans is given a wide berth for experimentation - face up attacks, rim running, ballhandling reps, low/mid post touches, schemed C&S looks. It’s an deliberately messy developmental context that allows for failure, rather than boxing him into a simple process, the plan is to throw a ton of reps to the 7 footer, in many different situations to see where Evans finds his own comfort and can mold his successes into a well-rounded offensive feel. I think it’s far too early in his progression to start paring down his offensive game into strengths and weaknesses. What is for sure is that there is a broad base of possibilities that older & more defined 2023 big men haven’t yet shown flashes of. There is no hesitance on shooting, especially when given the back shoulder on post catches or enough space for his 3 (3-9 in 4 WWTS games). In time, both can be great counters for his vertical spacing as a rim runner - but for now are hints towards a towering ceiling. For all of the growing pains, Evans was able to hold an impressive 25% usage for WWTS, a sign that these flashes are not just moments, but stretches of meaningful offensive signal. We may be seeing the emergence of the best big man prospect in 2023.
Gehrig Normand (3D Empire), Scorching The Nets
They say you shoot better at home, and that precedent definitely held true for local Texan, Gehrig Normand. A silver lining in his team’s 0-4 weekend, Normand did just about everything for 3D Empire on offense. In spite of being slightly overtasked with usage at 34%, he was able to produce a ridiculously efficient scoring output – pouring in 19 points per game on 59% TS with a PSP of 84 and 3PE of 88. I know, that’s a lot of numbers. In short: Normand was asked to do a lot and answered the bell in extraordinary fashion.
In my first viewing of Normand, he opened the game on a personal 11-0 run, including a pair of triples on Hall Of Fame difficulty. 3D’s staff did a phenomenal job of putting Normand in positions to succeed, looping him through rigorous sequences of pindown and elevator screens, which doubled as an obstacle course for vulnerable defenders attempting to lock-and-trail. The numbers corroborate the marksmanship that he presents beyond on film. His shooting profile, granted it is from one weekend, is practically flawless. The attempts are difficult, the volume is high and the percentage is too. 42% on six attempts per game, contextualized with his range and versatility, is elite.
Similar to paint touches with Dual, Normand’s shooting opens up the rest of his game. Defenders are flying all over the court, hoping to deter 3D’s mission of getting him a glimpse of daylight. Noted in the clips above, sometimes the opposition fails. Other times, they’ll successfully take away any look he has from deep – that’s where Normand’s refined and diverse scoring arsenal comes into play.
His creation from a standstill can be stagnated by the lack of downhill burst, yet his shooting ability creates closeouts that are reckless and susceptible to dribble-drives. The tilt that Normand operates from is incredibly enabling, and unlike other snipers who are limited after being run off the line, he demonstrated competence in the mid-range area, burying contested pull-ups with ease. He doesn’t necessarily generate a ton of open space on these attempts, other than a couple shots where he leveraged his frame to displace an overzealous competitor, though it's still an avenue to beat the defense from inside the arc.
In perhaps the most surprising flash, Normand dished out his fair share of dimes. As is with his pull-up game, his playmaking equity is mostly derived from his shooting gravity and is relatively contextual at the moment. With that being said, it certainly isn’t without substance. He showed notable comfort when passing inside-out, remaining unphased by the swath of defenders that flocked to disrupt his jumper. Normand even busted out a lefty hook pass, ambidexterity! I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. 3D’s conscious effort to squeeze every drop out of his shooting was very beneficial for a plethora of reasons. Normand thrived on the move and 3D presented endless opportunities on a platter.
Defensively, there isn’t a ton to write home about. For lack of a better description, it was neither here nor there. He doesn’t get very low and his upper body can be hunched over, which isn’t exactly a recipe for success at POA. Contrary to what you’d believe, though, Normand held his own and stayed solid on a good amount of possessions. Off the ball, there were lapses, but there were also successful digs. For someone with the offensive profile he produced at WWTS, this side of the ball isn’t the intrigue anyways. I do believe that it won’t keep him off the floor.
Four game sample sizes are inherently tough to evaluate. They become even tougher when the entire pitch essentially revolves on said prospect being an S-tier shooter. I have no reason to think that Normand is someone who caught lightning in a bottle, but you better believe that 3D empire has now skyrocketed up the priority list at Cerebro Sports. As he continues to explore on his graciously long leash, I remain very interested in maintaining a hold.
