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Born To Get Buckets | Keyonte George's NBA Bag
Keyonte George is one of the deadliest scorers in the 2023 NBA Draft. The NBA Draft Dude examines which NBA pros the Baylor guard most closely compares to.
Baylor’s Keyonte George has been one the most divisive prospects in the Top 5 to 10 range of the 2023 NBA Draft. Entering the college season, George—a consensus five-star prospect—was projected to be one of the best shooters in the freshman class; however, inconsistent shot-making has led to somewhat inefficient shooting splits that have left analysts torn on his NBA future. Some see a dime-a-dozen undersized scoring two-guard, while others see a dynamic offensive threat with the potential to toggle lineup constructions—because mired within the tough misses are flashes of elite shot-making, surprising playmaking and feel, nuanced defense, and some statistical queries that make you do a spit take.
In that regard, George’s freshman campaign has been a bit of a roller coaster. The aim of this piece is to decipher if it is the fun kind by diving into the Texas product’s NBA-style bag.
When you think of modern NBA offense, particularly modern-day guard play, you think of fast-paced, high-volume distance shooting. The league is dominated by dudes that are capable of knocking down shots at all levels of difficulty in all forms and fashions. The talent pool in the league—like its shooting range—has never been deeper.
Keyonte George is tailor-made for how basketball is played in 2023.
When I’m watching film on a prospect, I’m big on a player’s kinesthetics. How do they move around on the court? Do they share any similar movement patterns with current NBA players?
NBA guys move different. There’s an inherent smoothness; a preternatural timing, pace, and cadence to how they get to their spots. At times it looks like they’re gliding around the floor.
Even in high school, you could tell that George moved like an NBA guy. He had what I call “the look.”
Now don’t get me wrong, you absolutely should not base your entire evaluation on “the look”—a proper evaluation must be made through a deep film dive and statistical analysis. But when I see “the look” in a prospect, my mind starts entering pattern recognition mode as I try to identify movements that are reminiscent of successful NBA guys. While it may appear as if I’m searching for surface-level player comparisons, what this process actually does for me is allow me to go beyond basic makes or misses by matching up certain shot types with NBA actions, and it gives me the actual basketball context I’m looking for. While a prospect’s pre-college tape is important, it’s not the end all. We’re not ranking prospects that had the best year; we’re trying to project which prospects will have the best NBA career.
Despite the fact that Keyonte George is currently shooting at a sub-40 % clip about halfway through the year, that last point is why I’m strongly buying into his shot-making ability at the next level.
Despite the inefficiency concerns, if we look beyond just surface-level percentages, we see that Keyonte has had an eye-opening offensive season. While George may be hovering around 35% from behind the arc, he’s doing it on massive volume, getting up nearly eight attempts per game and a massive 15 3PA per 100 possessions. Simply put, Keyonte hasn’t been shy to let it fly.
He could surely stand to reign in some of the tougher looks that he takes, and an NBA coach will ask that of him, especially early on in his career. There are times when it is necessary to take tough shots, and then there’s just settling.
The rub, however, is that Keyonte is capable of making these kinds of shots, and when you’re capable of making these shots at the volume in which George is, the defense has to be on red alert at all times.
The best NBA guards garner the attention of the defense at every spot on the floor. Let’s now take a deeper look at some of the tricks that George has pulled out of his NBA bag from some of the NBA guards who cause defensive panic when they’re on the court.
The first guy who shot into my mind when thinking about the kind of NBA player that Keyonte could emulate was Denver’s Jamal Murray. Murray’s ability to play both on and off the ball makes him a seamless fit next to other NBA stars, but when he gets cooking, his individual offense can take you home. Murray’s footwork, ability to dance, play at different speeds, and still get off clean looks are traits that he shares with the bucket from Baylor.
On this possession, you see the similarities in the creativity both guards use to create enough separation to get off a shot unbothered. A little spin here, a stepback there, and a buttery-smooth jump shot right in your eye.
Getting shots off one-on-one is an important skill for heavy usage guards, but modern NBA offense features a heavy dose of ball screen actions. Putting the ball in a guard’s hands that can use it as a scoring action, whilst also showing that he can hit open teammates, puts the defense in a chokehold. As bigs fall into a drop, elite shooters will gladly waltz into open threes. For George and Murray, it may appear that there are multiple defenders closing with hands in their faces here, but I promise you that these dudes feel completely undeterred by them.
One of the more surprising aspects of Keyonte George’s game for evaluators this season has been his plus playmaking. George currently has an assist percentage north of 24%. The only other freshman dating back to 2008 that has had an assist percentage eclipsing that number while shooting over 14 3PA per 100 has been Atlanta’s Trae Young.
