Keyontae Johnson & Nae'Qwan Tomlin: Kansas State's Dynamic Duo
FEATURING: Kansas State's Keyontae Johnson and Nae'Qwan Tomlin
Kansas State’s Dynamic Duo
It’s not often you’ll get a combined scouting report. Most of the time, players are covered individually, and it makes sense. There are a few reasons why Kansas State’s most intriguing players, Keyontae Johnson and Nae’Qwan Tomlin, are being featured together here. One, I like the idea of being able to focus on more than one prospect throughout the week. When I have one prospect, I feel like they consume the majority of my week and I lose touch with what some of the other players are up to. Secondly, since Johnson and Tomlin play on the same team, I can “knock out two birds with one stone”. While I typically cover Sunday’s pieces here at No Ceilings I am releasing this piece on Monday, and I feel like shorting you all one player evaluation in a week isn’t a very nice thing to do. These two are also just so much fun to watch; I just couldn’t decide which one to feature this week! That leads us to this combined report on two players on one of the winningest teams in the Big 12.
Keyontae Johnson’s Background
What makes these two players so much fun—aside from their on the court games—is how they got to be where they are. Most of the top prospects in most draft classes have a “traditional” path to becoming NBA players. Usually, a prospect will dominate high school and/or AAU ball. There are McDonald’s All-American teams, Mr. Insert-State-Here honors, Gatorade Players of the Year awards, etc. Top college powerhouses come calling. Ideally, the one-and-done path gets them to become selected in the first round. Even successful multi-year prospects can become drafted—sometimes through transferring up or through continued development at the school they committed to. Neither Tomlin nor Johnson fits those traditional paths to being drafted.
Keyontae Johnson, in what has quickly become one of the best feel-good stories of the year, has become a prospect that many people believe has a real shot at getting drafted in the coming draft. Keyontae tied for being the 69th-ranked prospect according to RSCI’s Top 100 in the 2018 class—the class that featured Zion Williamson, Anfernee Simons, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson. Keyontae was recruited by schools like UConn, Kansas, Ohio State, and Texas Tech, but he ultimately committed to play for the Florida Gators. After promising seasons as a freshman and sophomore, Keyontae sustained one of the scariest injuries in recent memory.
Four minutes into a game against Florida State, Johnson collapsed during a timeout. The reason for the collapse has been widely speculated, but the exact cause hasn’t been publicly disclosed. This injury resulted in Keyontae playing only four games in the 2020-2021 season, and an honorary start in the 2021-2022 season with zero minutes played. While he would come back to play this year, Johnson would enter the transfer portal to play for the Kansas State Wildcats.
Nae’Qwan Tomlin’s Background
If you’re looking for an extensive basketball background for Nae’Qwan Tomlin, you won’t find one. While he attended Urban Assembly School, Tomlin did not play basketball—which is also why he doesn’t have much information on all major recruiting outlets. Nae’Qwan would first play in the 2019-2020 season as a redshirt freshman at Monroe Community College, averaging over 13.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 1.0 APG, with shooting splits of 56/34/64. He would then play for Chipola College for the next two seasons, having relatively similar results.
Tomlin showed a natural aptitude for the game and received some major NJCAA accolades. Nae’Qwan would then look to make the jump to play Division I basketball. Kansas State would appear to be the only NCAA university that would invite Tomlin to their campus and make him an offer. Like Keyontae Johnson, Nae’Qwan is an older prospect, taking a path that isn’t the norm.
The Keyontae Johnson Dive
*Stats as of 01/29/23*
Being a grad transfer and having a medical history that NBA teams will certainly be interested in viewing, Keyontae’s output this season has been both a feel-good story and flat-out impressive. On the year, Johnson is averaging 18.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 1.3 SPG, with shooting splits of 54.6/39.0/74.3. Listed at 6’6” and 230 pounds, Keyontae helps to make up one of the more successful frontcourts in the Big 12.