Kaden Cooper (Team Trae Young), Steady Skill
I last saw Cooper at Flyin To The Hoop - Top Gun Invitational with TSF at the end of the high school season, where his athleticism and motor were clear +++ tools & I made a note to circle back on him during AAU. While my travel schedule hasn’t taken me to a 3SSB stop yet, every live period I’ve gotten texts about a certain wing on Team Trae Young being a standout. Watching the games on tape has shown some of the improvements, but seeing it live and direct made it clear how far the development curve has carried Cooper forward, even a matter of a few shortmonths. Cooper has been a bit of a known commodity as a bonkers athlete, with the ability to make a 2 way impacts with energy, quickness and bungees. What has propelled his rise up the rankings hasn’t been the wild physical tools, it’s been the added dimensions of quiet skill and growth beyond the attacking off-ball wing archetype.
Don’t get me wrong, Cooper is still doing all the little things on the fringes that have always made him interesting - sprinting in transition, taking POA duties across multiple positions/archetypes, cutting hard for dunks, getting in passing lanes, making multiple efforts on long rotations. It’s not a surprise that Cooper graded out at 93 in DSI (our metric for defensive disruption, similar to block% & steal%), for WWTS. There is development in the micro skills within those areas that have made his elite tools more functional, small things like processing speed, footwork patterns & hand placement.
What has catapulted the Oklahoman into the national wing conversation has been the offensive skill development over the past season. In last year’s EYBL as a role player averaging 9 mins per game with ProSkills, Cooper struggled: taking 6 3s across the 13 games (2-6), registered 1 assist against 11 TOs & generally had his impact relegated to cleaning the offensive rebounding or with dunks in transition. Now Cooper is taking 3s confidently, with 10 attempts in 3 WWTS games, trying 1 handed live dribble skip passes after attacking closeouts & proving he can demand and effectively use a larger usage (25%), even among fellow highly ranked wings in Ja’Kobe Walter & Dink Pate. In my notes from last year, I repeatedly thought he was playing too fast for his own good, so to see Cooper selecting his spots, playing at different speeds with ball in hand & then hitting turbo to get to highlights… It's a remarkable difference in approach.
The progression to 6’5 dribble/pass/shoot wing is still in progress - with some low hanging fruit still available to be cleaned up in the summer and final season in HS, especially with lower body mechanics of the jumper. Cooper didn’t shoot particularly well at WWTS (20% on those 10 attempts), worse than anything in our database to date, but I’m not overly concerned about the percentage variance given the progress in attempts. The biggest mechanical inconsistency is a mid air hip turn that I believe undercuts the overall clean energy transfer, and upsets the overall balance of the jumper. The touch progression has been positive (as seen by other indicators such as the11-12 FT, 91.7%), but the lower body issues do damage college+ range attempts as he has to rebalance himself in air and it did add a small hitch on stepbacks and other more energy-demanding attempts. Granted, to be at the point that OTD creation is the hangup on his form is wild considering where the jumper was this time next year. That’s where the little skill ascension could be for Kaden Cooper - increasing jumper versatility by solidifying the base of jumper, thus diversifying his off-ball action usages & further pressurizing defenses.
Brock Harding (Mid Pro), Craft, Craft, Craft
6’0 and under PGs are evaluated differently than their 6’1-6’4 counterparts - there is more box-checking, more stereotypes, more to prove, less benefit of the doubt. It seems like scouts and coaches want to see game managers, and that’s cool and everything, but there is no rule saying that “you must be this tall to create in college”. Brock Harding, listed 6’0, is a creator - a PNR maestro with a slick, press-proof handle & a sense for the right pass with the right sizzle. There was a bit of shock in the crowd that a young man from Moline (IL) had an OTD duffle this deep - a bag full of counters, hangs, hesis, hard sells & a mean slow to fast cross.
In Mid-Pro’s motion offense that frequently starts with double stack (77) action in semi-transition, Harding had a good feel for when to press the issue and attack or to continue thru the set. Many cerebral PGs can get “Rondo assists” where they dominate the ball, do all the decision making & only make the passes that could lead to scores (often times the only pass on the possession). Harding keeps it moving, pinging the ball around and keeping a defense in rotation, allowing the motion flow of the offense to co-exist well within the PNR elements. Young creative guards can fall into the trap of over-penetrating or forcing drives on poor angles, but in the 4 WWTS games, I thought Harding picked his spots well. As a creator, Harding uses that handle, his low center of gravity and his suddenness to create consistent advantages in the halfcourt, getting the ball out of his hands quickly to shooters and cutters as soon as defenses rotate to stop penetration. The use of angles, release points & variety of passes is technically advanced & very creative - including right/left hook passes, good post entries (!!), late dumpoffs behind the backs, push passes and overhead skips.
