Editor's Notes: Volume Three
Some breakdowns of prospects who have not gotten as much time in the No Ceilings spotlight this season: Jordan Hawkins, Kobe Bufkin, Noah Clowney, Leonard Miller, and James Nnaji
The NCAA Tournament is now in the rearview mirror, and the play-in games are in progress as the NBA rapidly approaches the start of Round One of the playoffs. While some fanbases are focused on the upcoming playoff run (including the Sacramento Kings fanbase, for the first time in 16 seasons), many other fanbases have turned their focus to the years ahead, starting with the 2023 NBA Draft.
While some prospects have been headline news at No Ceilings and elsewhere, some other prospects have not gotten as much No Ceilings coverage as others. Some of those players have flown under the radar elsewhere as well, while others have had some time in the No Ceilings spotlight but still deserve some more shine.
Earlier this season, I tried out something slightly different from my usual Sleeper Deep Dives articles, covering some prospects who haven’t gotten much time in the spotlight on No Ceilings in Volume One of Editor’s Notes, and I followed that up earlier this year with Volume Two.
Today, I’m back to write about five more prospects who we haven’t highlighted as much on the written side. Some of these players will be potential first round prospects who we’ve only written about a few times, while other players will be more infrequently-discussed players who are further down most draft boards but are still worthy of discussion (at least in my mind).
Simply put: I have some notes. Let’s start out by talking about a potential lottery pick who may have benefitted from the NCAA Tournament more than almost any other prospect.
Jordan Hawkins certainly ended his college career on a high note, as he helped lead the UConn Huskies to a national title. Now that he has officially declared for the draft, his next basketball adventure is about to begin. While Hawkins might be more on the radar for non-draft fanatics than some, given his NCAA heroics, he is not the kind of player who just started winning people over in NBA front offices after a hot streak in March and April.
Hawkins will enter the draft as the best movement shooter in this class. He shot 38.8% from three-point range on 7.6 3PA per game, but even the efficiency on high volume does not come close to telling the full story. Hawkins is an Energizer bunny out there on offense, always in motion, and he runs around screens with the savvy and speed of an NBA veteran sharpshooter. Even NBA defenses will not be able to keep Hawkins in check for 24 seconds possession after possession:
Hawkins ranks in the 92nd percentile in overall offensive efficiency, per Synergy, and the play breakdown further supports the notion that he’s far from a one-trick pony as a shooter and offensive threat. He ranks in the 74th percentile on handoffs, in the 84th percentile running off screens (his most-frequent play type), and in the 97th percentile on spot-ups—a truly ridiculous standard of shooting efficiency across the board.
Hawkins is no slouch on the defensive end, either—he uses his exceptional athletic tools really well on that end of the floor, especially when it comes to his off-ball defense. He’s a bit undersized for an NBA 3 at 6’5” and 185 pounds, but he more than makes up for it by relentlessly covering any gaps he sees, regardless of who he’s up against.
There are still areas of concern for Hawkins; his on-ball defense is harmed by his frenetic nature more than his on-ball work, and he will struggle to cover bigger wings for at least a couple of seasons due to his frame—if not longer.
Furthermore, Hawkins also really struggles to convert at the basket. He shot just 52.6% at the rim, which puts him in the 36th percentile, per Synergy. He has some craft around the rim, but he also finishes over people far less often than his athletic tools would suggest. When he gets up, he can absolutely destroy people, but he doesn’t use his crazy hops as often as you might expect, given how filthy his posters can be:
Hawkins could bolster his game by trying to get to the rim more—he did improve his free-throw rate slightly this season, but every additional trip to the line is a huge benefit for him, given his 88.7% mark from the charity stripe. Even without any strength-related improvements that could bolster his on-ball defense and at-rim scoring, though, his shooting touch and ability to work his way open will certainly entice some NBA team into drafting him in the first round—and probably somewhere in the lottery.
I don’t think either of the Tylers at No Ceilings will forgive me for this (sorry, Metcalf and Rucker), but it took me a while to come around on Kobe Bufkin as a first round pick. I wasn’t sold at all on his shooting or his playmaking coming into the year, and his brutal shooting from deep to start the season made it easier for me to hide under a rock.
Consider this my mea culpa: Kobe Bufkin is really good at basketball. He’s a monstrous finisher around the basket, shooting 54.6% on two-pointers overall and an absurd 71.1% at the rim, per Synergy; those are good numbers for a play-finishing big man, and Bufkin’s doing it as a 6’4” guard. His improved shooting from distance after his rough November also opened up the rest of his scoring game to the point where it’s getting increasingly difficult to doubt his prowess as a three-level scorer.
Bufkin is also a stellar defender, capable of locking down either guard spot while being decently effective at generating turnovers. He probably won’t be able to slide up and guard NBA 3s more often than in scramble situations defensively, but he has the tools to be an above-average guard defender sooner rather than later at the NBA level.
The biggest area of development for Bufkin in my eyes, though, is his playmaking. Given his size, he’ll need to at least be competent as a secondary playmaker to get consistent minutes in the NBA. Bufkin more than stepped up to that challenge this season, especially in the last couple of months of the season as Jett Howard struggled with injuries. Bufkin might not be a pure point guard, but he’s shown that he can capably run an offense when called upon. He isn’t the flashiest passer, but he sees the floor well and makes the simple reads; when you’re a combo guard who can score as Bufkin can, that level of passing competence is plenty:
It’s entirely possible that Bufkin’s three-point shooting numbers are a bit of a mirage; after all, he did shoot 22.2% from deep last season, 22.2% from deep in January, and 18.5% from long-range in November. Still, even if his shot regresses next season, he’s a solid defender, a capable playmaker, and an excellent rim attacker, even without the threat of an outside shot. His draft stock has climbed to the point where it seems like all but a given that he will go in the first round—and he still might go a lot higher than some people are anticipating.