To compare what Keyontae is doing to those that have come before him, I ran a query with the following fields:
Minutes Percentage: 80% or more
BPM: 5 or more
Offensive Rating: 110 or more
Usage Percentage: 25% or more
True Shooting Percentage: 60% or more
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 7% or more
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 17% or more
Assist Percentage: 12% or more
Free Throw Rate: 40 or more
Two Point Percentage: 57% or more
Three Point Percentage: 37% or more
Only two other players in BartTorvik’s database have met those category requirements. One of those is Jacob Wiley. Before I get to the other name, let’s not dismiss Jacob Wiley’s achievements. He did get a cup of coffee in the NBA, playing for the Brooklyn Nets. Though it was only for a small stretch, making the league is a huge accomplishment—especially after going undrafted. He’s still playing professional basketball in Japan. Many may scoff at that, but the way Wiley played at Eastern Washington was very productive, and it has led to him making a living playing the game we all love.
The other name you may be more familiar with: former #1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, Blake Griffin. I’m sure you’re all aware of the career—the combination of five All-NBA teams and six All-Star teams is noteworthy, to say the least.
We’ll get to my evaluation in the “Curtains” segment for Johnson later, but it’s easy to see Keyontae landing somewhere in between Wiley and Griffin. It’s also interesting to see how vast the outcomes are with players that produce similar levels of output. It just points to how important team context and the film are. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutions.
Keyontae’s offensive game is the absolute best part of his game—as it was briefly alluded to in the previously-mentioned query. The True Shooting Percentage, the efficiency numbers from both inside and outside the arc, the sneaky assist percentage, and the free throw rate all point to a multi-faceted offensive weapon. On all of his offensive possessions, Synergy grades Johnson out to be in the 84th percentile (Excellent). Surprisingly, he “only” grades out in the 48th percentile (Average) in transition, while being in the 87th percentile (Excellent) in the halfcourt. If you had to be skewed one way or the other, being a master in the halfcourt is far more attractive. The transition game hasn’t been heavily featured for Keyontae at Kansas State, as he only has 38 attempts while operating within it. That’s compared to the 203 attempts in the halfcourt.
When it comes to the shot diet, Johnson’s portfolio looks the part of an NBA-level wing/forward.
Almost 25% of Keyonate’s shot attempts come from deep. While he is attempting three shots from distance per game, he is connecting on about 39% of them. For the position he plays, Johnson’s ability to be a consistent threat from the outside makes him a very interesting prospect. Looking at where his value is currently across all scouting outlets, Johnson will likely be looked to as a catch-and-shoot specialist from the onset. He currently grades out in the 81st percentile (Very Good) in that shot type—ranking in the 90th percentile (Excellent) when left open. All of that probably sounds well and good, but let’s see how it looks.
This possession demonstrates some of the catch-and-shoot ability Keyontae possesses. Our guy inbounds the ball to Markquis Nowell (#1), who gets the ball up the floor and into some two-man action with Abavomi Iyiola (#23). Kansas’ defenders, Dajuan Harris (#3) and KJ Adams (#24), do a good job of shutting down the drive from Nowell, while Kevin McCullar (#15) helps off of Johnson to ensure Iyiola doesn’t have space on the dive. Keyontae isn’t hugging the line, which may have played a factor in McCullar leaving him, but Nowell knows to get Johnson the ball. Our guy is left all alone to convert on the open jumper.
The shot release is my favorite part of the shot here. With plenty of time to shoot, he doesn’t rush his motion—he takes his time not to cheat what’s been working all season. This season’s numbers from deep aren’t a flash in the pan, either; Johnson is a career 38% three-point shooter.
While Johnson is a great shooter off of the catch, he also shows the ability to put the ball on the deck and shoot off the bounce. This clip shows him crashing the glass before getting into his offense. After giving the ball to Camryn Carter (#5), Keyontae gets it back close to the top of the key. What happens next isn’t likely going to be something that an NBA that gives him a chance is going to ask him to do immediately—if ever. However, the fact that he can do it points to the high level of skill that comes with his game. Johnson is defended by Baylor freshman Josh Ojianwuna (#15). It’s a mismatch, as our guy gets into a combo dribble and drills the shot from just inside the Baylor logo. Beautiful stroke, beautiful results.
