Julian Phillips: Hot Honey
Hot Honey is one of the most popular and versatile condiments you can use on food. Julian Phillips is also very popular and equally versatile.
Welcome back, family. Anyone who follows me on Instagram, you’ll know that I like to eat. My wife and I essentially work to spend our money on food. Most of what we do on the weekends is go out with our friends or try to create beautiful dishes at home. One of my best friends, Dave, recently purchased an Ooni home pizza oven. Since he bought it, our weekends have mostly revolved around making and demolishing delicious homemade pizzas. As much as a simple Margherita pizza is more than enough, it’s good to mix things up once in a while and add more flavor and vibrancy to our lives. Adding Hot Honey to a pizza topped with soppressata, fresh basil, and garlic will send any normal human being to flavor town. I truly believe that Zendaya’s character on “Euphoria” would have been better off devouring pizza covered in Hot Honey than all the drugs she was getting lost in.
The origin of my love for Hot Honey dates back to my freshman year in college. My homies, Sam, Bon, Duke, and I had an almost weekly tradition of going to Popeyes for lunch and purchasing as much chicken as possible with our very limited budgets. Shouts to Duke for always being the more financially responsible one out of the group. For a group of guys attending business school, we were generally terrible with our money. Business school didn’t help me as I graduated with a degree in English Literature, classic stuff.
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As we waited for our chicken to come out every week, the store manager always asked us what condiments we wanted with our chicken. It became a little running joke because she knew exactly what we wanted. Still, she wanted the opportunity to tell her hilarious but not hilarious line: “No money, no honey!” She never charged us for honey but always wanted to make a joke about it. The lady knew how much we desired to cover our chicken in the beautiful honey packed into these nasty plastic packets. I don’t know why the packets were always covered in honey, but we didn’t care. We knew we could not eat our chicken without completely dousing it in honey. We could bear the corny jokes and the long waits as long as we got our hit of chicken and honey for the week.
As time passed, my palette became more refined and beautiful (Sarcasm, everyone). I found this beautiful concoction known as Hot Honey. Years after I graduated from college, I had pizza from the very famous Roberta’s. I never got to try the original back home in New York, but I did get to try a couple of their pies from their Culver City location out in West LA. Of the pizzas we ordered, the one that sent me flying to the moon was their Bee Sting Pizza. The pizza came covered in tomato sauce, mozzarella, soppressata, hot honey, and basil. The combination of their beautifully acidic sauce, mozzarella cheese, savory soppressata, and beautifully balanced Hot Honey will destroy anyone.
After that pizza, I was sold on Hot Honey and have loved it ever since. My main Hot Honey go-to’s are Mike’s Hot Honey and Momofuku’s new Chilli Crunch Hot Honey. Hot Honey is magical because you can put it on many things. If you are smart and like honey on your fried chicken, elevate it with Hot Honey. It’s better. Put it on your pizza or a sandwich, use it for a salad dressing, roast some vegetables, and drizzle some on top. Although Hot Joney may not be your main condiment of choice, adding it to your arsenal will take you from a good human being to an elite.
Julian Phillips is the Hot Honey of the 2023 NBA Draft class.
Like Hot Honey, Phillips has a tantalizing array of skills in his bag. He’s a guy that I believe will shoot the ball well, moves well without the ball in his hands, is a better passer than people may realize, and will offer a ton of versatility as a defender due to his size, length, and instincts. My goal is not to sell you on a guy that’ll carry your team on his back night to night and be the number one option on your team. My goal is to sell you on a player that will elevate an already good team, a player that goes well with almost any type of roster, and a guy that you may overlook at first, but when you do, you’ll be sold forever. Let’s get into Julian Phillips.
Rather than throwing up a million clips every time I put out a piece on a prospect, I’ve learned from my No Ceilings peers and compiled some of the good and not-so-good aspects of the game of Julian Phillips.
Where I want to start is his shooting. As I write this piece, Phillips shoots 9.1% from the three-point line and beyond. That is not a typo; he is currently shooting below 10% from three. Now, if that were the only stat we had, I’d understand if you freaked out. Phillips is taking less than two three-point attempts per game, and of the six games he’s played, there have only been two games where he took more than two three-pointers. The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s early, and the volume from three has been very low. Truthfully he’s been pretty bad from all three levels. He’s only finishing 52.9% at the rim, according to BartTorvik, and 38.9% on all other two-point attempts. Although the percentages aren’t high, I’m here to argue that he will eventually become a good shooter. If you watch the clips I posted above, the form is why I’m a believer. I like the mechanics of his jumper, it looks pretty clean to me, and I like how balanced he looks on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
I think where he could use the most work is on his footwork when shooting on the move. At times, his feet can get a little clunky under him, leading to a disconnect between his lower and upper half. When that disconnect happens, he loses almost all his power, leading to air balls and bricks off the front of the rim. I also think his follow-through is generally good, but sometimes he can veer to the right, and then it’s not so good. Although there are things for him to work on, the foundations of his shooting stroke look good to me and pass the eye test.
