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Brice Sensabaugh and the School of Midrange Craft and Wizardry
Brice Sensabaugh has been one of the most productive freshman in the country. But how well does his offensive game translate to the modern NBA?
I like weirdos. There’s a separator between weirdos and the rest of a group or subculture that makes them unique and deeply fascinating that are atypical to your everyday run-of-the-mill normies. Basketball weirdos are my favorite.
Brice Sensabaugh is a basketball weirdo.
If you were constructing a modern wing on 2K, you wouldn’t start by giving your player a stature closer to a linebacker than a hooper, with a frame that looks like that of a guy training for a draft in April rather than one in June. But Sensabaugh is a basketball weirdo.
The idiosyncrasy of Sensabaugh’s frame is going to be the main talking point when discussing the Ohio State freshman, but in doing so you may be missing the forest for the trees because his most unique quality may not be his build but his advanced skill set.
Sensabaugh’s rise into the draft discussion could best be described as more of a simmer than meteoric. He wasn’t on many pre-season mocks or boards entering the 2023 NBA Draft cycle, and while he is now a mainstay as a potential first round prospect, he’s far from the focus in most draft conversations. Look at different draft boards around the World Wide Web, and you’ll find that Sensabaugh’s stock is still all over the place. However, with each passing day that his production is sustained, his game becomes harder to ignore, and the lottery conversation becomes just a little bit louder.
In a draft with quick twitch athletes like Scoot, Cam, and the Thompsons, Sensabaugh’s game burns slow. The Orlando native will lull you to sleep and control each possession with a mature barrage of skill not often found in college freshmen. His game doesn’t slap you in the face the same way the more athletic potential-based prospects may. Like a fine wine, though, the longer you sit with his tape, the more complexities you’ll notice.
Sensabaugh makes you play at his pace. He has a nuanced understanding of where his spots are on the floor, and he makes decisive decisions to get to them.
Sensabaugh is an old-school hooper with a modern twist. He loves operating out of the midrange and post. These shot types may be atypical for modern scorers but Sensabaugh offers a rare level of skill in these areas that make it seem like he received a letter in the mail the week prior to his eleventh birthday from Headmaster DeMar DeRozan to attend the School of Midrange Craft and Wizardry.
The word midrange may appear in the dark arts lexicon in 2023, but Sensabaugh’s level of efficiency and the versatility in which he scores there is hard to ignore. Sensabuagh’s big body frame allows him to get to his spot, back you down, put his shoulder in your chest, and then use finesse and footwork to get you off tilt and create space for easy money looks.
These fall-away middies may appear to be tough shots to the naked eye, but Sensabaugh is a tough shot maker. The thing with tough shot-making for legit scorers is that it is often an illusion of sorts. Shots that appear tough on the surface are right in Sensabuagh’s comfort zone. The footwork is almost choreographed in that each counter is top of mind based on each decision the defender makes. You want to push the ball baseline, he’ll just turn over his right shoulder and get right into a short jumper. At that point, the hand in the face is almost inconsequential. This is where the bread is buttered. Sensabaugh ranks in the 95th percentile on short to 17-foot jumpers and scores .36 points per possession above expectation per Synergy’s shot-making data.
Sensabaugh uses his size to his advantage when he is 15 and in but he is also a deceptively quick mover given his frame. He can face you up or dance with the ball, and he uses a wicked crossover that gets super shifty and low to generate space for clean looks.
And herein lies some of the mismatch options Sensabaugh has presented this season and projects to present at the next level. Sensabaugh is too strong to leave a guard on as he can just bring you into the post and go to work, but he’s also got shake and quickness that makes him a tough cover for bigs on switches.
Sensabuagh’s positional malleability in the halfcourt will allow teams to take advantage of an expanded offensive toolbox by using him in more non-traditional contexts that will force mismatches for him. Sensabaugh can be used as both a screener as well as an initiator out of ball screens that will let him go to work in a variety of ways.
Give him the rock and let him punish drops as he gets right to his spot at the nail as his man recovers too late fighting over the screen.
Or use him as the screener where he can either pick and pop into a catch-and-shoot jumper or get the switch and size up a heavy-footed big.
Remember earlier when I described Sensabaugh as an old-school hooper with a modern twist? Sensabuagh is a midrange wizard, but he may as well be using an unforgivable curse for what he’s doing to the net from behind the three-point line. Currently shooting 47% on 11 3PA per 100 possessions—ranking in the 97th percentile, per Synergy—Sensabaugh is shooting the absolute shit out of the ball, and he is doing so in a variety of ways.
I don’t think anyone is going to confuse Sensabaugh for JJ Redick anytime soon, but he’s more than capable of being used similarly to how the Suns deploy Devin Booker in off-ball actions.
Sensabaugh can also create looks off the bounce using his creation craft. The jab step shoulder shimmy is a go-to move that Sensabaugh loves to use to get the defender off balance before dropping in a trey ball in their eye.
Sensabaugh won’t just use the jab step shimmy to settle for jumpers as he’ll also get a defender leaning and attack the rim.