Here’s a clip that could foreshadow what Keyontae will likely be asked to do, should he play in the NBA. This play is predicated on Nowell being able to jitterbug his way into the lane after some quick motion. With the rim pressure that the ball handler applies, the Texas defense collapses. Pressure bursts pipes here, as Johnson is wide open in the corner. We see another example of the chemistry that Nowell has built with our guy, as Keyontae gets into his shot and shows off that quick release.
Keyontae Johnson ranks in the 67th percentile in isolation, and in the 76th percentile (Very Good) as a cutter. He’s finished on 15 of his 18 dunk attempts, showing a good deal of athleticism on the floor. His frame allows him to absorb contact, while his ball skill and creation ability helps him to put some pressure on the defense. Of his 241 shot attempts, 106 of those have come at the rim. He ranks in the 88th percentile (Excellent) as an at-rim finisher—in the 89th percentile (Excellent) on layups.
This was one of the top plays in one of the best matchups of the year so far. We’ve seen Keyontae be featured as a terrific shooter on the season, but his interior scoring has been equally impressive. On this play that was the last scoring possession of the matchup, we see Kansas State set up for an inbound. Nowell gets the ball from Desi Sills (#13) and sets up at the top of the key. Keyontae sets a screen that Carter curls off and looks as if he’s going to post up Jalen Wilson (#10). Watch as Johnson goes to work. Wilson fronts him hard. Keyontae, having such a knack for knowing when and how to cut to the basket, spins to his left and dives to the cup with bad intentions. Nowell sees that there is absolutely no way that Wilson can recover to stop our guy, and lofts up a pretty feed. Johnson gets off of two feet and finishes a two-handed jam. Personally, my favorite part of the play is that Keyontae doesn’t go for the head-pat celebration but goes for the classic stare-down instead.
Johnson’s cutting simply isn’t limited to spectacular, buzzing-beating, overtime-winning alley-oops. He can also get it done with some pretty layups as well. This play begins with—you guessed it—Nowell having the ball. Kansas State gets into a conventional horns set, with Nae’Qwan Tomlin (#35) getting the ball on the perimeter. What happens next is simplistic, but there can be beauty in the simple things. As Nae’Qwan is dribbling toward Keyontae, our guy takes one step toward the ball, plants his foot, and explodes to the rim. What’s fascinating about this series of events is that Demarion Watson (#4) is in the denial stance when Tomlin catches the ball—and is caught watching the ball. Johnson takes the young wing to task and scores off of the mistake. Keyontae’s understanding of knowing the right time to make a move is total eye candy.
The objective here is to highlight what could be as Johnson grows as a player. Keyontae is averaging 2.3 APG, which is the highest average of his collegiate career. His previous in-season best was 1.6 APG during the 2019-2020 season. We earlier slightly touched on the 14.5 assist percentage. Johnson isn’t going to be an offensive engine—a player that is going to set the table as a heliocentric ball handler. But, he doesn’t have to be. What teams are going to look for him to do is connect. Can he make the next, correct read to keep things humming? Can he find the open guy when the defense sells out on the jumper or rotates before he can get into ideal scoring position?
In this game against Texas Tech, we see Johnson operating on the right wing, defended by Fardaws Aimaq (#11). Keyontae drives to his left and gets position on Aimaq. After Johnson gets Aimaq on his hip, Nowell’s man, Kevin Obanor (#0), helps off to stop the drive. The chemistry between Nowell and Johnson was highlighted a few times earlier, with Keyontae benefitting from slick feeds from Nowell. We see the inverse here, as our guy recognizes his open teammate in the left corner. Nowell receives a nice pass and gets three easy points.
Back to the Baylor game. The ball finds Nowell. Nowell drives to the elbow, drawing the attention of the defense. Keyontae’s man, Jalen Bridges (#11), is caught ball-watching and our guy, again, takes advantage of the slip-up. Nowell hits Johnson on the baseline, and he goes to the hole. Baylor’s big man, Flo Thamba (#0), is forced to rotate over to stop the attack. Both Keyontae and Thamba get vertical at the basket, but Keyontae is able to find Iyiola open in front of the hoop. Iyiola gets the pass and lays the ball in for two points.
