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Brandon Miller's Surging Draft Stock | The Morning Dunk
Alabama's Brandon Miller started the year strong for a freshman, but is gaining a ton of steam after the PK85 tournament in Oregon. Our own Nathan Grubel breaks down his current draft stock.
Welcome back to another Morning Dunk after Feast Week!
The holidays are a time for all of us to gather around and make memories with family. For those who are fans of the game of basketball, though, it also means time spent watching college teams compete in the best early-season events of the year.
So naturally, reflecting on tip-off tournaments like the Maui Invitational and PK85 is important because these opportunities are great for scouts to get a look at top prospects through a different lens.
These aren’t contests against low-major opponents. Events like these pit top-ranked teams against one another in a similar fashion to the Champions Classic, meaning the stages are big and bright for players to prove what they’re capable of when opportunity meets preparation.
And man, were there some really excellent performances that I’ll share here (our own Maxwell Baumbach will also be discussing one of the best prospect runs in depth here tomorrow, and on Draft Deeper below).
Let’s dive into what made Feast Week so special this time around, starting with one of the breakout stars in the SEC.
Brandon Miller’s Surging Draft Stock
Story time to start this section of the column.
Preseason, I did my usual dive on incoming freshman prospects to get a feel for who could possibly break out early on, therefore leading to a higher ranking on my initial board and priority on my watchlist.
Brandon Miller was a player I watched, and I came away with mixed feelings about his offensive attack. It wasn’t that I didn’t fully believe there was something good there, but rather how would I justify ranking a player who wasn’t seemingly a lights-out shooter with a potentially lackluster finishing package?
I acknowledged his ability to handle the ball for a 6’9” forward, and his comfort level at the very least taking jumpers off the dribble in the midrange gave me confidence that we’d likely see a more adventurous shooter once he got to Alabama. After all, the direction the game is going is pushing those shots further and further out behind the three-point line.
Fast forward to what we’ve started to see in his early college career, and I’m ready to eat some crow from Mr. Corey Tulaba.
Now in fairness, Corey wasn’t the only No Ceilings scout to call out Miller early on. Tyler Metcalf came away impressed with Miller’s exhibition tape from the March and April stretch and highlighted him as a prospect we should probably take more seriously than just in the mid-to-late first.
Well, I think Corey also saw the same things on tape and dove further into his high school and AAU film. After having the summer to ponder over his thoughts, he submitted a first draft of his board with Miller as one of his five best prospects in the entire class.
Admittedly, I was a little floored. There have been some instances where Corey and I have disagreed on prospects, but generally, he’s either right or not far off base with what he’s thinking. So when I saw that, I was left wondering if I had really missed something.
I really didn’t think there were any oversights in my notes. I wasn’t in love with the jump shot mechanics or lack of touch around the basket, and I had questions about just how versatile he would be defensively at the next level and beyond.
Breaking down each of those concerns piece by piece, one has disappeared completely, one has seen mixed results, and one still remains.
Let’s start with the negative that has seemingly flipped completely into a positive for Miller: long-range shooting.
Through six games, Miller is SCORCHING HOT from deep, shooting 52.4% from three on SEVEN attempts per game! Not only is he knocking down looks with regularity, but he’s doing it on high volume to boot.
Looking at his mechanics, I still don’t love the leg kick and body turn when he’s coming down. Normally, both of these things can throw off a shooter’s balance and cause him to miss in the direction where his body finishes turning. Miller has found comfort in his stroke though, likely due to the fact he does have a consistent release point on his jumper.
Consistency is key for ANY top-notch shooter, and from look to look there isn’t too much of a difference in Miller’s upper body. The shots are falling, and not just on set opportunities either. Miller is pulling up and hitting shots off the bounce over tough defenders, showing a little bit of that takeover ability teams look for in lottery wings. And there’s no better indicator of perimeter takeover ability than the confidence to take 47.6% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Speaking of confidence, the level Miller is playing with right now offensively is something to behold. He’s hunting for his own offense and has even started to find open teammates when defenses put him in a bind. He doesn’t seem rushed, but he is also decisive off the catch with what he wants to do with the ball.
