Bryce McGowens's Shot Selection | The Friday Screener
Bryce McGowens has an immense amount of talent, but he has some bad habits that must be cleaned up.
Bryce McGowens was simultaneously one of the most fascinating and most frustrating prospects to watch this season. His context may not have been an ideal one, but it was still evident that McGowens had NBA wing skills. His combination of size, athleticism, and skills will impress front offices in workouts, but the question of how he implements those skills into a live game still remains. The 2022 NBA Draft has a solid bounty of wings in the first round, and McGowens could still be one of the better ones to emerge. It shouldn’t be shocking if McGowens ends up as a 20 point-per-game scorer. However, he could also struggle to ever find a role. The big swing for him will be his shot selection.
Shot selection is one of the most common cliches used in prospect evaluation. It’s an incredibly important aspect of a player’s game, but it also gets misused or misinterpreted on a regular basis. Not all shot selections are the same for all players, but those who fail to correct their bad habits quickly become unplayable.
This season, McGowens had some of the most erratic shot selection in the country. He settled for bad jumpers, didn’t take shots he was best at, and would struggle to create space. However, McGowens did something we rarely see from freshmen: he improved his shot selection in the middle of the year. Instead of settling for contested jumpers, McGowens started attacking the rim, which improved his shot quality and regularly sent him to the free-throw line. The importance of this pivot in mindset cannot be understated. Yes, there were bad habits that persisted throughout the season, but for a freshman to actively change his approach to scoring in the middle of the season is a rare occurrence.
A few years down the line, McGowens could easily be one of the players we look back on who went far too low. Even though he could potentially be a higher pick if he returned for another year, there is also a higher chance that these bad habits would become more engrained. To fully understand and appreciate the changes McGowens made, we first have to look at the issues that made the changes necessary.
This season, McGowens struggled shooting off the dribble as he scored only 0.615 points per possession (PPP), which ranked in the 25th percentile. Yes, there are a few minor mechanical adjustments he needs to make, like raising his release point, but he should be a good shooter in the long run. The issue was his shot selection.
Here, McGowens is in a tight game against the 13th-ranked team in the country with most of the second half left. McGowens waves off his teammate coming to set a screen, which is the right call since he has the switch on the opposing center. Ideally, McGowens would go to work to create space or at least get his defender moving. Instead, McGowens pulls up for a three from the logo with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. He barely hits rim.
This time, McGowens seems like he’s decided what shot to take the second his teammate slips the screen. As McGowens attacks, he fails to keep his defender on his hip, allowing him to stay between the ball and the rim. McGowens then kills his dribble but fails to create any space for a jumper. Instead of recognizing his predicament, McGowens pulls up against a heavy contest and barely hits backboard.
Again, McGowens attacks downhill like he’s still facing crummy high school opposition. He initially executes a nice dribble counter move that creates a lane to his left, but his loose handle slows him down, allowing the defender to recover. Instead of stepping back to counter the defender’s momentum or kicking out, McGowens decides to attempt a floater through contact. Unfortunately, the defender is in great position, McGowens takes off too early, and McGowens’ upright stance doesn’t allow him to fight through the contact.
While McGowens didn’t entirely rid himself of erratic decision-making, it significantly improved throughout the season. Instead of taking awful pull-up jumpers at a high frequency, McGowens started utilizing his size and athleticism to attack the rim. This alteration led to him making 162 free throws (15th most in the country) and finishing in the 98th percentile on drives to his right in isolation (1.357 PPP, 70% FG).
Here, McGowens uses the screen to get his defender on his hip. Unlike what we saw before, McGowens uses his strength to keep him there, creating space to attack the rim. As McGowens attacks, he sees Kofi Cockburn staying in no man’s land. Since McGowens stayed low on his drive and fended off his defender, he is able to explode to the rim for a monster dunk.
This time, McGowens leverages his outside shooting to create an at-rim attempt. McGowens scored 1.475 PPP (89th percentile) on open catch and shoot jumpers, which is why the defender closed out so aggressively. However, this number plummeted to 0.648 PPP (17th percentile) when he was guarded. Instead of taking the contested jumper, McGowens dispatches the defender with a shot fake. From there, McGowens drives, hop steps through traffic, secures the ball against the dig, and finishes with the layup.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching prospects for the whole season is that we get to see how they adapt and grow their games. Earlier, we saw McGowens drive in an indecisive and upright stance that allowed the defender to hold his ground. This time, McGowens gets downhill and creates space. As McGowens pushes the early offense, he sees there isn’t anyone defending the rim besides his primary defender, who is giving a sizeable cushion. Without hesitation, McGowens decides he’s getting to the rim. Instead of the unbalanced attack we saw earlier, McGowens lowers his shoulder, moves his defender, and finishes through the contact.
McGowens saw the most success when he decided that he was getting to the rim. He didn’t always create a ton of space, but he got better at using his frame and length to secure the ball and change angles.
Here, Malaki Branham does a relatively decent job of forcing McGowens outside. Since he is decisive about his movement, though, McGowens maintains a sliver of room to finish at the rim. Instead of attempting a tough reverse, McGowens switches hands in midair and finishes with his left.
The straight-line drives will translate for McGowens pretty quickly, but the most effective drivers have a sense of flair, craft, and creativity as well. While McGowens didn’t prominently show this on a regular basis, there were enough flashes to make viewers excited about his scoring potential.
Here, McGowens has a mismatch and gets the larger defender moving, unlike before when he settled for a logo jumper. For his size, the defender does a decent job of moving with McGowens’ dribble moves. When McGowens attacks the lane, though, he gets the defender’s momentum moving enough that the defender can’t react to the spin in time. Instead, McGowens draws the foul and finishes through contact.
To round it out, I wanted to finish with a clip that I think perfectly represents how McGowens’s shot selection improved towards the end of the season. As he receives the pass, his defender whiffs on the steal attempt. Earlier in the season, McGowens would’ve pulled up from three. Instead, he immediately attacks the lane. McGowens kills his dribble at the elbow, which is surely a sign of something awful to come, like a contested pull-up or aimless drive. To my pleasant surprise, McGowens shows immense composure by using an up-and-under move to set up the layup.
Bryce McGowens has all the tools to be an offensive force in the NBA. There really aren’t any physical or skill limitations that are holding him back. His biggest hurdle is going to be how he processes the game. If he continues down the path he was on towards the end of the season, his future is incredibly bright. But, if he reverts to his old habits and tries to play hero ball, he’ll become quickly replaceable. If McGowens can clean up his decision-making and shot selection, he could be one of the biggest steals of the 2022 NBA Draft.