Again, this is not the type of pass that Keyontae will be asked to make initially, but, the fact that he can see the floor at a decent level, and can get the ball to his teammates on intermediate-to-slightly above average looks offers some comfortability in the find-the-next-man passes.
That’s a good thing, as Keyontae isn’t exactly an advanced analytics darling when stacking up his assists next to his turnovers. Johnson currently has 46 assists on the season and 64 turnovers. This has yielded a 0.72 assist-to-turnover ratio. For players that have a minutes percentage of at least 80% and a BPM of at least 5, Keyontae Johnson has the fourth-highest turnover percentage this season—ranking behind Dillon Jones, Anthony Black, and Drew Peterson. Within that same group of players, Johnson has the fourth-lowest assist-to-turnover ratio. He is only above Tyler Burton, Drew Pember, and DaRon Holmes II. This isn’t an indictment against Keyontae, as the company he is in regarding those two fields includes some very real prospects. This just points to an area of concern—an area that might indicate limitations in terms of the number of ways he can be used.
This clip was randomly selected to represent the most common type of turnover you’ll see Keyontae Johnson commit in a game. Kansas State is pretty quick to whip the ball around the perimeter before the ball ends up in Johnson’s hands. He is defended by Jaylon Tyson (#20) as he attempts to go to work. While Keyontae is pretty decent at driving to either side (47 drive to his left, 31 to his right), he has a bad habit of sometimes going right into a group of defenders. That’s what happens here. Johnson isn’t able to get rid of Tyson, but he continues to go directly into Aimaq and Lamar Washington (#1). The pressure Texas Tech puts on Keyontae proves to be too much, as our guy ends up giving the ball away.
Keyontae hasn’t boasted a “plus” assist-to-turnover ratio at any point during his time in college, but the film suggests that he is becoming more aware of his teammates and is more apt to find them. One thing I can’t help but wonder is: how much better would his numbers be if he was in more of a connective role—similar to how he’ll likely have to be in the NBA? Without the burden of being relied upon to create off of drives, Johnson could be placed in more opportune positions to make reads while the defense is in a reactionary or recovering state.
Let’s hit on some of the analytical data that many believe are good indicators as to how a prospect’s defense will translate to the next level. As a frontcourt player, Johnson is posting a block percentage of 1.0. Not exactly setting the world on fire, as he has six blocks on the season. Of players that have a minutes percentage of at least 80% and have a listed height of at least 6’6”, Johnson has the 16th-lowest block percentage. For those that look at dunk and block numbers as an indication of athleticism, Johnson counteracts the low block rate by being ranked 12th with the same minutes percentage and height requirement that was mentioned above.
In terms of steal percentage (and the same filters), Keyontae ranks 14th. Having played 20 games so far this season, he only has five games in which he failed to record a steal. He has also grabbed more than one steal on eight occasions. This, along with the film, shows that he can be trusted to be a consistent playmaker at the college level. His strength and movement patterns suggest that he could continue to be trusted to play sound team defense at the next level.
Texas’s Tyrese Hunter (#4) gets the ball inbounded to him, and looks to quickly get into his offense. After working a couple of different angles on the pick-and-roll, Dylan Disu (#1) dives to the rim after Hunter gets the door shut on him. Hunter throws a bounce pass and likely believes that Disu is going to cash in on a dunk. The wall in front of him camouflages the recovering Keyontae Johnson getting into position to rip the pass away from Disu. We love extra possessions being created out of thin air.
Keyontae vs. Keyonte! After a few different cuts on this play, the ball winds up in the hands of Keyonte George (#1) of Baylor, while our guy is switched on to him. This play can be used to solidify a few different takes—to include how George could struggle to get his own shot at the next level. I’m not going to get into that here, but I like George. A lot. Nevertheless, Johnson is well outside the arc when he steps up to defend the ball handler. After a shallow cut, no one switches (refreshing) and George looks to attack left. The technique isn’t picture-perfect, but Johnson uses his length to force George to shift back to his right. Johnson flips his hips and readjusts to slide with his man as he attacks the lane. George does a decent job of trying to use his body to shield Johnson away, while also trying to find the right angle to get the ball up. No dice. KeyonTAE throws KeyonTE’s layup attempt away with one of his few blocks on the season.