Keyonte George isn’t a diabolical playmaker that is going to get into a ball screen and pick apart your defense like a ten-year-old boy pulling the wings off a fly in the same manner that Trae Young does, but he has more than shown his capabilities in making the defense pay if they don’t sell out on him as he comes off the kind of ball screen actions that we saw in the last clip. It’s a catch-22 because you absolutely have to get out to him to contest the three, but if your big does meet him at the level, the weak-side help had better be in the paint because George can handle the blitz and hit the roll man with the quickness.
Another NBA guy who has been in the back of my head when thinking of my Keyonte evaluation—not only stylistically but also the similarities in their college efficiency—has been Donovan Mitchell. We think of the NBA iteration of Mitchell, the one that took the league by storm as a rookie and is currently shitting on anybody and everybody in his path as a Cavalier. Back in college, though, Mitchell was a guy who was coming off of two up-and-down offensive seasons, leaving evaluators with questions about whether or not he was destined to be a glorified heat-check guy in the league. It proved to be a case of evaluators overthinking a player with a clear NBA game.
Mitchell is now one of the league’s premier shotmakers who has proven that he can go toe-to-toe in a playoff series with just about anyone. There is both a patience and suddenness in how he gets into his shots that makes him hard to predict. Keyonte doesn’t quite have the same twitchy suddenness as Mitchell, but he can still get into similar combo moves at a lightning-quick speed due to his confidence, creativity, and decisiveness.
Besides being a dynamic shooter, Mitchell is an absolute handful when he gets downhill and attacks the rim. That duality is what makes a complete NBA scorer. George breads his butter as a high-powered outside shooter, but he’s done a nice job of mixing up his deep ball ability with rim attacks that leverage the threat of his shot to get defenders on their heels en route to the hoop. Both guards are slithery but strong, meandering through tight spots using quick improvisational attacks as the defense tries to curtail their drive.
Keynote doesn’t quite have the ability to put you on a poster like Spida, but he’s a crafty finisher at the rim with a comfortability finishing with his offhand.
Keyonte’s strong body, touch, hangtime, and willingness to go through your chest have led not only to phenomenal finishing numbers (70% at the rim) but also to him taking up beachfront property at the free throw line.
Likewise, when NBA-level rim protectors are meeting you at the hoop for drives, you need to have the ability to counter with in-between shots. Scoring at three levels instead of two makes it hard for the defense to guess what you’re going to do. Having a go-to mid-range pull-up or a smooth float game in your bag keeps the defense honest.
George has shown himself capable of crafty finishes in the in-between and a versatile array of moves to get into them. Whether he’s busting out the pound dribble over the head cradle into a smooth high-arcing floater like Donovan Mitchell or showing off his advanced footwork by Euro-stepping through the paint and finishing with the same foot same hand float like Anfernee Simons, the touch on display by the Baylor guard is NBA ready.
While the overall efficiency needs to level up, the combination of on-ball finishing, shooting, and playmaking that Keyonte has brought to the table as a 19-year-old paints the picture of a versatile offensive problem at the next level.
Using another query from Barttorvik focusing on freshmen and sophomores that have finished greater than 65% of their shots at the rim, with a FTr above 30%, greater than 10 3PA/100, a usage above 25%, and an assist rate greater than 20%, we find that Keyonte is joined by only one other player…Paul George (no relation). That’s pretty good company.
While some analysts want to pontificate on whether Keyonte is better on the ball or off of it at the next level, the beauty of his game is that he can chameleonize it so that he can do either based on the situation and roster construction. With the overabundance of talent in the NBA, it’s imperative to be capable of playing off other star players that may already be soaking up a healthy dose of usage. Sure, a guy like Jamal Murray can go get you a bucket one-on-one, and in a playoff setting, he may be called on to do just that at the end of a game; however, as a number one option, there is a ceiling to the heights your team may reach if Jamal is tasked with operating the entire system. Put Jamal next to Jokic, though, and you can fully utilize a dangerous weapon that can light you up from any and all angles as the defense worries about the peripheral danger of focusing that attention on your superstar.
Keyonte is going to be a seamless fit on whatever roster he ends up on due to a similar ability to thrive off the ball.
Looking at the current standings and the teams which may end up in position for George and you can easily envision him paired with playmakers like Cade, LaMelo, or Paolo in offenses that would allow him to run amok off the ball, flying around screens and shooting off movement and spacing the floor for their primaries.
Baylor loves running Keyonte off baseline movement and letting him decide whether to pop out to the wing or space to the corner. As shown in the clip above, I absolutely love how heady George has shown himself to be when flaring to the corner as he reads the defender trying to shoot the gap. It’s a nuanced skill for a comfortable movement shooter. If the defender happens to be late on a switch or trails the play and gets hung up on a screen, George will fully pop out to the wing and make you pay.
NBA offenses have so much going on that defenses have to think about within their sets, with so many good players on the floor that they have to worry about. All it takes is a split second to lose sight of your man before a lethal NBA shooter comes off of a quick pitch or DHO before you’re on the receiving end of a jumper in your eye.