Happy now, Tylers?
Noah Clowney recently declared for the NBA Draft, and he is in line to capitalize on a much better season than he was expected to put together. The freshman big from Alabama might not have drawn as much draft buzz as, say, some other freshmen for the Crimson Tide, but this season was at least a year ahead of schedule for Clowney after he ranked 74th in his high school class, per RSCI.
Unlike Hawkins and Bufkin, who were quite consistent overall and seem to have pretty high floors, Clowney is much more of an enigma. On the one hand, he averaged 9.8 PPG and 7.9 RPG as a freshman for a team that was ranked #1 in the country at one point this season, and he knocked down 66.9% of his two-pointers. On the other hand, he took almost half of his shots this year from beyond the arc and made just 28.3% of them. His potential as a stretch big is a huge part of the intrigue with Clowney, especially since he’s a bit of a man with no country defensively—he’s not quite big enough to be a center any time soon given his 6’10”, 210-pound frame, but he’ll also need to space the floor better on offense to be a power forward.
The biggest issue for Clowney, ultimately, is similar to that of many young big men: he just isn’t a consistent player at this point in his basketball journey. He’ll go from under control to a foul magnet defensively game-to-game or even half-to-half. He’ll go from scorching hot on offense in the first half to floating around aimlessly in the second half.
Ultimately, Clowney will probably end up being drafted late in the first round; there are only so many teams in the modern NBA who will be able to talk themselves out of an athletic big man with the potential to space the floor.
While fit obviously matters for every prospect, it will matter more for Clowney than most. If a team is willing to bring him along slowly, he could turn into a really solid stretch-4 down the line. If not, though, Clowney might be thrown into the fire too early and end up having to be a second draft guy for a team with a bit more patience. The tools for an NBA rotation player and potential NBA starter are certainly there; the biggest question is if or when Clowney makes good on those tools—and how many NBA stops he’ll have before he might get there.
In a similar vein to the Kobe Bufkin discussions—speaking of a mea culpa…
I was wrong about Leonard Miller last year when I had him as a late second round prospect. I hadn’t seen nearly enough from him offensively at Fort Erie to believe in his potential scoring gravity, and his defense certainly left a lot to be desired.
As with all prospects that I’ve underestimated, I’m very glad to have been proven wrong.
After those concerns that I had with him last year, Miller has banished those concerns with his exceptional season with the G League Ignite in one of the best professional leagues in the world. Averaging 18 PPG and 11 RPG on 55/33/79 shooting splits in the G League is really impressive, but what has stood out to me the most is his defensive effort. His motor was dialed all the way up the whole season in the G League, and that erased all of the concerns I had about his defense based on the high school tape.
This isn’t to say that Miller is a perfect prospect by any means—his nearly even AST:TO ratio is concerning, and he looked much less impressive at dissecting G League defenses off the bounce than he did in high school.
Still, Miller has established a solid baseline for himself as a high-motor big man after this season. He still has a really high ceiling if he can create more for himself and others with the ball in his hands, but this season has proven that he will do all of the clichéd “little things” that will keep him in an NBA rotation. I’ve joined Maxwell on the “Leonard Miller is a first round pick” train, and I don’t see myself hopping off the train in the two months leading up to the draft; he’s just proven too much against too high of a level of competition this season for me to continue to doubt him.
I doubt that Tyler Metcalf will ever forgive me for my doubts about Kobe Bufkin, but I might be able to win Tyler Rucker back to my side with this one. James Nnaji doesn’t have quite the same numerical argument as Leonard Miller in his play in one of the best non-NBA leagues in the world. However, Nnaji has shown serious flashes in his limited minutes for an insanely loaded Barcelona team (seriously, just look at the Barcelona roster; this team might make a play-in push if they were in the NBA) that make it easy to see him as a future NBA player. His tools are tantalizing to the point of being impossible to ignore.
Nnaji, who will not turn 19 until after the 2023 NBA Draft, is already built like a multi-year NBA center. That’s the first thing that jumps off the page when watching his film; unlike Clowney, Nnaji will not need to bulk up to be able to muscle his way through guys to get to the basket. He can clear space around the basket easily, and he has enough vertical pop to get to almost any lobs thrown his way:
Even in his limited playing time, Nnaji has some eye-popping numbers. He has converted a truly absurd 81% of his shots around the basket, per Synergy—that puts him, unsurprisingly, in the 99th percentile as a finisher. He also ranks in the 95th percentile as a pick-and-roll big man, which is also unsurprising given his crushing screens and vertical pop. If Nnaji gets the ball anywhere near the rim, he’s going to ruin someone’s day on his way to the cup—and usually multiple someones.
His defense is a lot more unpolished than his offense; while he was much better about keeping himself under control in ACB games, he racked up 6.1 fouls per 36 minutes in EuroLeague play. He can be a serious shot-blocking threat at times, but he often gets in his own way by swiping down and not staying vertical when challenged around the basket.
Still, those are typical shortcomings for a young big man; Nnaji would be far from the first 18-year-old center to bite on too many pump fakes. The atypical parts of Nnaji’s profile—namely, his preposterous finishing ability and his frame that is well ahead of his years—will lead to some NBA team taking a flyer on him. It will probably be someone early in the second round, but don’t be surprised if a team with multiple first round picks this year (looking at you, Indiana) decides to draft Nnaji and stash him in Barcelona for another year or two. Given his insane potential, though, he might not end up being stashed overseas for very long—regardless of which NBA team ends up with his draft rights.