The large change I saw in Harding’s game from the time of Highland Shootout to Who Want The Smoke was the development as a scorer. The jumper has been smoothed out at the top, resulting in a quicker 1 motion release & better results - shooting 6-13 (46.2%) across the 4 games. That shooting is a meaningful growth because it fundamentally alters how defenses react to the 6’0 guard when he is playing off ball. The burgeoning shooting creates harder closeouts, which gives Harding new avenues to attack a rotating defense & then picking out advanced passes if the opportunity arises. Mid-Pro ran Harding off all types of actions- curls, flares, wide pindowns, hammers, to force defenders to chose between limiting 3 pt volume or allowing a dangerous creator to get a paint touch. This growth is reflected in the stats - Harding was 1 of 2 17U WWTS players to grade out at above 75 3PE (Cerebro’s shooting metric) & 75 FGS (the metric for passing), the other being Ma’Syn Howell of Cooz Elite.
As a smaller guard, Harding will need to continue to leverage his shooting and passing to offset some of the realities of being smaller and on the skinny side. In college, he will need to bulk up over the next 4 years to unlock some interior finishes. Currently, he can be too reliant on craft, like up and unders or goofy-foot final steps, to find finishing & does not get fouled anywhere near enough (1 FT in 4 games) to count on it as an efficiency buoy. Some of this will come with time & a recognition that contact in the paint is a small guard’s best friend, but it is the next developmental step that will unlock level of play from the Illinois guard. Similarly, additional core strength will be a value add on the defensive end, where Harding does well with his instincts, quick hands and a commitment to pestering, but can be put on hip by the more football-built guards that will be more prevalent in college.
All in all, Harding is one of the least appreciated guards in the country and I expect a nationwide recruitment to begin shortly.
Kevin Patton Jr (3SSB Dream Vision), It Gets Greater Later
For as long as basketball scouting exists, the concept of player development will remain the sturdy philosophical bedrock of all conversation. What traits or skills can be developed? Which are easier than others? And above all, what can’t you teach? Standing at a true-wing sized height with functional length and hidden slamball trampolines in his shoes – Kevin Patton Jr has the unteachables. I caught Patton for the first time at WWTS, where his pure tools and athletic presence aided a productive weekend. Putting it all together will require time, patience and proper investment, but his blank canvas should come at a steeper price than most.
To no surprise, he was most effective in the open floor. Patton sprinted in the lanes hard when flanking in transition, putting himself in position to exploit the numbers game. His finishes all came well above the rim, where Patton’s hangtime was wildly impressive and useful. There were also possessions where he had the rock, and glided to the cup without having to think twice.
His scoring in the half court, and his process specifically, is less polished. Patton has real ability, sporadically flashing pull-ups or slashes to the cup, but they aren’t as consistent as you’d like, on top of feeling premeditated. The clip I pulled is an example. His burst and stride length earn a decent advantage off the rip – note the defender horizontally on his hip with nail help nowhere in sight – and rather than taking one more dribble before clearing for takeoff, he jumps too early and the attempt is way more difficult than it should be. Given the tools and handling for his size, projecting Patton to attack closeouts and re-apply pressure to scrambling defenses doesn’t seem far-fetched, but it will require reps on reps.
Outside of his freakish athletic clips, this one left the longest impression on me. Proper relocation, quick prep and three points. It’s hard to get a true feel for Patton’s shooting. The volume isn’t high, yet the attempts are frequently difficult and often take on an intimidating load of versatility. As he continues to explore in the half court, I do think establishing himself as a reliable floor spacer could go a long way for simplifying his game. Patton’s scoring and handling process are major swing developments for the long-term, although his jumper – CnS, at least – feels like an attainable short term goal.
Against set defenses, Patton regularly roamed and lingered to find gaps in the defense. He showed a unique knack for finding vulnerable pockets and capitalizing, more impressively, the lanky wing threw a handful of noteworthy passes. I’m hesitant to extrapolate it much further, but even in a vacuum, it was encouraging. As I continue to track his summer, I’m hoping to see him continue to experiment here.
Defensively, Patton shined – despite there being low-hanging fruit to become even more of a force. He registered a DSI of 105, which ranked 6th out of 392 players with at least two games played, and charted seven stocks with just one foul all weekend. Get this, it was almost entirely tools based! Patton’s footwork at the POA could be cleaned up, ditching extra movements would serve him better against quick matchups. He had some growing pains off the ball, sometimes losing track of his man or rotating a split second late.
But even with those improvements on the table, Patton presented trouble for opposing teams. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine what he could be on this end. Patience will be key, but his current production gets even scarier when you consider the untapped growth.
I’m not sure what the timeline is for Kevin Patton Jr. It could take weeks, months or years. It could click over one weekend and he never looks back. I can’t say when it will happen, or if it will ever happen. I can say that tracking the development and progress of Patton is absolutely worth your time and attention.