I wouldn’t say he sees the floor in the same way as a point guard, but there’s quite a bit to like with what he’s showing both scoring and passing the ball, especially when Alabama lets him bring it up the floor and initiate some of the plays. The trust that the coaching staff has in Miller, even when he’s playing with multiple guards who can handle and get guys in sets, is pretty impressive. Versatility is always an important selling point; when it can be showcased against a team like North Carolina, it means that the skills are absolutely real and need to be measured properly.
Lastly, in regards to the best of his scoring package, Miller has started to look for contact and get to the line more often. Miller is embracing his role as a multi-level scorer and converting when he gets to the line, taking over five attempts from the charity stripe per game. The free throw shot looks fluid, compact, and consistent. Currently sitting at 80.6% from the line, Miller is passing all of his tests from distance as the three-point game is matching what he’s doing when he draws fouls.
Moving into the more mixed bag of the three characteristics, Miller’s shown some interesting flashes defensively.
Miller possesses the size and length a lot of NBA teams want in modern forwards. Being able to switch, flip, and help in a variety of situations is the definition of versatile in a pro lineup. Going through his game, there are real things to like defensively with some that need to be improved upon for Miller to live up to his potential on that end.
Help defense around the basket as well as blocking shots in transition seem to be Miller’s main strong suits on defense right now, harking back to his days playing as a center for his high school team. Miller had to serve as a primary rim protector, and that timing and anticipation show up already on the college film. He rotates, contests, and blocks shots, helping any of his big men on the interior.
Having the ability to chase down guys on the break and swat a shot from behind also adds to his ability to make big plays when they need to be made. Averaging over a block per game for someone primarily guarding the corners and out on the wing, this aspect of his game has adapted well and is exactly the type of effort an NBA team is looking for.
Out on the perimeter, Miller’s shortcomings are more pronounced BUT I don’t think he’s been terribly bad. On the ball, it’s clear that he’s not the fleetest of foot when he gets beat on drives and in screen-and-roll situations. Miller looks as though he anticipates his man’s move and can recover off a counter and drive with his length, but when he gets beat and has to settle for a hard foul that’s an issue.
All in all, I do think Miller does a good job of contesting and bothering guys in front of him, and the help instincts off the ball are good to see along the baseline. If he can clean up some of the poor fouling on drives, I’m buying his impact on that end long-term.
I’m also usually less of a critic of freshmen on the defensive end, especially early on. Miller has to learn to expect that he’s going to get beat in certain situations and position himself better to get in front of what’s coming next. In lower levels, Miller can get away with blocking shots from behind. In the NBA, that style of defense doesn’t fly. He has the tools to make up for his misses, and I’m appreciating the effort he’s shown trying to make plays on that end, particularly in transition.
Now it’s time for the one concern that still lingers and gives me a little pause as to putting him TOO high on my board right now: the at-rim finishing.
As I stated previously, Miller has really taken to finding contact over Alabama’s last few games. But when he hasn’t been able to draw a foul, leaving him in traffic or contested around the basket, he hasn’t been able to knock in attempts with the same level of touch as he has from the outside.
Not being as big of a threat on drives without waiting to be bailed out by the whistle is a concern, as teams can guard up on him to take away the jumper and dare him to get into the teeth of the defense. Further development of a floater and continued belief in his mid-range pull-up can help mitigate some of this, but those still aren’t perfect answers for the issue at hand.
The lack of lift off the ground, strength on the interior, and explosive first step to get around defenders at the top and take the best angle to the rack are all real things other scouts are expressing concern about with Miller. When he’s met at the basket by brute force and length, he doesn’t have any answer other than waiting for a foul.
These are things that also stood out to evaluators with Jabari Smith Jr. last year, and we’ve seen those results rear their ugly heads in the first part of the NBA season. I don’t think the rough patches are as rough for Miller as they were for Smith, particularly the “supposed” inability to separate from defenders off the dribble, but he does have questions to answer around the basket.
