Betting on Offense: Bryce McGowens
Drafting players is all about betting on the future and buying into a fit both short and long term. While Bryce McGowens may take some time, his offensive upside could be worth the wait.
A word that is used frequently in discussions surrounding the NBA Draft.
An evaluation in this space isn’t the same as one a player-personnel scout would perform in the NBA. A college or international scout has to be able to factor in the long term, not just immediate fit and role from day one on the team.
That’s what makes what talent scouts do for NBA teams, and what analysts and media scouts try their hands at as well, so incredibly difficult. There are so many factors that can steer a player’s career in one direction or the other.
But every report starts with what happens on the court as much as who the player is off the court. After reviewing enough film and breaking down certain aspects of their game on both ends of the floor, a decision has to be made based on potential.
What would Player X look like on Team Y, not just one year from now but four or five years from now? Is Player X someone we envision offering a contract extension? Are they a franchise building block on offense, defense, or under rarer circumstances, both?
Those are questions that also have to be answered not just with the top picks but later into the first round and into the second. Colleges and other paths to the league are arguably richer with more talent than ever.
But with talent comes meshing that player’s strengths and weaknesses into the core philosophies of a team’s identity. That, to me, is why sometimes it’s more important to focus on what a player CAN do versus only diving into detail on what they CAN’T do.
Looking past those, however, offers an exciting glimpse into a player who fits the direction in which the league continues to trend across all positions.
Once again, we must embrace the NBA’s real estate position at the intersection of size and skill. Putting those two together helps to contextualize why McGowens is a divisive prospect. While not possessing as many enticing qualities on the defensive end, there’s a lot to like about his offensive upside.
That’s why I’m rolling up to the tables, ready to put all my chips on McGowens’s POTENTIAL.
In a league that embraces putting points on the board (16.8 PPG), I’m dropping stacks betting on offense.
On AND Off-Ball Scoring
Defenses hate being confused and thrown off by screens, movement, and positional awareness.
These aspects of offense can alter the results on the ball as well as away from it.
In order to make use of those points, teams need guys who can make something out of nothing with or without the ball. Bryce McGowens happens to be one of those lethal scorers.
Starting with what he can do with the ball in his hands, McGowens is as slithery of a finisher around the basket as you’ll find in this class.
While he doesn’t possess blazing speed or crazy acceleration levels, McGowens’s initial burst, long strides to the basket, and counters off his initial footwork allow him to create space and bend defenses.
Give him too much space to work with, and McGowens can launch and hammer it home with the best of them.
Being able to take advantage of open runways is one way to accumulate easy points and earn time on SportsCenter. But making guys miss and scoring AROUND defenders is just as mystifying as finishing THROUGH them.
Speaking of which, McGowens isn’t afraid by any means of initiating contact, taking the bump, and getting to the line. He averaged 6.3 free throw attempts per game, and he had ten games in which he got to the line eight or more times.
The most efficient way to up one’s scoring average is to live at the charity stripe. And even in doing so, converting and-ones to capitalize on three the old-fashioned way further benefits the team by helping to instill a finish-by-any-means mentality through physicality and toughness.
NBA players who can’t be kept off the line put the other team at a disadvantage by changing the approach to guarding as well as getting guys in foul trouble and therefore limiting their time on the floor.
Attacking a team’s weaknesses on defense often comes from getting two feet in the paint and making the right decision once there, depending on the angle. Even though McGowens isn’t the best player operating in a drive-and-kick system, his ability to draw contact on tough looks so he doesn’t leave empty-handed helps ensure his team makes the most even off a few ill-advised drives.
Even when McGowens isn’t operating off straight line drives or shifty east-west moves to the basket, he can still impact the game away from the ball by cutting and positioning himself well.
While not a screener in the sense of playing off a guard at the top of the arc, the other two aforementioned aspects still apply to McGowens. Though he didn’t take advantage of movement and hustle plays on the glass nearly as many times as he should’ve, McGowens still rated in the 91st and 94th percentiles on cuts and put-backs, respectively.
