Catching Up On G-League Ignite and International Prospects | The Morning Dunk
After a holiday week cluttered with cancelled games and missed opportunities to see college prospects, it was a great chance to catch up on other leagues and provide updates.
Welcome back to The Morning Dunk!
A break was definitely needed to relax and appreciate the holidays with friends and family. I hope each and every person reading this column also experienced the same!
The G-League Ignite team completed its showcase cup run in December, Overtime Elite’s Jean Montero has had enough games under his belt and international basketball has rolled on including some exciting NBL action.
All of this created the perfect storm for me to go back and take a real dive into prospects who I’ve previously or am now projecting as first-round picks outside of known college players.
Here are some quick hits and insights on a number of talented individuals starting with members of G-League Ignite.
It’s no secret that Jaden Hardy has struggled to maintain consistency over the showcase cup run for Ignite.
Coming into the scouting cycle, Hardy was projected by many (myself included) as one of the top guys in the class to challenge for the top overall pick in 2022. The majority of scouts and evaluators had him slotted around fourth or fifth on a big board, and some even took a bolder approach listing him as that top contender.
After watching enough games of Ignite near the start of the year and over the last week, however, there’s no reasonable conclusion I can come to that’s similar to what I had stood on in November.
Casual fans of the draft will simply point to his averages and percentages and knock Hardy down a board that way but I’m actually not as concerned in that area.
Going from playing high school and AAU ball to battling in a league filled with grown men looking to put food on the table for their families is a completely different experience. Young players are supposed to struggle in this type of environment.
In 32.2 MPG, Hardy has averaged 17.7 PPG, 4.6 REB and 3.2 AST. What’s alarming, particularly about the scoring average, are the shot attempts and makes/misses to get there. Hardy is taking 17.1 shots per game and only making 6. Add to the fact he only gets to the line 2.8 times per contest and you can see the issue. Hardy is a volume shooter who hasn’t been capable of handling such offensive responsibility on a night-to-night basis.
Now, if he were getting to the line five or six times as opposed to around three, as well as hitting on eight or nine field goals as opposed to six, maybe we’d be having a different conversation. The NBA truly is a make-or-miss league, and that’s the same lens scouts generally tend to look through.
But there’s also the matter of WHY Hardy is struggling, not just the HOW. And that’s what has scouts like myself turned off for the moment. Simply put, he’s not a good dribbler.
On a first watch, many questioned his burst off an initial step and quickness navigating the defense. I actually don’t think he’s too slow to impact the game at the next level. It’s the fact he’s sloppy with the ball in his hands, has too much of a high-waisted dribble and fumbles on combination moves when trying to shake defenders.
Not having the main ingredient to stirring the drink for everyone else kills Hardy’s confidence elsewhere. I believe it’s impacted his jump shot more than we’d care to admit. His mechanics are fine, and his range is perfect for where the NBA is right now in terms of long-range shooting. But this isn’t high school where he can just waltz up the floor and bomb it from deep.
There’s more craft needed to excel in the NBA as a guard who requires having the ball in his hands to reach his potential. Would Ignite be wise to experiment with him more off the ball? Possibly. But the on-ball reps Hardy has gotten are incredibly valuable. He’s improved in pick-and-roll play, and being able to see his other weaknesses should help him get to work and make adjustments over the next few months.
Should he improve in certain areas offensively, I’ll have no problem putting him back in conversation for one of the top spots on my board. But he has to prove he’s more than a streaky shooter who occasionally comes up with a play defensively.
All of the talent is there for Hardy, now it’s time to put in the work and prove it.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have the easiest time initially evaluating Dyson Daniels.
It’s not that some of his strengths didn’t pop out to me upon first glance. Daniels’ best offering right now is his on-ball perimeter defense which is arguably the best in the class.
Daniels can switch 1-3, sticks to his man like glue, moves his feet well, plays angles and is disruptive in passing lanes. Everything you’re looking for from a competitive man-to-man defender, Daniels brings. Given his 6’6” size and plus length, one would think he has the base of a sure-fire lottery pick.
