Hammering Down on Houston Mallette
How Pepperdine's Prospect Could Make Waves in the 2022-2023 Draft.
The draft cycle is getting closer! Many of us draft fans and analysts have been discussing many a player as the sand has fallen through the hourglass. The past few days of our lives have been spent discussing players like Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson—even one of my favorite prospects that could crash the #1 conversation, Cam Whitmore, has been discussed in many circles. We’ve seen college teams go on a world tour, and we’ve seen an incredible EuroBasket tournament. A ton of discussion has been had on the consensus players for this year’s class.
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Since teaming up with my buddy, colleague here on No Ceilings, and now Draft Deeper co-host Maxwell Baumbach, I have begun to look at some of the unsung heroes in the collegiate ranks before the season kicks off. My thirst for focusing on some of the players that may fall within the Second Round or in the “going Undrafted” discussions at this point of the season is as high as it has ever been. This notion bore out when I opened my first shared film dive on Richmond Spiders star Tyler Burton. But I’m not done there.
Houston Mallette should not be as much of an unknown as he is coming into this season. That’s not to say that everyone does not know about him (chill, aggregators). What I am saying is that there are very talented players that are being held in higher regard by “the consensus” that are just as young and have produced in a similar manner as Mallette has. Very talented players such as Jordan Hawkins, Terquavion Smith, and Harrison Ingram are being regarded as returning players who can greatly improve their Draft Stock. I believe Houston Mallette deserves to be in that mix.
To make the case, or to give reasons as to why Mallette isn’t getting as much love as his sophomore peers, is one that we often reserve for top PAC-12 or WCC prospects: he plays on the West Coast. I know, I know, it’s lazy. But there is something to what I am saying. I remember watching Bennedict Mathurin last season. I remember watching him grow as a playmaker. I remember seeing him play good-to-great levels of defense at different moments throughout the year.
Yet I would continually hear, or read, that he would need to “turn it around” regarding those areas of his game. It drove me nuts. After talking about it on podcasts and writing about it for No Ceilings, I could only come to the conclusion that folks weren’t watching him as consistently as they needed to. If you really needed to see him improve in those areas, you actually needed to watch him play. Novel concept?
I’d be lying if I said I have not fallen victim to this line of thinking myself. Oregon’s Chris Duarte slipped through the cracks of my film dive during the 2020-2021 draft cycle. I could come up with reasons now. I could talk about how his being a senior hurt his stock. But the truth of the matter was that I lived on the East Coast, and he played in the PAC-12. It was hard being a younger, less-experienced scout and trying to figure out the nuances of how to scout. One of my biggest lessons learned has been being more intentional in watching West Coast games—especially when it’s difficult or time-consuming.
Obstacles exist for all scouts, which is why I feel the way I do about Mallette. I truly believe that the time of day he played last season, on top of the fact that Pepperdine plays in the West Coast Conference, has led to him being slept on heading into the season. Sure, Gonzaga plays there, but many skeptics of that conference believe that Gonzaga feasts on lesser competition. Perhaps that line of thinking weighs into Mallette’s stock. Should it? Let’s take a look.
Houston Mallette is an unearthed gem in terms of his offensive skill. To discuss him in broad strokes, Mallette averaged 13.8 points per game (PPG), shot 44.1% from the floor, 50% on his twos, 38.8% from deep, and 76.5% from the free-throw line. Of the 20 games in which he scored in double figures, Mallette scored over 20 in eight contests. He dropped 21 and 25 against Gonzaga in each game last season, 24 against Jalen Williams and Santa Clara, and even had a 23-point game against San Francisco. Again, he did all of this as a freshman. As a scorer, he can give it to the defense in a variety of ways—something that makes him a nightmare for opposing teams. This is a skill that my colleague, Nathan Grubel, has noted as a necessity for NBA-level guards.