Using those long strides and body fakes along the baseline to free himself and get into the paint can disrupt even the best of defenses, and so can timing boxouts and positioning for offensive rebounds.
If McGowens can go to a team that gets him moving instead of standing in the corner waiting to come into a handoff or catching and shooting, it would do a world of good and, in turn, help turn more possessions into some easy deuces.
Saving the best for last, some of the strengths I’ve highlighted serve for great versatility in pick-and-roll opportunities. McGowens rated in the 71st percentile as the ball-handler in scoring out of those situations.
The same ways he can affect the game off a line drive apply to how he can use a screen at the top to his advantage. His comfort level rising in the mid-range coming off that screen forces defenses to play up on him, giving the angle to get the step and make guys miss.
Not to mention McGowens can step into his shot off the screen and knock down a pretty jumper.
There are many options McGowens can go to apart from PnR looks and spot-up opportunities. At his size (6’7”), he has a real shot to cause problems for any pro defense on a night-to-night basis.
The goal here in separating out shooting from the on-ball scoring category is to focus on more than just pull-ups that come out of the pick-and-roll. When honing in on catch-and-shoot jumpers, Bryce McGowens rates out fairly well for a freshman.
On the year, McGowens finished in the 53rd percentile on C&S shots, knocking in 32-of-94, which comes in around 34% overall. Considering his ranking on jump shots overall drops considerably to the 37th percentile, it’s fair to say he’s much more comfortable with time to set his feet and square his body.
I’m a fan of his mechanics on C&S jumpers and from the free-throw line. McGowens keeps his feet shoulder-width apart, good bend at the knees, and one clean motion from when he brings the ball up and through. While I think his release point is what suffers a bit from the one-motion shot, it’s still above his eyes and consistent, leading to a good amount of makes against misses.
Having clean mechanics, especially from the line, is excellent considering how many times McGowens gets to the line per game, as previously highlighted. Consistency from the charity stripe leads to proficient looks off the catch.
Building the foundation for shooting more difficult looks off the bounce is something McGowens has done. Mechanical issues in his off-the-dribble game do exist, however.
Just because McGowens is fully comfortable launching off one or two dribbles inside the arc doesn’t make all of those good shots YET.
There’s some work to be done with his lower body, as his lack of balance leads to swinging his body on occasion, which messes up his release angle as well as how and where he lands once his feet hit the ground.
Balance is everything for shooting off the dribble. Lean too far back, and you change the arc on the shot, leaving it short. Extend too far forward, and the same result happens but in a different manner, with the ball going off the backboard or bouncing off the top of the rim.
The best shooters this game has ever seen don’t change their mechanics or stance coming off movement, firing off a few dribbles, or going up immediately off the catch. Therefore, McGowens has work to do in order to further cement himself as a shooter, not just a scorer.
What would benefit him even more in terms of jump shooting is better shot selection. Too many times, McGowens settled for tough jumpers with a hand in his face off a pull-up. Those are terrible shots for a lot of players, but especially someone with mechanical issues. Limiting those shots when he’s walled off by the defender and either pulling the ball back out or coming to a stop, pivoting, and passing away would do his efficiency wonders in the long haul—not to mention his future NBA coach would also have fewer looks of despair as Fred Hoiberg likely had on this miss.
When he does put it together, though, the results could be deadly given his prowess getting to and finishing at the rim. Forcing the defense to respect the pull-up shot can, in turn, get the defender off balance, opening up a new angle for McGowens to attack. Throw in the footwork he has to make guys miss or get into the body to draw the foul, and he’ll have so many more opportunities to convert from his best spots.
And because he can slither and slip through the cracks of the defense with the ball in his hands, defenders will offer him some space coming off screens or an initial step to wall him from the basket. Taking advantage of that space is what separates good or even great scorers from the elite. Should McGowens reach that level, he puts himself in rare territory as a three-level bucket getter.
I know, I know, offense is supposed to be the centerpiece of this evaluation. I’d be doing everyone a disservice, however, if I didn’t hit on some areas for improvement on the other side of the ball.