We often look at things like height, weight, strength, and athleticism and assume that a player can be a switchable player. The idea of a player being able to defend a wide swath of positions is regularly assumed. If a player is 6’6” and 230 pounds and fits the bill within the attributes listed above, there is typically an assumed “2-4” range that a prospect should be able to defend. Some fans, scouts, and analysts may start to stretch that out even further.
In the Texas Tech game, the ball is inbounded to Aimaq—Tech’s center. Fardaws has a reported +5-inch height advantage, as well as a +15-pound weight advantage. Keyontae’s teammater, Carter, tries to sneak up on Aimaq’s blind spot but can’t come up with the ball. Carter’s attempted steal tells me that he knew Johnson would be at a significant disadvantage. Aimaq is able to maintain possession, spin to his left, and get off the baby hook for a contested (but relatively easy) two-pointer. When evaluating where Keyontae has been effective in defending, it’s worth noting that he is in the 38th percentile (Average) defending at the rim.
Part of playing good team defense is knowing when to help off of your assignment to aid a teammate. It’s easier said than done, as Mike Miles Jr. (#1) is such a dynamic weapon for TCU. We see Miles Jr. bring the ball up the court here. Carter does his best to keep in front of him, but Miles Jr. zooms past him—attracting the attention of everyone on defense. Keyontae goes from being in okay position to recover to his man, Rondel Walker (#11), to turning into a bystander. Miles Jr. is able to establish deep position and kick it out to a wide-open Walker for three. Nothing fundamental to take away from this play, as Johnson stations himself in no-man’s-land with his hands down.
The Nae’Qwan Tomlin Dive
*Stats as of 01/29/23*
While Nae’Qwan Tomlin is not overcoming a medical scare on his path to trying to make the NBA, he has overcome some obstacles to get to where he is. The fact that he has been able to do what he has done against the level of competition that he is facing is remarkable. After going his entire time in high school without playing basketball, and after three seasons of on-the-job training at two separate JUCO schools, Tomlin is now generating significant buzz within the draft community. The old saying that “you can’t teach height” holds true in Nae’Qwan’s case, as he is listed at 6’10” and 210 pounds.
At this point of the season, Tomlin is averaging over 10.0 PPG, just a hair under 6.0 RPG, a tick over 1.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 1.1 BPG. His shooting splits are around 46/25/71. These numbers don’t scream as loud as some other lines, but they are incredible considering he is playing in his fourth season of organized basketball.
Nae’Qwan’s production is something that only one other player is doing this season. That name is Xavier’s Jack Nunge—a fantastic upperclassman for those looking for another player to watch. We’ll also take a look at some of the names in BartTorvik’s database that meet the following criteria:
Minutes Percentage: 65% or more
BPM: 3.5 or more
Offensive Rating: 108 or more
Usage Percentage: 18% or more
True Shooting Percentage: 50% or more
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 7% or more
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 12% or more
Assist Percentage: 7% or more
Turnover Percentage: 12% or less
Block Percentage: 3.5% or more
Steals Percentage: 2% or more
Free Throw Rate: 27 or more
Two Point Percentage: 52% or more
Three Point Percentage: 25% or more
There are 11 other players (including Nunge) in the database that have cleared that same threshold. Some of those names are Keegan Murray, Bobby Portis (twice), Brandon Clarke, Justin Champagnie, Gary Clark, and Moses Wright. There are a couple of players that haven’t reached the highest of heights in that company of players, but again, the upward trajectory that Tomlin appears to be on is highly encouraging. That being said, let’s watch some film.
A lot of Tomlin’s game is based on a natural aptitude to be incredibly good at hooping. There is a good blend of feel and untapped potential within Nae’Qwan’s game—which should be both expected and appreciated. Synergy grades Tomlin out in the 64th percentile (Good) for all of his offensive possessions. Similar to Keyontae Johnson, Nae’Qwan ranks higher within the halfcourt as opposed to transition. I can not explain how impressive that is. The fact that the halfcourt is considered to be harder to grasp by even the more experienced prospects, Tomlin is better at that area of the game—it’s tremendous. He is ranked in the 65th percentile in the halfcourt (Good) and in the 55th percentile (Good) in transition.