His handle is solid, considering that he isn’t looked at as, or leaned on as, a lead guard. He handles the ball well enough with either hand and is capable of pulling up from mid-range. As solid as he can be with the rock, his off-ball movement is on another level entirely. He compliments the threat of letting it fly from deep with a pretty float game. The film will help tell the rest of the story.
As I mentioned earlier, Houston does a very good job at moving without the ball in his hands. He knows how to use subtle body gestures to get his man moving one way, then steps on the gas to create the initial separation required to punish them by working off the screener. Although he doesn’t need a ton of space to get his shot off cleanly, Mallette loves to have his man run through rugged screens set by his teammates to really let his jumper shine.
Mallette’s ability to get substantial lift on his jumper, along with his high release point, obviously makes it difficult for a defender to bother his shot—let alone block the thing. What really stands out to me about watching him sprint off of a screen and come into his jumper is just how natural he looks letting it go. It doesn’t matter if he is set or if he has to lean away from his man—Mallette just looks natural as a shooter. He can do it off of the catch or off of the dribble.
His ability to come off of the bounce going to his left or right is going to impress scouts and coaches alike. The ambidexterity he has keeps the defense honest and guessing. The cadence he has with his dribble is perfect. While his defender is recovering from coming off of a screen, Mallette dribbles off-tempo, which doesn’t give his man time to regain their footing. They are in a frantic state until the play is over.
He can do it seemingly against anyone. In this matchup against Gonzaga, Houston keeps another likely draft selection for this year, Julian Strawther, out of a natural defensive posture every second he has the ball. The threat of the long ball—which we’ll look at very soon—makes Strawther hesitate as Mallette freezes him with a simple pump fake. Houston goes right into Julian’s chest as he drives with his left. After a few dribbles and some separation created from sound body positioning, Mallette rises from the left elbow and sticks the jumper over his man. Feathery touch from our guy.
Another way in which Mallette can generate buckets is in DHO (Dribble Handoff) sets. Much like the way he creates separation by running his man through a screen, Houston is very comfortable within this setting. Scoring off of DHOs is a bit more complicated compared to shooting off of a screen because the recipient is not receiving the ball with the opportunity to come into the shot during a natural shooting motion. Getting the ball off the handoff means that Houston still needs to get the ball up into his stroke or take a few dribbles to get his shot off cleanly. It means he has to be a versatile shot-maker.
Pepperdine runs a few sets that can be translatable to the NBA for Mallette. In this clip, you can see two players operating from the elbows—they are there to set screens to allow Houston to get to the right elbow and bury the middy. You can see that it doesn’t take much time to accept the handoff and square up on the fly while getting to his naturally high release point. It’s automatic.
In this play, Mallette is initiating the offense from the top of the key. It’s a simple, two-man action in which he dumps the ball to his teammate, runs off of his side for the handoff, and attacks on the drive. Going up against one of the best collegiate bigs in quite some time, Chet Holmgren, Mallette does not hesitate to go into his chest and create some solid but controlled contact. He doesn’t convert on the finish, but Houston gets one of his opponents one foul closer to sitting on the bench while he’s more than likely converting two easy points from the line. The threat of his jumper in these opportunities forces the defense to be honest; they can not sag off in anticipation of the drive, or he’ll convert from the mid-range.
It should be obvious that such a dynamic movement shooter would also be more than capable of nailing some set shots, but I would be remiss to just ignore it. Not only is Mallette capable of hitting the open jumper, but he also has legitimate NBA range on that thing. If we know anything about NBA teams, it’s that they value players that can manipulate the defense. Whether it is bending the defense on a whip pass off of the drive or, in Mallette’s case, creating large lanes due to his gravity, NBA coaches are always looking for ways to gain an advantage. Once he crosses half court, you had best be accounting for Houston Mallette.