While I think his stock is certainly trending in that direction, I still have a few questions about just how he fits on an NBA court offensively.
Daniels can score the ball in a few ways, particularly as a finisher off straight line drives, attacking closeouts or filling the lane in transition. Every now and then, he’ll whip out a floater in the lane with decent touch. But ask him to shoot the ball from distance and the results haven’t been great.
Currently Daniels is making less than 1 three per game on 3.6 attempts, which puts him 25.5% through 14 games. Watching the tape, he has some BAD misses from deep. Absolute clunkers and bricks.
I think there’s a few ways to better fix his mechanics particularly in his load up, but Daniels also needs to be ready to fire at will when he’s open. He’s a little slow squaring himself up as if he’s wrestling with the decision at times to shoot or keep the ball moving.
If his confidence can come around on set shots, then he can start working on connecting consistently off the dribble where he sees some of the same bad misses.
Nowadays it’s so important for guards to make decisions or shots off a live dribble and not just act as stationary spacers for others to go to work. Yes, obviously Daniels brings value as an initiator within the offense but I’d venture to say NBA teams don’t see him as a primary ball handler at volume.
Daniels doesn’t have that blazing quickness off a first step, and without that shot to bail him out of poor reads off the screen he can get caught in no man’s land in a hurry. He’s a high IQ player so generally those mistakes are few and far between, but it’s still an issue to monitor.
Serving as a connector piece within the offense is a much better role for Daniels, and assuring his value spotting up away from the ball coupled with his defensive impact would go a long way in giving me lottery confidence.
But if he shows consistency in his shot over January and February for Ignite, he’ll move out of the mid-first section of my board appropriately.
One of the draft’s best stories this year in terms of “finding his way”, MarJon Beauchamp has exploded up boards.
ESPN’s latest projections have him slotted around 15, while many other major media outlets have him firmly in the first round.
Considering his stock was mid-late second round a little over a month ago, it’s one of the more dramatic jumps by a prospect so far. Other players have seen significant boosts due to sustained success in non-conference play, but Beauchamp has been a bright spot as a starter during Ignite’s up-and-down season.
Through 12 games Beauchamp has averaged 15.1 PPG on 57.1% shooting from the field. Most of his attempts come off timely cuts in the halfcourt or transition highlights, but at least he tends to stay within himself and create in areas he’s comfortable.
If Beauchamp isn’t able to connect on a jumper early on, he doesn’t continue to force up shots that are as detrimental to his team’s success as a live-ball turnover. That level of discipline means something, although there’s no question his 24.2% from deep HAS to improve to stick in the NBA as his “new draft range” would indicate.
However, similar to Daniels he’s that type of connective tissue that can hold an offense together in multiple ways. As mentioned, his willingness to do the dirty work off the ball gets his teammates going on a nightly basis. From my view, he’s the best transition scorer in the class because of his timing and awareness filling the lane and how great he is at finishing downhill. Beauchamp has touch around the basket and can hit a floater, go high off glass or reverse finish with either hand.
He’s not the sexiest player offensively, but defensively he’s just as if not more disruptive than Daniels when it comes to forcing turnovers. I’m not as bought into his on-ball approach as others, but there’s no questioning his understanding of how and when to initiate doubles to force opposing players into coughing the ball up for easy runouts.
That type of pest on the wing is what every team is looking for in the NBA and why I’m holding his stock in the first round. He could climb a little higher, but I couldn’t put him past someone like Daniels for example. Beauchamp isn’t a great passer or decision maker, also struggles shooting the ball and isn’t as technically sound defensively.
But considering the lack of depth in this class from where we sit in January, he’s as much of a lock to me as some of the other guys ahead of him to at least be taken in the first round.
Michael Foster Jr.
In my humble opinion, the hottest name on Ignite in terms of gaining traction from beginning to now is Michael Foster Jr.