Sensabaugh isn’t an elite finisher, but he has been mostly good. He doesn’t have the bounce to constantly finish above the rim, and I think some of those athletic concerns will rear their head at the next level as he works himself into NBA shape and deals with longer, more athletic defenders on a more regular basis.
However, he’s still finishing 60% at the rim as a freshman. Sensabaugh is going to be able to beat forwards off the bounce with his shifty handle, and because he’s strong as all hell, he’s able to shield defenders with his body and use his plus length to extend and finish. This is an NBA-level same foot same hand finish with a defender draped all over him.
And when he isn’t beating his defender to the rim in a line drive, he shows us more of that pace, skill, and craft in the post as he can get to his spot, back you down, turn over his shoulder, and mix it up by finishing at the basket through the contact instead of falling away for a jumper. And one.
The main focus of this piece was to shine light on the immense bag that Sensabaugh can bust out as a scorer on the court, but I wanted to touch on his playmaking chops a bit because, for all his usage, his assist numbers are underwhelming. My dude is out there to get buckets, and so buckets he gets. At the next level, you have to bring more to the table if you’re to be anything more than a heat check guy off the bench. When you score as efficiently as Sensabaugh does, you’re bound to draw heavy attention from the defense, and so he’ll need to show that he can leverage the threat of his offense to make plays for others.
However, there is always context to be discussed and parsed through. I’m not going to sell you on Sensabaugh as an elite playmaker or even a guy who is looking to regularly make plays, but what I am going to do is mention how he’s shown more playmaking flashes as the season has progressed and he’s earned more responsibility to operate with the ball in his hands. These flashes are important because when I’m scouting him as an NBA prospect and not scouting him as a college player, I see a guy who is fully capable of being used in different play types where he can use his scoring gravity to benefit an NBA offense.
I discussed Sensabaugh’s ability to function as a screener. We saw the pick and pop and ability and how it could be used to garner mismatches on switches, but he can also be used as a short roll operator. With a floor spread with shooters and the gravity he has both from behind the three-point line as well as from the midrange, Sensabaugh should be able to come off a screen and find himself with multiple passing options. Sensabaugh slips the screen on this possession and finds himself in position to get downhill and potentially attack the rim. As the low man slides over and Bacot is out of position to X-Out in time, Sensabaugh is able to make a high-level read to the weak-side corner for a wide-open three.
On this next possession, we see Sensabaugh get into a little side ball screen action. As he comes off the screen he uses a little hesi to survey the floor—head up the whole way—so that on the drive he can read the positioning of the weak-side wing splitting the difference, who sinks too low cheating to a potential corner hit and has to run like a bat out of hell to recover out to the wing on the kick. Sensabaugh doesn’t get an assist here (though he does get the putback), but he creates a great look for his shooter with excellent processing and execution as the pick-and-roll operator.
Let’s get back to Sensabaugh’s post-ups for a hot second and look at how they could be used as a means to set up his teammates. We’ve established that Sensabaugh has a bevy of moves in the post to get a bucket. In doing so, he’ll surely see doubles, as leaving a defender on an island with him will mostly allow him to dictate a clean look. But as the defense collapses and off-ball defenders cut the floor in half, can he make the right reads? The flashes are there to buy in.
For a prospect with such a pedestrian assist percentage, Sensabaugh shows a lot of feel and natural ability when he does put his playmaking hat on. Making a live dribble cross-court hit to the weak-side shooter on a rope is high-level shit.
Sensabaugh again displays his floor vision as he finds the baseline cutter on this possession. Once Sensabaugh gets the switch onto the smaller guard, gets walled off by the help defender on the baseline, and realizes he has a mismatch, he goes right into his back to the basket bag. He feels the help looming over his left shoulder, turns into the lane, and perfectly times and places the pass to the cutter.
I’ve used a lot of clips with DeMar DeRozan and Devin Booker in this piece because both of those guys are masters of their craft in a way that I think Brice can one day be. They know their spots on the floor, and they’re in no rush to get to them. They force you to play at their pace. Neither guy was known as a playmaker in college; there was nothing in the numbers to suggest that that part of their game would develop. And yet, both of those guys have become much more complete offensive players throughout their careers, developing not only a more nuanced understanding of how to generate points for themselves but also for their teammates. And so yes, I’ll buy into the flashes that Sensabaugh has shown, however few and far between they may be. The feel is there, and the scoring package is enticing as all hell. Sensabaugh isn’t going to wow you with a highlight reel and for that, some may limit his potential, but I think that’s the wrong approach. The outlandish numbers were cute at the beginning of the season, but we’ve gotten to a point at which it’s getting harder and harder to overlook the production. If he was on more pre-season lists with percentages like these at this point of the season, there wouldn’t even be a question if he was worthy of a lottery pick. I’m beyond that point. For me, the question is no longer about if I feel he’s worthy of the lotto conversation, but instead, it is just how high in that conversation can this basketball weirdo climb come draft night?