In a league that continues trending towards .5 basketball with offenses predicated on multiple handlers and quick thinkers, it’s important to know when to move off the ball when you’re on it. If you attack a gap and are met by the help, you have to keep the ball moving to the open man. A wise man once said if you keep the ball moving, it will always find its way back to where it needs to go. That’s exactly what happens here for both Anfernee Simons and Keyonte as the help meets them inside the arc on the dribble penetration, but instead of just staying stationary and occupying the space they took on the drive, they kick the ball to the wing and relocate back behind the arch where they likewise receive the ball for a much easier three-point attempt. With NBA spacing, those closeouts become ever more difficult for defenders as they have the responsibility of covering even more ground.
I mentioned the concept of .5 basketball above. The catch-and-hold style of yesteryear has mostly fallen by the wayside as NBA teams look for guys that make quick decisions and keep the ball flowing into the next action. Even when Keyonte has had issues with shot selection, it hasn’t really been due to too much overdribbling. On the contrary, George is typically a bit too quick to let it fly, but those quick decisions have also led to some wow moments as a ball mover, allowing George to show off his vision and court awareness by threading the needle and pushing the boundaries as a passer.
This is a ballsy pass to make in traffic but the quick decision, confidence, and placement of the pass—up high to the big’s hands but out of reach to the guards—is high-level shit.
The level of guard play in the NBA has never been higher, and with the constant influx of talent at those spots, that momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. The threshold for becoming an effective NBA starter is high enough; the bar to become an All-star level guard is becoming nigh impossible to leap, even for lottery picks.
George has not had a perfect freshmen season by any means; there are some real aspects of his game that he needs to work at. There are no guarantees that he meets those thresholds, but it’s pretty easy to orate a “Sell Me This Pen” case for him. The dude is a professional scorer with a good frame, he’s confident, he grinds on both sides of the ball, he’s shown some intriguing playmaking potential; he has “the look.” He’s been a Top 5 prospect for me throughout this entire process, and if anything, his recent play and constant improvement have only cemented my feelings about his game. He’s the kind of guy that was born to get buckets at the next level. Keyonte George has an NBA bag.
Welcome back to Food Court, where I bring you along my journey as I hit the open road to some of the delicious eateries that I frequent within proximity to the prospect games that I attend throughout the course of scouting season.
Last weekend I made my way across the bridge into New Jersey to get in-person eyes on Kris Murray as he and Iowa took on Rutgers. Murray was great—knocking down open shots, hitting the boards, making the right play—doing all the Kris Murray things that don’t slap you in the face with enthusiasm but lend credence to the fact that Keegan’s brother is probably going to be a little underrated throughout the draft cycle.
But on my way home back to the Empire State, I had to get a proper scout on my favorite French prospect of the 2023 Draft cycle, and no, I’m not talking about Victor Wembanyama. I’m talking about heading to Bergen County to indulge myself with the magnificent French Dip from Houston’s.
Houston’s is a fancy little chain with a fairly small but delicious menu. It’s the kind of place that won’t cook your steak medium well or above, which is my kind of restaurant because that is how lunatics eat their steak (shoutout to our own Nathan Grubel, who we taught how to properly order a nice medium rare steak at our team dinner at Summer League last July). It’s also the kind of place that you want to make a reservation for; however, due to my procrastination, all of the resy’s were booked for the day, and so I had to convince my beautiful wife to wait for an hour and fifteen minutes so that we could eat what is, in my opinion, the best French Dip that I’ve ever had. My wife and I love to go out and try new restaurants, so we’re willing to wait for good food, but my wife was also a little skeptical of how much I was hyping this place up, so I really needed it to deliver. And man oh man, did it ever come through!
We had to start with a delicious Spinach and Artichoke Dip app because neither of us had eaten the entire day in preparation for our dinner indulgence. A phenomenal starter for the table. For drinks, we went with the Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon.
And finally came the main feature: the glorious French Dip.
The star of the sandwich is the perfectly cooked, tender prime rib, piled high and placed in between their house-made toasted French roll that has that perfect crispy sandwich texture and moistens ever so slightly when dipped into the delicious Au Jus, blasting your taste buds with an extra layer of flavor. On the side, you get a fair amount of thinly cut crispy fries, which are delightful but pale in comparison to the sandwich.
There will be a fair amount of audible moaning when you first dive into this beast, and upon my wife’s first bite, I immediately felt the skepticism whisk away and transition into bliss. It felt comparable to when the first Victor and Scoot game actually lived up to its enormous hype (and due to the fact that I made her wait for over an hour for a dinner sandwich, the stakes were just as high). The only frustrating thing about Houston’s French Dip is that it’s the kind of menu item that is so delicious you don’t want to explore any other part of the menu. On our next venture out that way, we agreed to split a French Dip and try out the Prime Filet, to which, again, per their menu, they will only cook the correct way to eat a steak: medium rare...sorry, Nathan.