Foster wasn’t an unknown coming into the program, as he was one of the highest ranked recruits in his high school class. However, teams were able to gather more intel on him at the G-League Showcase in Las Vegas which I believe has contributed to his rise up draft boards.
Just a few weeks ago, Foster wasn’t anywhere on top 30 rankings, and some didn’t even have him as one of the 60 best prospects for the 2022 draft. Now, he’s getting more buzz at a great time considering the uncertainty after projecting the lottery.
The back half of the first round is currently filled with unproven freshman who haven’t quite been able to solidify their range, or upper classmen who offer certain complementary skills but don’t have the same upside of being “something more” after a few years in the league. Foster could be a great upside play in the late 20’s-early 30’s because he’s a combination of both.
Averaging 14.8 PPG and 8.8 REB while playing just under 30 minutes a night for Ignite is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you factor in some of that back story I alluded to earlier.
Foster has been playing higher level team basketball only since he was 14 years old. So in reality, he has about 4 years of experience playing the game at any level close to what he’s facing now. That pales in comparison to some of his counterparts I’ve previously mentioned, as well as plenty others projected higher in the draft.
And even despite that, Foster has displayed touch on mid-range jumpers, has rebounded effectively on both ends, converts on 2P looks and has been a good shot blocker around the basket.
Now, his understanding of how to play the game on both ends has looked incredibly inconsistent and at times nonexistent during his time with Ignite. That’s likely the biggest reason why he wasn’t taken seriously on previous boards. I came away with the same feelings after watching his first few games.
But a lack of experience is excusable, especially considering he’s producing in spite of it. On his best days, Foster looks like a more athletic version of JaMychal Green, a valuable role player in the NBA who was a starter for multiple years.
Foster has the chance to reach that height in his playing career which would make him more valuable than some of the other guys projected in his range. I’m curious to see what more he can show over the next few months to build out his case as a first-round pick.
Some members of the team here at No Ceilings have struggled with the ranking of Nikola Jovic. Not even just the ranking on a big board, but also what kind of tier does he fall into?
Does he have the upside of a long-term starter in the league? Is he a higher level role player or sixth man off the bench who’s better suited for bringing stability to a second unit?
I’ve been on the side of starter since preseason and although some of the percentages people have shared regarding his stats overseas can be discouraging, there’s no reason for me to quit buying stock on Jovic now.
A 6’10” forward who can create his own shot off the bounce, finish around the basket, hit a nasty floater in the lane or even dunk on someone’s head. That sums up Jovic’s offensive impact in a nutshell, but on tape there are some encouraging signs of him starting to get more consistency as a catch-and-shoot threat.
The main selling point to Jovic is you buy his creation ability off the dribble. And when I say creation, I don’t just mean self creation. Jovic is a creative passer and can make a lot of reads in half-court play. Not to mention he can pass guys open on hit-ahead looks in transition.
I’m less concerned about putting the ball in his hands in volume, however. I want to go into the draft with as much confidence as possible that he can contribute off the ball. If Jovic is spotting up in the corner, can his teammates trust him to knock down that shot? Does he cut to the basket? Can he convert off offensive rebounds? Does he do the little things, or is his game built around flair we’re unsure will translate in the NBA?
After getting to FINALLY dig into some real tape, I’m buying his willingness to win games at whatever the cost. The more I watch, the more I see a competitive individual who believes in the team, not just his own ability. Is he still wired to take difficult shots and go for the homerun play? Absolutely. But I don’t see those selfish looks terribly often, and at the end of the day basketball is also about having fun so I don’t want a player to eliminate ALL emotion from his arsenal eitehr.
But can Jovic fit in and play a role within an NBA team? That answer to me is yes, and when you do factor in the other things that lend to credible upside, it’s hard to not view him as a lottery talent in this draft class.
Is he deserving of buzz in the upper half of the lottery? I still question his overall athleticism and consistency behind the tough shot making to warrant that level of consideration at this point. But back half of the lottery, he has too many intriguing tools with his combination of size, scoring and passing ability. Defensive versatility non-withstanding, I buy into his offensive capabilities and see him as a starting forward in the league.
