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Drew Peterson: The Pedro Pascal of College Basketball?
Drew Peterson is a jumbo wing with a sweet shooting stroke and some sick passing skills. Sleep on him if you dare.
Jalen Rose’s monologue on ESPN’s First Take back in the day has always stuck with me over the years. He talked about positions in the NBA and how they were created solely for beginners to understand the game better. I also liked how he always emphasized that players should not be viewed under the scope of these positions. Just because a player is listed as a center doesn’t mean they have to post up on the block every single possession. Just because you’re a point guard, it doesn’t mean all you’re going to be doing is throwing passes and setting guys up. With the catalog of positions in the NBA now longer than the standard five positions, it’s becoming essential for teams to find the right lineup chemistry. Just because you have a ball-dominant player and a bunch of guys that can shoot 3s, that doesn’t always mean you’ll be winning the championship every year.
Look at the 2018 Houston Rockets; that team had James Harden and Chris Paul as the dual engines and guys like Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and Ryan Anderson around them to either space the court or set screens for them to get going downhill. In theory, that sounded like the perfect combination in the modern era of pace, space, and long-range shooting. Having a bunch of specialists around a superstar seemed to be the perfect balance of things, but like all things in life, rarely will you find a one-size fits all solution for anything. Building a title-contending team in the NBA is ridiculously hard, and it’s why you see trends constantly changing.
If you look at how things are trending now, it feels like teams are not looking so much for specialists to surround their best players with. The hot-button word that almost every prospect in the world should be looking to add to their profile is versatility. If a scout, evaluator, or front office guy even utters the word versatility when describing a prospect, that prospect’s stock goes flying through the roof. Everyone is looking to add more versatility on both ends of the ball, and the more you have, the higher your perceived ceiling will go. Defending wings is cool, but can you guard centers? Passing is cool, but can you also shoot from three? Shooting from three is cool, but can you also run pick-and-roll action as a secondary creator?
Recently my wife and I got sucked into another incredible show called “The Last of Us” on HBO. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Based on the blockbuster video game with the same title, the show has received rave reviews and has been a good watch. Pedro Pascal has received a ton of love for his portrayal of Joel, the show’s main character. It’s been pretty incredible to see the wide range of emotions, roles, and overall usage Pascal has taken on. Without spoiling any of the show’s details, we see him tackle being a father, friend, brother, guide, bodyguard, and a million different things.
Pascal also got to show off his versatility as an actor when he was a guest host for Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks ago. I thought the skit he did pretending to be a protective Latina mother was the best and freaking hilarious to watch. I attached a link to the skit above; you’re welcome.
I get it, Pedro Pascal is an incredible actor, and he’s the top guy on one of, if not the, biggest shows on television right now. I get that comparing Drew Peterson to Pedro Pascal is a bit of a stretch. But in the same way that Pedro Pascal has been given some opportunities to flash a wide range of his skills, I believe Drew Peterson has been flashing way more versatility for the USC Trojans than he’s being given credit for right now.
Peterson is a fifth-year wing for the USC Trojans and one of the most important players on the team. He’s currently averaging 14.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 4.5 APG for the Trojans. As a fifth-year guy, Peterson will definitely be looked at as old during the draft process, but don’t let his age distract you from his serious game. Old guys like Drew Peterson have game, and they often benefit from the extra seasoning in college.
Yoshihiro Akiyama may not be a name that many of you are familiar with. He may not be a big name in the states, but in Asia and specifically in South Korea and Japan, he’s a well-known Mixed Martial Artist who has enjoyed a long and illustrious career. About a year ago, Akiyama was challenged by another fighter about eight years his minor. The other fighter, Shinya Aoki, is a legendary fighter in his own right but much younger than Akiyama. Aoki had been trying to challenge Akiyama to a fight for a while but felt like the older legend was ducking him and had some choice words for him in the first clip I attached below. Like the cool veteran fighter, Akiyama didn’t get emotional and accepted the challenge. In the second clip below, you’ll see that the older Akiyama, perceived by many as the underdog in the fight due to his age, actually came out on top. This was a monumental moment for Akiyama as he could prove to himself and the world that he wasn’t too old to hang with the young bucks.