BUT… if a number of these things do shake out in Miller’s favor, there’s clearly some high-level stuff to work with here.
He fits the archetype front offices are looking for while possessing what seems to be a deadly outside shot and the confidence and willingness to do what needs to be done on both ends to help his team win games.
Miller’s attitude in the PK85, particularly against the Crimson Tide’s game against Michigan State, proved to me that he has the makeup to be something more than just a complementary player. Should he continue to stand out, it’s safe to say there will be few scouts left who oppose Miller as one of the better prospects in the draft.
Even now, though, Miller’s stock is SURGING with many saying he’s the next guy after Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson.
I’m not there yet, but I’m also not as far away as I once was.
Kyle Filipowski: Duke’s Best Prospect?
This is a question I absolutely would NOT have even entertained just a short month ago.
Coming into the season, I really wanted to see what Kyle Filipowski could do for Duke going up against tough college competition.
Watching his high school tape, I did in fact see a talented, stilled offensive forward who could space the floor and score in a variety of ways. With some of the ball handling, shooting, and passing ability, I thought maybe he would be a version of Matthew Hurt that could boost the Blue Devils in the short term.
Now, why would I use that name for any sort of comparison? First off, no comparison is a 1:1. However, Hurt was a dead-eye shooter at the forward spot and ended up creating a lot of offense for himself when others couldn’t around him at Duke. I viewed Filipowski as the same type of player, in large part because I thought his contributions would fall almost solely into that bucket alone.
Going through Duke’s early season matchups, I was clearly wrong about a number of things with Filipowski’s game, coming back to why I always want to wait to make stronger conclusions when the games start and there’s new film to be studied—because even the early rumblings out of preseason practices were that Filipowski might not be ready to shoulder the offensive load required given Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively’s injuries to start the season.
Jeremy Roach has been consistent at guard for the Blue Devils, and Tyrese Proctor seemed to have flipped a switch after the second half against Kansas in the Champions Classic. Neither are true top options to funnel an entire offense through though like Filipowski.
Post scoring, face-up game, three-point shooting, pick-and-roll, and pick-and-pop offense—honestly, Filipowski has shown examples of everything you would want him to from a scoring perspective. That’s really what’s fired up a lot of scouts in a positive way is the versatility to which you can use him on that end.
Is he the type of player you want constantly taking defenders off the bounce and hunting for something without the proper setup? No, he’s not THAT type of option. But get him in a spot where he’s comfortable operating, toss him the rock, and let him go to work. The passing flashes and touch from all over the floor have been eye-opening in a sense.
The fact that Filipowski is a true 7-footer means that NBA teams can play him either as the lone big or next to another more physical center in the league. The early returns on his efficiencies haven’t been ideal, but he’s knocked down a ridiculous amount of his free throws and hasn’t been shy about getting to the line either.
High volume paired with low efficiency is usually a bad thing. Depending on the game, it is for Filipowski too. But with his size and skill, I’d argue his two-point percentages end up climbing sooner rather than later along with his distance shooting to better match his output from the line. Filipowski has a clean-looking stroke from range and should give teams confidence he’ll continue to extend his shot out beyond the NBA line.
Combine all of this with his absurd rebounding rates and percentages, and you have one of the more complete prospects out of the gate in the entire draft.
I still am not the biggest fan of Filipowski in any one area defensively, but he hasn’t been a zero on that end. He’s still a big body to deal with on the interior, and he’s been better in space than I expected. Still, not being a true rim protector or switchable defender hurts some of his potential appeal. Coming back to the offense, the efficiency does have to get better as he won’t have the same volume up a level as he does now to get to all of those double-doubles on a nightly basis.