I’m including Montero in this section because of his path before he got to Overtime Elite, a newer basketball organization stateside to further develop high school players and those who have chosen an alternate path to college or the G-League.
Montero’s performance for OTE has been up and down in some instances, but in an up-and-down setting he’s going to naturally stand out because of his own flair and pizazz.
Although he’s not an exceptional athlete or a guard with plus size for his position, Montero does have budding feel for getting others involved and making good reads. He loves going for the sizzle pass for better or worse, but there’s no question he gets excited when he can help someone else score or make a brilliant play.
While his pick-and-roll game is something that’s still a work-in-progress, he’s getting better at navigating coverages and withholding making the boneheaded mistakes. Montero can hit the pocket pass, dish back out and score off pull-up jumpers to keep defenses honest. He may not be a maestro at skips and cross-corner looks just yet but there’s reason to believe he can get there because of his tempo as a lead guard.
As for his shooting, that’s really what can make or break his case as one of the more dynamic point guards in this class. If he’s not hitting jumpers in spades, it takes away from his ability to score overall. Montero isn’t a filthy finisher around the rim so being able to knock in that floater and stretch defenses with timely shot making is key to open up those lanes where he can go to work inside the arc.
Flip on an OTE game on YouTube, and you’ll see he has some of the highest highs of any player in the 2022 draft class. But taking into account the level of competition he’s playing against, it is more difficult to see when he does make those poor reads and mistakes.
If he were to do the same things at the college level when we’re seeing him on a near nightly basis, would he still be projected as a lottery guard on many different boards? I wrestle with that answer myself.
Given his lack of elite burst or quickness, Montero needs to be as crafty as possible on the court to earn a spot starting at PG in the most competitive league the world has to offer. The threshold for playing point guard in the NBA is a high bar, and I’m not sure I’m quite sold on him reaching that mark just yet. He’s a guard who deserves his shot in the league, but I’m ranking him just outside the lottery at this point.
After suffering one of the more drastic falls off my board when I release my updated version on the Draft Deeper podcast, Ousmane Dieng is in a tough spot.
He’s not currently amongst the starting wings for the New Zealand Breakers, and the reasons why really show themselves when you flip on the tape.
Dieng’s approach offensively has been similar to some of the other freshman who have slipped down and/or fallen off my board entirely. He’s trying too hard to prove himself as a shot maker to the point where he brings his team down when he’s on the floor.
Too many times Dieng looks to shoot immediately off the catch even with a defender contesting with a hand in his face. There’s no sense of calm or steadiness to his approach. If Dieng got more creative, took a few dribbles, tried to shake his man or catch him leaning to get a shot off MAYBE some of the results would be different.
But we don’t see that nearly enough. He’s proven on tape he has a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to setting up his own offense, but I don’t see the same level of confidence from when I watched some of him to study preseason.
The main thing that intrigued me apart from the shooting ability at 6’9” was his willingness to pass off a live dribble. Go back and watch some highlights before this NBL season of Dieng playing at other levels of competition and you’ll see a capable playmaker with room to grow. Some of that has carried over in minutes for the Breakers but not nearly as much as I’d like to see.
Dieng just doesn’t seem as familiar with how to operate within the style of offense New Zealand utilizes. Couple that with having a more limited role so far within the rotation and it doesn’t spell potential lottery talent as I had initially projected.
On my 1.0 board I tried to stick as much to preseason rationale as possible especially for guys who I hadn’t gotten a chance to catch up on. I really didn’t want to overreact heavily and only moved guys around when I felt I had a reasonable amount of evidence in front of me to do so.
Now that I’ve studied Dieng in action over the last few weeks, I’m ready to admit he’s not where he needs to be as a first-round talent. Should he not show any improvements or carve out a better role, he deserves to be drafted because of the upside that still exists; it’s just not as obvious as it once was.