I say all this because I believe Drew Peterson will read my piece eventually. Drew, if you’re reading this, I apologize for comparing you to a middle-aged MMA fighter. I know you understand the larger point I was trying to make. You’re going to be a USC grad; I know you’re smart. Also, don’t worry about these young bucks being more agile. As the great draft philosopher Corey Tulaba once said, “you don’t have to be fast to play fast as long as you think fast.” I know that I completely butchered his quote, but you get the idea.
With all the age stuff out of the way, let’s get into why I think Drew Peterson actually needs to be on more people’s radars and may end up getting drafted in the 2023 NBA draft.
The best place to start is his shooting, but before we even get into his shooting, we have to state that Peterson is gigantic. Drew Peterson is listed as 6’9” tall by his school. I’ve seen him play live, and he looks every bit that tall. I remember watching Peterson play in the Pac-12 tournament last year in Vegas and was pretty amazed by how huge he was and, more importantly, how agile he was for his size. For a guy that’s 6’9”, he moves more like he’s 6’4” to 6’6”. He moves more like a guard/wing than he does a power forward. He is pretty light on his feet and moves with real intention when on the court. All of this is important because it’s all connected with the overall versatility of Peterson’s game.
Peterson’s marquee skill will definitely be shooting. When NBA teams turn on the tape, the first thing they will see and want to see is the shooting. Currently, Peterson is shooting 37.6% from three on four attempts per game. His overall shooting splits are 46.9/37.6/74.2. I know those numbers aren’t dazzling, but I also don’t think you have to be 50/40/90 every year to be considered a good shooter. When you watch Peterson’s shot and see the gravity and attention his shooting garners, you know he’s a shooter.
According to Synergy Sports, Peterson is currently shooting 37.3% on long threes and 49.7% on mid-range jumpers. Those are some significant numbers for us to note because Peterson does have deep range; more importantly, though, he’s proving to be a guy that can make tough shots in the mid-range by attacking closeouts.
I like how Peterson has shown off some of his handles to get himself good looks in the mid-range all season long. That handle has also led Peterson to a good volume of pick-and-roll action as the ball handler, and he has done a pretty decent job scoring and distributing. We’ll get into his passing later, but I like the multiple wrinkles in his offensive game. If you watch the SparkNotes version of Peterson’s game, you’ll focus on the outside shooting. If you lock in and watch his whole game, you’ll see a guy that’s blossomed over his five years in college and will walk into the league with a pretty versatile offensive package.
As much as I like Peterson as an outside and mid-range shooter, the thing that keeps him from being a really high-level offensive player is his physique and limited athletic ability. I’m not saying Peterson is a bad athlete. All I’m saying is he’s not a ridiculously high-level athlete that has the speed, strength, and agility to get into the lane at will. If you watch the video I attached above, you’ll see that Peterson doesn’t have a lightning-quick first step, and that really makes it hard for him to get going downhill against faster defenders. That’s why you’ll see him pass it out or take a heavily contested mid-range shot. It’s not all bad, though, because he is 6’9” and can get his shot up against most guards and wings.
I wish he took the ball to the rim more often. If he did, I think he’d be averaging more than 3.6 attempts per game from the free-throw line. It’s also important to note that when Peterson does take the ball to the rim, he’s shooting it at a pretty good clip. He’s shooting 73.7% at the rim for the season on 57 attempts. That’s not a huge volume, but you can see on tape that he has good touch around the rim and is pretty savvy about using his size. Peterson is also a decent athlete that has also flashed some impressive hang time at the rim. Some of his finishes at the rim were a little awkward, but that’s something that I think will get fixed. I think a vast majority of his awkward finishes were due to him wanting to avoid the contact or jumping too early.
Peterson has a beautiful stroke and does a good job shooting off of dribble hand-offs, pin-downs, and even off the dribble. The surprising thing is, according to Synergy sports, 88% of his jump shots are actually off the dribble, and only 7% are from catch-and-shoot opportunities. That sheds a lot of light on the types of shots Peterson is getting and might explain why his three-point shooting percentage isn’t even higher than it already is. Considering how pretty his shot is if he had more opportunities off the catch, I think he’d get better looks from outside, and that percentage would be a couple of ticks higher. It also speaks to the amount of trust Coach Enfield has in Peterson as a ball-handler and creator for the team. You’ll even see Peterson bring the ball up the floor on possessions and initiate the offense.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I see Peterson as a three-level scorer, but I do think he has the potential to one day become more of a three-level guy if he can increase his volume around the rim. He has the tools to be good around the rim, but the willingness needs to continue to grow, and I think it would help if he put on a bit of muscle. I wouldn’t want him to get jacked out of his mind, but a little old man strength with some NBA conditioning could go a long way in helping him embrace and finish through more contact.