But looking at his production, it’s crazy, but he’s having a Joel Embiid-like effect on the college game. Strip away the mental images of Embiid’s physical makeup and defensive impact when trying to make any sort of comp with Filipowski. That’s not what I’m trying to do here. Think about how Embiid totals up his per-night numbers and compare that to what Filipowski is doing for Duke. Sub-50% shooting from the floor, high free throw rate and make rate, streaky shooting from the outside, and consistent rebounding on both ends: those are the same things that “Flip” is doing, and he’s only getting better by the game.
I have to treat Filipowski as a real threat to go in the lottery even if I don’t come to that same grade myself. Still, someone who I thought maybe could go in the back end of the first round is clearly better than that up to this point.
To answer the question: no, I would still bet on Whitehead rounding into shape and finding the footing that led me to having him as one of the top players on my preseason board. As for Dereck Lively vs. Filipowski, however, that’s a real debate and depends on how you would project out Lively given his poor play to start the year.
It’s incredibly early, but by the numbers, Filipowski stands right now as Duke’s second-best prospect in my eyes. And if someone wants to say he’s the team’s top prize, I wouldn’t stop them. He’s impressed me a ton.
Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State: Another player who had a good run in Maui was Sensabaugh, who looked like Ohio State’s best player at different points in a few games. Simply put, he deserves more minutes than what he’s getting now, as in 18 minutes a night he’s putting up 15.8 PPG on 52.5% shooting from the floor. He’s hit a high percentage of his outside shots, has converted from the line when he’s drawn fouls, and has done a great job at creating his own offense both on pull-up looks as well as out of the post on mismatches. There are few forwards who have been as prolific scorers on a per-minute basis as Sensabaugh, fueling his climb into the first round on many draft boards.
Julian Phillips, Tennessee: A standout performance against USC has helped the Tennessee prospect raise his draft stock in the eyes of some scouts. A 6’8” power wing, Phillips posted 25 points and eight rebounds in Tennessee’s win, while also helping his team beat Butler and Kansas on its way to a championship in the Battle 4 Atlantis While his perimeter shooting has been pedestrian, there’s no question Phillips can impact the game defensively and on the interior. Plenty of questions remain for me, but he’s proven he belongs in the conversation for a late first or early second round grade.
Terrance Arceneaux, Houston: The Cougars got a big win against Oregon earlier in the week, and it was in part to an offensive breakout by Arceneaux. While he didn’t do anything that necessarily changed his evaluation in my mind, he used the tools I knew he possessed to help play timely defense and score effectively without the ball. While not a high level on-ball creator yet in his career, Arceneaux is a great cutter, capable shooter off the catch, and destructive on the break after helping force turnovers. He finished with 15 points, five rebounds, and three steals and earned plenty of buzz after his performance.
JJ Starling, Notre Dame: The highest recruit in Notre Dame program history, Starling had a breakout game against Bowling Green last week scoring 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the floor. His explosiveness getting to the rim along with helping his team get out on the break made the freshman guard look like a potential player in the 2023 draft class. At 6’4”, Starling has a good build for a combo guard and can really pile up points in a hurry. While he’s shot the ball decently from range, his 57.1% from the foul line puts a small damper on his evaluation. If he can figure out how to get to the line more often and knock them down once he gets there, he could really start to enter some first-round conversations in a similar way to how Blake Wesley did last season.
Trey Alexander, Creighton: Alexander had one of the best runs in the Maui Invitational of any player, as he was steady scoring the ball while also taking on the other team’s best backcourt player defensively. He scored in double figures in each game and shot efficiently from the field as well as from beyond the arc. Alexander is beginning to answer questions about his outside shooting, while also displaying his craft and poise to separate on pull-up jumpers and find teammates in the halfcourt. He’s been Creighton’s best prospect so far early on by performance, and even though I still believe in Arthur Kaluma, it’s tough to deny that Alexander should absolutely have fans in NBA front offices.