We saw popular returning player Julian Strawther on Mallette’s highlight reel earlier. We see him again here. Because of the ways Mallette can make you pay from downtown, Strawther has to have his antennas up the entire play. Will Mallette catch the ball along the free-throw line and rise up for the “J”? Will he catch it and run off the screen? Neither happens. Instead, we see Houston catch the ball on the right wing at a distance in which the defender feels like they can take a breather. Strawther felt safe—perhaps assuming that Mallette is waiting on a screener. Mallette, in turn, makes Strawther pay by hitting a deep 3.
Of course, he can make a defense pay by leaving him open in the traditional sense. In this play, the defense is scrambling to man up as Pepperdine is pushing the break. Mallette’s man is left in a tough place as he is running the math in his head as to whether or not he should abandon Houston or leave his teammate wide open. Strawther opts to close out on Jan Zidek, which leaves Mallette all alone. Holmgren does his best to close out and try to disrupt the shot, but he ends up gunning too hard and fouls Houston as he lands. And One.
The scoring aspect of Houston Mallette’s game is incredibly polished for his class and age, but there have to be some significant strides in a few other areas of his game that will make him undeniable in the draft community. Chief among them is the growth in finding his teammates. His assist numbers, especially when compared to his turnover numbers, aren’t going to jump off of the page for those that run algorithms to hunt down sleeper prospects. However, if you turn on the film, you’ll find a player that sees the right things. He just needs to sharpen the timing and execution of his reads.
On this possession, Mallette shows his ability to hit a quick pass to his roll man. You’ll notice that the defense is forced to respect the gravity that Houston has from everywhere on the court. Both defenders commit to Mallette and force him to beat them with the pass. This read is quick, which may leave many viewers to assume this play is easy. Watch it a few more times. Mallette drives right and commits a hop step off of the bounce. The defense sells out on him mid-dribble. As he lands, he comes over the shoulder and through both defenders while falling backward. The timing and placement of the pass make it easy for his teammate, Boubacar Coulibaly, to attack the rim and finish through contact.
Here’s another example of how the gravity of Mallette’s shot creates clean looks for others. Coming off the scramble for a loose ball, Houston is able to spin away from now-OKC Thunder player Jalen Williams and step to the arch while coming into his shooting stance. The deny-defender has to frantically close out on Mallette, which leaves his teammate, Mike Mitchell Jr., open to can a corner 3. What really makes the play is Mallette’s ability to look Mitchell Jr open. The mere moment of looking at the rim while squaring up into his shooting stance causes the defense to collapse. Another consideration in this play is that Houston could have shot the ball—and there is a high probability he would have made it. This play highlights that Mallette is a capable and confident scorer, but he is also a selfless player that is confident in his teammates.
This is one of my favorite clips of Mallette passing that I have come across—likely because this is a set and look that Houston is likely to see as a movement shooter at the next level. We see our guy cutting baseline to the left corner. Again, there’s gravity here. That means Mallette’s defender has to fight harder to meet him on the catch. While his action is happening, another potentially draftable Waves player, Maxwell Lewis, is setting a screen for center Carson Basham. Mallette knows that this play is drawn up for Basham to get open on the post—to allow him to score on the left block. Timing is critical on this entry pass because the big man is going to take a moment to assess the defense and determine his approach to getting a bucket. Mallette begins to throw the pass before Basham is even out from under the hoop. The timing of his pass is perfect, as Basham catches the ball with the time to survey the defense and get the deuce.
This is where things get a little dicey in the film dive for Houston Mallette. Keep in mind that he is a freshman in what I am about to show you and that he is lining up against upperclassmen and, in some cases, NBA-level players. Let’s go.
Okay. Mallette needs to work on his angle approach and understanding of where the play is going on this look, but, to be fair, he had to fight around two screens. He did a great job of fighting around the screen set by Hunter Sallis, but his navigation around the Holmgren screen is what led to the bucket from Julian Strawther. Deciding to commit to the left of Chet’s screen gave Julian plenty of room to attack the basket. Should Mallette have gone off of the opposite side of Holmgren, he would have had the appropriate space and angle to deny the shot, while also having the position to defend the drive. There is also the communication aspect between Zidek and himself that needs some work. This is an area many young players tend to struggle with and is something I would expect Mallette to show marked improvement on in his sophomore season.