Drew Peterson is a good passer, and I mean that.
It’s pretty dope to see how much Peterson has the ball in his hands as a pick-and-roll ball handler, and he does a pretty good job. Due to his size, IQ, and feel for the game, Peterson is an effective passer who can do a ton of the connecting stuff but can also make some really high-level reads. Watch the compilation I put together; the guy has real vision, and he has fun with his passing as well. He’s not afraid to take a risk once in a while, fitting in a bullet in a tight window. Watching some of his games, I really liked that he used his size to see over his defender and scan the court. He’s always looking to make the right play and understands that he can leverage his gravity into opportunities for others.
As I mentioned earlier, Peterson has developed a nice connection with guys like Kobe Johnson and Tre White because of their willingness to cut to the basket and Peterson’s ability to see and find them. Heading into March Madness with Vincent Iwuchukwu now back in the fold, I’d like to see more of the Peterson and Iwuchukwu pick-and-roll action. Running that with two giant guys like that will be jarring for college defenders and could lead to some easy looks for both.
It’s important to note that he doesn’t just flash this type of stuff once in a while. Peterson is currently averaging 4.5 APG, which is a really good number for a guy who isn’t his team’s primary creator. I love the fact that Peterson is looking for and finding opportunities to impact the game with his passing on a consistent level.
He has some flair, too, with some of the no-look and behind-the-back passes. I also think he’s good at pushing the ball up the court in transition and has made some good decisions for himself and his teammates. I don’t think he has a tight enough handle to have the ball in his hands as much on the next level, but his handle is plenty good and could get tighter. Suppose he has a tighter handle and continues attracting the same attention to his shooting—in that case, he could become a nice secondary or tertiary creator with some real passing ability.
Peterson won’t be known for his defense, but I don’t think he’s going to be a bad defender at all. The first thing going for him is his overall functional athleticism. If you watch how Peterson moves on the floor and how he fights to stay in front of guys, it’s not Davion Mitchell, but it’s also not Steve Novak, either. Peterson moves pretty well laterally for his size and knows how to use his length to bother the opposition. While watching his tape, I enjoyed how he competed to get over screens and get back to his man or contest a shot with his length.
Another thing I liked about his defense was his ability to play the passing lanes. Earlier in the season, I did a breakdown of Jaylen Clark and compared him to Ed Reed. Drew Peterson is not on that level, but he has good anticipation and long enough arms to pick off some passes and turn them into transition opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, Peterson is a good passer in transition and will be a good transition weapon in the NBA.
He’s averaging two stocks and 1.8 fouls per game, which is also a good sign. Like most young guards coming into the league, I know he will struggle to adjust to the pace and strength, but those extra years in college may have better prepared him for the intensity. Adding more strength will be vital for him, but seeing that he has a solid foundation and good instincts to build on is good. Ultimately, I think Peterson will be average to above average as a defender.
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At this point in the season, we’ve covered all the top guys in the class, and I just wanted to write about a guy that’s been interesting to me. I don’t know if Peterson will get drafted, but I think he’s good enough to be in the conversation. His size, skill set, and athleticism will overcome any age concerns. Chris Duarte went 13th in the 2021 NBA draft, and Payton Pritchard went 26th the year before. I don’t think Peterson will go as high as those guys, but I don’t think it’s crazy to say that he could be taken in the second round by a team that needs a big wing.
I know recently, Gradey Dick has received a lot more attention and has steadily been rising up draft boards, and for a good reason. Dick is also a big guy at 6’8”, moves well off the ball, has a beautiful jumper, and is a good athlete. Dick being discussed that high in the draft is important because it speaks to the desire of NBA teams to add guys like Gradey Dick to their roster. Teams value guys that can shoot but also add more than just shooting. Between now and June, you’ll see a million tweets arguing that Gradey Dick is much more than just a shooter. Ultimately, I was making that same argument for a guy who’s four years older.