Hugo Besson is an absolutely FUN watch when he’s on.
At his best, he reminds you of a Tyler Herro-like guard who thrives creating space on the perimeter for step-back jumpers and catches guys leaning to attack in space and create off of it.
That type of score-first guard can swing games in the NBA, but it’s about finding the role that best fits the player, not just the archetype they may fall into.
At 6’3”, Besson isn’t as tall or as quick as Herro and he struggles even more so when trying to connect on looks around the basket. He doesn’t finish through contact well and isn’t a vertical player to get up off the ground and find a better angle to finish at.
In terms of creation ability, he’s actually proven to be pretty good at getting his own shot for the Breakers. But I do question whether he’s a true combo guard or an undersized two based off of what I’ve seen on tape from a passing perspective.
When he gets downhill in pick-and-rolls, his head isn’t always up and surveying reads off what the defense gives him. Besson looks to use that screen to set up more of his own offense first, which fits his play style but feeds into some of the other issues outlined.
He’s only averaging 1.5 AST which doesn’t bode well for taking over the reigns of the offense more often than not. Even at his size with some of his advantages, Herro has done a much better job with the Miami Heat of creating for others out of PnR and leveraging those situations to his advantage. Besson doesn’t have that same nuance after navigating the screen. Whether that part of his game continues to grow remains to be seen, but it’s more crucial for him to hold onto a starting role in the league.
Should he be evaluated as a starting two vs. a second-unit combo, his shot from beyond the arc isn’t blowing anyone away off the catch, and his defense is minimally impactive because of his lack of lateral quickness and length (although the guy is tough as nails from a competitive standpoint).
Bottom line, I’m glad I went back and watched some Breakers games because there was plenty of preseason discussion around whether he could be an NBA point guard or not. I’m at a solid “no” to answer that question, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get better at setting the table against second units.
As a microwave-style scoring guard off the bench, Besson has a home in the league. He has plenty of style and bravado, and would fit right in with other guys in the locker room. I have Besson in the 25-30 range now, but should he get better as a setup man and improve his percentages from range he could climb a little higher for me personally.
5 Games To Watch This Week
1/3, 7pm EST: Wisconsin @ Purdue: Given the fact that Johnny Davis has skyrocketed up draft boards the way he has, this game becomes much more intriguing. Jaden Ivey seems to have a firm lead as best guard in the class over someone like Davis, but it’s not impossible for Davis to continue climbing the ranks if he outperforms Ivey in a win over one of the most complete teams in the country. Trevion Williams is another name to watch here.
1/4, 7pm EST: Kentucky @ LSU: Auburn was a tough test for LSU and the buzzworthy Tari Eason. Now, the Tigers have another huge match against an experienced Kentucky team with size and shooting to match against the physicality of Eason and co. TyTy Washington has a favorable matchup in the backcourt should he continue to knock down jumpers at the rate he has been.
1/5, 9pm EST: North Carolina @ Notre Dame: Speaking of players who have gained a lot of traction over the last few weeks, Blake Wesley is as hot a name as they come. The 6’5” frosh combo guard has a chance to continue booming his stock with a great performance against the Tar Heel backcourt of Caleb Love and RJ Davis.
1/8, 4pm EST: Kansas @ Texas Tech: So long as Terrence Shannon Jr. plays, this could be his best test yet to prove he has what it takes to keep his name in first-round consideration. Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji are no joke on the wing for the Jayhawks, so Shannon proving he can score on and defend those two would go a long way in reminding everyone the type of impact he could have if given the chance in the NBA.
1/8, 10pm EST: USC @ Stanford: Harrison Ingram has put up good numbers for a freshman forward in terms of points and rebounds, but he’s struggled to assert himself as a shot maker from deep as well as off the bounce. If the Cardinals are going to upset a good USC team led by Isaiah Mobley and Boogie Ellis, it will take Ingram to serve as a primary option both scoring and distributing the ball. Keep an eye on who Ingram defends as well, as that part of his game has been underrated up to this point.