Going up against Jamaree Bouyea is a difficult ask for the most seasoned defender—let alone for a young freshman. Mallette does a solid job of competing around the screen and has some time to recover and get into a solid defensive stance. While Bouyea is at the top of the key, Houston decides to defend Jamaree middle. There are a variety of opinions about how to employ defense, but I feel that a defender should take away a path to attack the basket with an emphasis on forcing the ball handler to a specific side. Forcing Bouyea to his right would have been the play, as there is actually some semblance of help to Mallette’s left. Giving Bouyea—who had one of the best handle packages in last year’s draft—multiple ways to get to the rim is not the optimal way to defend him. Bouyea ultimately finished with his right anyway, but that was due to him forcing Mallette to chop his feet in both directions. Now that Houston has another offseason to hone his craft—this time with a season of defending NBA-level athletes—I would expect his defense to take strides to become significantly better.
The pick-and-roll defense leaves something to be desired, but Mallette’s defensive film isn’t a barren wasteland. One promising area of his defense is his ability to hunker down on closeouts.
What impresses me in this play is how Mallette recovers after overcommitting to helping on the inside. You can see San Francisco’s big man, Patrick Tape, flashing to the lane, which garners the attention of Houston. As the ball is kicked to his man, Julian Rishwain, a 43% three-point shooter from last season, Mallette aggressively closes out on him. Notice how he doesn’t play the center of his man. He gets low into his stance and cuts off Rishwain’s left; he uses the baseline as a free help defender. The recovery speed and discipline on this possession are impressive because Mallette knows two things can happen: 1) a baseline drive or 2) a corner three. Mallette does a great job of getting into position to respect the threat of the drive by Julian but also acknowledges the likelihood that Rishwain is going to pull the trigger on the shot. Houston’s positioning is in prime form, as he is ideally placed to take either away. The jab step doesn’t get him off of his spot, and due to what I can’t help but assume is a result of great film study, Mallette does a great job of contesting the shot without fouling. A missed long ball from a collegiate specialist.
In a separate game against the same team and the same assignment, Mallette is run through another multi-screen possession. San Francisco is running the offense through Tape at the left elbow. Our guy, Mallette, is against Rishwain on the same-side corner. The DHO threat with Bouyea and Tape is going to attract a ton of attention because of how threatening Bouyea can be with the ball and a head of steam. Bouyea doesn’t receive the ball, which progresses the action for Rishwain to come off of two baseline screens. Khalil Shabazz (#0) and Zane Meeks (#5) do a fairly decent job of setting their respective screens, giving their marksman spacing to nail the three on the right wing. Look at where Mallette is when Rishwain is spotting up to get the pass from Tape—under the basket, and behind teammate Mitchell Jr. He still has to get around Meeks to contest the shot. Houston guns at Rishwain at a smart angle, maneuvering around the screener and at a smart pace. He makes up for the lost ground while not overcommitting into a foul on a player that is a 77% free-throw shooter. It’s a smart closeout and something that can be foundational for a returning sophomore player to build on for this season.
Houston Mallette’s film is on par with many well-liked and heavily favored returning players for this coming season. With Houston playing alongside Maxwell Lewis, Pepperdine figures to be a team that will draw many scouts and fans alike to their contests. Mallette’s translation to the NBA as a scoring guard should be heavily considered. He has the range and consistency that is all but a requirement for an off-guard, he has the requisite mid-range/floater to make overcommitting defenders pay for chasing him off of the line, he can drive with either hand, and he has shown sound passing chops that can force the defense to play him honestly. He’ll have to show improvement defending on the ball this year as NBA coaches will need reasons to trust him against his assignment, but his team defense gives me hope that he’ll accomplish this necessity. Should he (and I believe he will) put the defense together, there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll see him in an NBA jersey soon.