After all, wing defense has become such a priority for NBA teams. It’s not just point-of-attack defense coupled with rim protection that make for top-rated units.
Switchable schemes are incredibly popular because of how valuable pick-and-roll has become on the offensive end. Being able to field a lineup with players who can hold their own on the perimeter, cover ground and close out on corner shooters, or even switch onto bigs in a pinch and stand ground offers a team a plethora of options.
In order to play such a style, that means having a number of guys who are between 6’5” and 6’9” with length and quickness to take up and cover as much space on the court as possible.
Bryce McGowens fits this mold as a 6’7” wing with a 6’9” wingspan. His physical traits point to him being able to guard multiple positions and hopefully play up in pinches past small forwards should his body continue to fill out as projected.
But apart from having the tools, defense is also about communication, angles, and awareness.
The good news is that McGowens has the aforementioned tools which can’t be taught. The bad news is he has a fair amount of work to do in order to not be a net negative on the defensive side of the ball.
While he will have a good possession on the ball, McGowens can lose sight of what’s happening around him. In turn, that leads to blown coverages, late closeouts, and poor rotations defensively.
When McGowens is engaged on the ball, he has the lateral quickness and length to play decent point-of-attack defense on the perimeter. He’s competitive around the basket, and he likes to grab defensive rebounds.
Adding bulk to his skinny frame to help him on bigger matchups will also help him defensively, but learning how to better communicate with his teammates and anticipate passing and player movement will really help him raise his profile on that end.
McGowens isn’t a perfect offensive prospect by any means.
What I didn’t break out into its own section would be his passing, or lack thereof. He has the touch to hit his man in stride from a number of angles, but McGowens puts his head down with one purpose: to score.
Even when he’s on an island, the objective is to rock his man to sleep and rise up in the mid-range to can a jumper. McGowens had 43 assists in total to 397 field goal attempts. Factor in 195 trips to the line, and it’s safe to say there’s a lack of balance in his offensive attack.
But in his defense, McGowens was on the floor to get buckets for the Corn Huskers. An anemic team from a self-creation standpoint, Nebraska needed every point it could get from McGowens. And passing the ball also stems from trusting your teammates to execute and make the right play once it leaves your hands.
Nebraska was a poor team on both ends of the floor, but especially on offense. Getting McGowens in a pro system that emphasizes ball and player movement should do him some real good, especially once he’s surrounded with teammates much more capable of hitting open shots.
As for the rest of his repertoire, there’s little that McGowens isn’t capable of offensively. If he can iron out some of the inconsistencies in his pull-up shot and buy in defensively to at least become average, there’s a lot to like about his NBA outlook.
True three-level scorers aren’t as common as everyone thinks. Guys who can actually finish at the basket, separate and convert from the mid-range, AND offer spacing from beyond the arc at proficient levels are the most dangerous talents in the league. McGowens is comfortable rising and firing from any spot on the floor, and confidence is the first step.
Beyond having the belief in oneself to take and make shots from any spot on the floor comes recognizing WHEN and HOW to approach certain looks. Improvements in shot selection take time, and depending on how deeply rooted some bad habits are, not every player succeeds in stripping away those rotted layers.
That’s where “betting on potential” comes into play. The conversation around McGowens isn’t about talent. I’ve said from the beginning of this draft cycle that there aren’t 14 players who possess more natural offensive talent than McGowens in this class. I’d venture to say that number could be even smaller.
Talent is one piece of the pie. Discipline, drive, and determination are as important of ingredients. Consistently doing the little things, believing in your teammates, and buying into the core philosophies of your organization are incredibly difficult to project with young players.
While I don’t have a direct relationship with McGowens, I did get to observe his routine and interactions with teammates and coaches up close earlier in the season. There weren’t any red flags that stuck out to me, which would certainly help me in going to bat for him as a prospect.
Bet on McGowens being able to fit in off the ball, develop more nuance on it, and getting to a good enough level on the defensive side of the ball. If all of those things come together, we’re talking one hell of a payout.
And from personal experience, you can’t get results if you don’t go all-in at the table every now and then.