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Flying Under The Radar
Taking a look at some of the more under-the-radar prospects who made an early impression to start the 2021-2022 college basketball season.
Happy Holidays hoops heads! Hopefully, you’re all getting ready to indulge in some wonderful feasts alongside your loved ones. I’ve got you covered with some light reading to help ease you into those mid-day food coma-induced naps, highlighting three more draft prospects in another edition of the Flying Under The Radar series. You can also check out Nathan Grubel’s latest Morning Dunk highlighting Purdue guard Jaden Ivey and Corey Tulaba’s recent piece on Houston Rockets rookie Jalen Green’s rocky start to the season.
Colin Castleton, Florida, C
You know the way green bean casserole makes some of us feel around this time of year? Where you see it on the table for your Thanksgiving meal and an immediate wave of agitation and anger washes over you. Well, that’s the sort of demeanor Colin Castleton has when he’s on the hardwood, the dude just plays pissed off. There’s a fury to his game that is infectious to his teammates in the best way possible, and while some of you may be thinking how can comparing a player to having a disdain for green bean casserole be a good thing? I promise you I mean it in the most positive way possible when it pertains to how I view Castleton’s NBA potential.
The senior center is off to a sensational start for the 4-0 Gators, averaging 17.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game on 56.3 percent shooting from the field. Castleton might be my favorite defender to watch in all of college basketball currently given his combination of energy, physicality, and versatility. He’s a near-seven-footer who has very good feet and lateral quickness that allows him to switch along the perimeter, while also allowing him to have tremendous range as a defender. This guy is also one of the best shot-blockers in the country and is an elite rim protector, all he’s done this season so far in the swamp is hold block parties. He’s been the anchor and backbone of Mike White’s defense to start the year, which is a role I think he can fill for an NBA team one day as well.
If the film doesn’t impress you, hopefully, the numbers and defensive metrics will. He’s at the top of the SEC currently in multiple categories, Castleton ranks first in blocks (14), third in defensive box plus/minus (7.0), fourth in defensive rating (70.4), and second in block percentage (13.5%). I believe his attitude and ability on the defensive end of the floor can only bring value to an NBA rotation as he could be the rim protector and agitator teams are looking for.
Offensively his skill set is far more limited and still developing. Castleton isn’t Nikola Jokic by any means, but he does the dirty work that is necessary on the offensive end and is frankly underrated in my opinion with what he can bring to an offensive unit. Like on defense, his nimble footwork helps Castleton score on the low block or track to the cup with ease when rolling to the rim. I also think his shooting capabilities are consistently improving and would love to see him have more confidence in his jumper. He’s the kind of player who does the small things like sealing off his man to open up driving lanes for guards, those sort of subtle skills won’t appear in a box score but they are significant in creating easy buckets for an offense.
Again this isn’t a guy who is ever going to carry an NBA offense or be a primary or secondary scoring option, but he also doesn’t really need to be. Castleton’s your ultimate glue guy of sorts on both ends of the floor and he won’t need to be a focal point to find pockets to score offensively. He lives on the offensive glass and ranks third in the SEC currently in offensive rebound percentage (14.1). If he’s not getting easy dunks at the rim off of offensive boards, then he’s pulling them down to create second-shot opportunities for his team.
Castleton just looks the part of a serviceable starting NBA center to me and he’d be a steal in the second round I believe. He reminds me of a Steven Adams-Bill Laimbeer type who is the sort of guy you want in the fox hole with you and want in your locker room.
Michael Devoe, Georgia Tech, G
Shouts to my guy Alex who mentioned Devoe in the roundtable we did before the season for the ACC, as a returning player in the conference people should be keeping their eye on. The senior guard just earned ACC Player of the Week honors and is currently the conference’s leading scorer averaging 22.8 points per game. Many view him as a bigger point guard, but I think he could be more of a combo guard who provides some great playmaking ability at the two spot.
The full gamut of Devoe’s offensive arsenal was on full display when he dropped 37 points in the Yellow Jackets win over Georgia last Friday night. This is a guy who is a silky smooth shooter who can create and get his own shot off from just about anywhere on the floor. Devoe’s hit 42 percent of his three-point attempts during his four seasons in Atlanta, but he also can put the ball on the deck and slash to the rim to score. He’s a multi-dimensional scorer who’s an absolute bucket that has an array of ways to attack opposing defenders.
I’m not sure Devoe is an overwhelming athlete in terms of his vertical explosiveness or first-step quickness, but he’s got enough wiggle with his handle to get by defenders and plays with a somewhat methodical control to find his openings to score. He understands how to use superior body positioning to his advantage to create angles to drive or shoot off of and it’s those smarts that make up for what Devoe might be lacking from an athleticism standpoint.
He’s also an awesome passer with good vision and if he continues to show consistency in that department, I think NBA teams will gain confidence in him being a secondary playmaker at the next level. I don’t think Devoe’s nearly the athlete in any way that former NBA great Manu Ginobili was, but I think he’s got a similar style of play and can fill that same role for a franchise possibly one day.
I do think he’s got to make some major improvements as a defender still, he sort of just gives up on plays far too often than I personally like seeing. Continuing to hit the weight room and developing his body also will be crucial to Devoe’s pro potential, adding just a little bulk to his frame would be beneficial for him in a multitude of ways. But honestly, I think Devoe could be a fringe first round talent in the 2022 draft when the evaluation process finishes next July if he keeps up this level of play throughout the year.
Emmanuel Akot, Boise State, G
Akot came onto my radar while watching Boise State’s run during the Shriner’s Children’s Charleston Classic. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada product immediately flashed with his shooting consistency and shot-making, earning All-Tournament team honors for his efforts. He’s the lead guard for the Broncos, but I’m having trouble figuring out whether he’s a potential jumbo playmaker at 6-foot-8 or just a small forward who currently is playing out of position.
I really like Akot’s ability to hit tough shots off of the dribble and the fact he’s shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc to start the season is a really encouraging sign about the growth he’s made as a shooter. I also think he’s a capable passer who mainly shines in pick-and-roll situations, which could lead to NBA teams being intrigued with him as a jumbo playmaker of sorts.
However, outside of being an initiator out of pick and rolls, Akot doesn’t seem to have natural playmaking instincts or vision in my opinion. This is where I’m concerned with him being a lead guard at the next level and could see him having more success as a shot-making wing who can occasionally create out of the pick and roll.
Like I mentioned with Devoe before, Akot also needs to make immense strides in terms of his attentiveness as a defender if he wants to eventually crack an NBA rotation one day. I think he’s got some upside and value though as a bench unit scoring threat and could see him entering the second-round discussion of this 2022 class. It will be worth monitoring to see if he can flash more versatility as a playmaker over the course of the season.