When evaluating high school and college shooters, I often think the eye test is more important than the raw percentages. I also like to see how they shoot from the free-throw line more than what they shoot from three. Phillips is currently shooting a hair under 81% from the charity stripe, which is a good sign to me. It’s also very encouraging to see that he’s already had two games where he took 12 free throws. Getting to the line is going to be a good skill for him. His finishing at the rim must improve to reap the benefits of getting to the free-throw line. I think his lack of upper body strength and vertical pop hurt his finishing at the rim; many times, college bigs are dictating the terms in the air against him, but that will change dramatically as he puts on more muscle. I think he has pretty good touch around the rim and has great length, so once he adds some more muscle, I think we’ll see a good uptick in his at-the-rim finishing. I also think he takes some bad angles and paths to the rim, but I wonder if that has more to do with his lack of strength and less-than-elite handle. He will also struggle to create separation consistently because of the aforementioned factors.
If you go back to his high school tape and look at what he’s done so far in college, he likes to shoot the mid-range jumper. That is not a negative for me; I like that it’s a shot that he’s comfortable with, and I don’t think it hurts him to have that shot in his arsenal. I think he does a good job of pulling up off one or two dribbles and will eventually be able to use it more as his three-point shooting improves. I like that it’s a shot he’s already comfortable with and not something he has to develop later.
Overall, I think with minor tweaks and practice, Phillips will be a good shooter. This is important because of the role I think he will play at the next level. I see Phillips as a third or fourth option for a really good playoff team. Think of a Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, or Mikal Bridges type of player. I listed those three guys because I think Phillips has many of the tools that NBA teams are looking for in supporting cast players. I think Phillips will fit in perfectly next to a ball-dominant creator because he doesn’t really need the ball in his hands to have an effect on the game. I think he will be a good enough passer to play the connector role for a team. If you watch some of the clips above, he’s not a terrible passer at all. He surprised me with some of the dimes he threw. I also think he’s going to play good enough defense that he can be relied upon to guard multiple positions and offer flexibility and versatility on that end as well. This leads me to the final part of his game—let’s dive deeper into that defense.
The defensive side of the ball has been a little hit or miss from what I’ve seen so far. I think Phillips has great size at 6’8”, and I haven’t seen measurements yet on his wingspan, but it looks like he has pterodactyl wings for arms. The tools are there for him to be a rock-solid defender. I’m a little concerned about his lateral speed and the fine details of his defense, though. If you watch the compilation I posted above, there are some possessions where you’d expect a little bit more attention to detail and execution from Phillips. I thought he was a little jumpy at times as an on-ball defender. I think he’s struggled a little bit against quicker, shiftier guards. I don’t think he has bad feet or hips, but sometimes things can get a little clunky, and he can get beat pretty badly. I also haven’t loved his technique on closeouts—I haven’t seen many of him chopping his feet and getting out to shooters effectively. It’s been a lot of all-out jumps into the crowd and sloppy stuff.
I don’t think the effort has been an issue. It seems like most of his flaws as a defender stem from a lack of attention to detail, which hopefully gets better with more coaching and practice.
The last area of improvement for me is his off-ball defense. Something we see with a lot of young players is lapses in concentration. There were a handful of times where I think Phillips got caught ball-watching or just lacked concentration and completely lost his man off-ball. This isn’t a major issue because you can easily fix it with coaching, but he needs to improve in that area as of now.
His defense is not all bad; as I said, it’s been a little hit or miss. When he’s locked in and moving his feet, he’s shown flashes on the ball. He does a good job of contesting shots with his length. I saw a couple of possessions where he was beaten off the dribble but had the speed to recover and the length to block the shot. At this point in his development, I think we’ll see a lot of that. Over time, though, I think he’ll do a better job of keeping his man in front of him and do less chasing.
He plays the passing lanes pretty well as well. He’s not Darrelle Revis, but he does his fair share of intercepting some passes. I’d also like to see him get a little more involved as a rebounder, as he’s only averaging 5.3 rebounds per game. I’m not expecting him to grab 10 per game, but I’d like to see more. Also, considering his size and length, I’d like to see him get more stocks. Currently, he’s averaging 0.7 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. Those numbers aren’t terrible by any means, but the potential is there for him to average more, and I’d guess that by the end of the season, those averages will be higher.
I did not intend to argue that Phillips is a finished product. Phillips is interesting because he has many skills on both ends of the floor that could become exactly what teams are looking for to raise the overall level. I’m reminded of a guy like Trevor Ariza because of the type of career that he had. Ariza was a valuable contributor wherever he went, won a title with the Lakers in 2009, and had a great career. Phillips could easily have that kind of career and play in the league for a long time, helping many teams make deep runs in the playoffs. People make jokes about the number of times Ariza was traded in his career, but we have to realize that he was traded a bunch because he added value to wherever he ended up. As much as teams were trading him away, teams were also trading for him.
Ariza was raw when the Knicks drafted him in the second round of the 2004 draft. Throughout his career, he was always a valuable defender and eventually became a rock-solid shooter who shot over 35% from three for his career.
Julian Phillips is a player you should be watching throughout the rest of the college basketball season and could very easily end up going in the middle to late first round in the 2023 NBA Draft. Also, make sure you go get some Hot Honey NOW!
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