Jaylen Clark, UCLA: There hasn’t been a buzzier prospect over the last few weeks than Clark. I would’ve considered him a true sleeper before the year started, but no longer at the 6’5” junior guard has done everything his team has asked him to against multiple standout opponents. He guards the other team’s best scoring threat, while also having lead the team in scoring before Sunday’s contest, as well as rebounding and steals per game. I’ve moved him onto my draft board, but determining just how high he should be drafted is one of my bigger questions in the early weeks. Shaky free-throw shooting aside, Clark has scored efficiently from everywhere else on the floor and has proven that the improvements made in his game are for real.
Taylor Hendricks, UCF: Having scored in double figures in all but one of six games to start the season, Hendricks also has shed the sleeper label and has moved into full prospect territory. Our own Stephen Gillespie was one of the first to talk about him this season at No Ceilings, and I agree with my colleague that Hendricks is a real candidate for the 2023 draft. At 6’9”, Hendricks is a capable scorer, rebounder, and defender. If his three-point shooting remains around the 40% mark it currently sits at, NBA teams will have no choice but to consider him with an early second round pick or perhaps higher as we get closer to June.
Games To Watch This Week
Tuesday 11/29, 9:30pm EST: Michigan vs. Virginia - This is a great test for Michigan, as Virginia has been playing stout defense to start the year as expected from Cavalier squads. Reece Beekman could be a difference-maker offensively against a Wolverines team led by Hunter Dickinson and Jett Howard.
Wednesday 11/30, 7:15pm EST: Duke vs. Ohio State - The Big Ten/ACC Challenge is one of my favorite crossover matchups of the season, as it’s an opportunity for true home and away battles between top teams. Brice Sensabaugh and Bruce Thornton having to travel to Durham is no joke, as Duke is looking like a better team by the game. Kyle Filipowski has been the stud for the Blue Devils, but this could be a breakout game for Dariq Whitehead and/or Dereck Lively.
Wednesday 11/30, 9:15pm EST: Indiana vs. North Carolina - Following the Duke and Ohio State showdown, North Carolina will look to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Iowa State in the PK85 in facing one of the Big Ten’s best in Indiana. Armando Bacot patrols the paint for the Tar Heels, but he will have to deal with the Hoosier bigs Trayce Jackson-Davis and Malik Reneau. Personally, I’ll have my eyes on the matchup of Caleb Love and Jalen Hood-Schifino.
Wednesday 11/30, 9:15pm EST: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State - Also taking place in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is a matchup of two programs that are known for playing tough and methodically in Notre Dame and Michigan State. Once again, the Fighting Irish have a great freshman guard in JJ Starling coming off a breakout game against Bowling Green. The Spartans have already had some difficult battles to start the year, and Tyson Walker hasn’t looked better in his career. Also watch for AJ Hoggard, Mady Sissoko, Malik Hall, and Jaxon Kohler on the MSU side.
Thursday 12/1, 7pm EST: Texas vs. Creighton - Two of the best teams in the country will face off on Thursday night, as Texas has the backcourt firepower to keep up with the offensive attack that is Creighton. Tyrese Hunter could surge even higher up draft boards if he can craft another masterpiece against Ryan Nembhard and Trey Alexander. The frontcourt for the Blue Jays could be the key, as Arther Kaluma and Ryan Kalkbrenner are capable of changing a game on the interior.
Friday 11/2, 8pm EST: Gonzaga vs. Baylor - Both Baylor and Gonzaga have had some up-and-down moments to start the year, yet are also two of the best squads in the country. Adam Flagler has been brilliant for the Bears so far despite most of the buzz surrounding freshman Keyonte George. Drew Timme always commands the offense for the Bulldogs, but someone else in the backcourt will have to step up and help both Timme and Julian Strawther.
Sunday 12/4, 5pm EST: UCLA vs. Oregon - Despite Oregon’s poor record to start the year, they still have a prospect in Kel’el Ware who is finally getting the minutes he deserves as a stretch big who can protect the rim and impact the game on both ends. UCLA meanwhile has an intriguing young big in Adem Bona who has fought with vigorous energy early on. Amari Bailey has looked better in recent games, and Jaylen Clark’s emergence (along with the steadiness of Jaime Jaquez) makes the Bruins one tough team to beat.
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