When it comes to breaking down certain aspects of his offensive game, Nae’Qwan can do a bit of everything.
Pick and Roll
The way that Tomlin contributes in multiple aspects of the pick and roll at his level of experience is what makes him stand out amongst his peers to me. Synergy has Nae’Qwan credited with 13 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball man, and 13 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball-handler. He’s graded out in the 53rd percentile (Good) as a ball-handler out of the pick and roll, and in the 99th percentile (Excellent) as the roll man.
At the beginning of this play, we see our guy jet to the right wing and catch the ball. Tomlin faces up with the ball while Carter and Iyiola set up to screen to his left. TCU’s Souleymane Doumbia (#25) ends up switching onto Nae’Qwan, but hegets blown by after a smooth crossover. Tomlin converts on the lay-in. He demonstrates a good level of comfortability handling the ball for a player of his size. Plays like this will pique the intrigue for a lot of people, but Nae’Qwan also has a ton of value on the other side of these plays.
Despite only operating as the pick and roll man in about 6% of his time on the floor, Nae’Qwan Tomlin ranks in the 99th percentile finishing as the roll man. One knock someone could have against Tomlin is his slender frame. He could put on some muscle, as this is his first season with some high-quality training facilities and training programs. Even though he is only about 210 pounds, Nae’Qwan has proven that he’s fine getting physical. He is a fluid mover—very coordinated. He’s not a “freak athlete” exactly, but he is quite athletic. On the season, Tomlin is 31st in the NCAA in dunks made. Adding a little more strength could help him convert those opportunities with a little more ease.
On this play against Iowa State, Kansas State’s point guard, Nowell, is looking to go to work in the pick and roll. Tomlin steps up to be the roll man, screening to Nowell’s left. Nowell attempts to reject the screen, going right but resets to get a better passing window. Iowa State’s Robert Jones (#12) steps up to shut the door on Nowell—but he makes a crucial mistake by giving Tomlin a clear lane to gun through. Tomlin takes a great line to the rim, gets a pretty pass from Nowell, and rises effortlessly for the two-handed jam.
As fluid and as coordinated as he is, Nae’Qwan Tomlin still has a ways to go as a floor-stretching big man. He’s shooting 25% from deep, which isn’t spectacular, but there is something there to be excited about. For one, Tomlin is shooting on low volume, with about two attempts from deep per game. From the free throw line, he’s shooting 71.2% on only 52 total attempts.
In a matchup against Rhode Island that took place earlier in the season, Nowell and Tomlin get into their two-man game. Nae’Qwan screens to Nowell’s left, giving him a driving lane. Rhode Island’s defense forces Nowell to move the ball to Tomlin on the right wing. Our guy cashes it in. In limited looks shooting off of the pick and pop, Nae’Qwan is 3-of-6 within that play type.
A few things to observe here. Tomlin does have a lot of shooting potential with his touch. Though his shooting percentage is not at a good number, I believe Tomlin can improve this by cleaning up some of his mechanics. The lower body faces away from the rim, and he has a twisting motion as the shot progresses. When he catches the ball, Nae’Qwan dips the ball, swings it to the left, and then brings it back to the middle as his arms rise for the release. Once the ball is at its peak, it looks pretty as it leaves his hands. Cleaning up a couple of things within his motion would decrease the load time. Eliminating some moving parts in the mechanics would give him a more stable base, thus likely increasing his efficiency. Again, what he’s showing in his fourth year of organized basketball is crazy. There is a lot for a team to work with that could yield spectacular results.
Tomlin ranks within the 35th Percentile (Average) as a spot-up shooter. This takes into account two-pointers—where he is 7-of-15—and three-pointers—where he is 8-of-34. Again, not sexy numbers but there is enough to work with.
This play begins with Nowell running off of a double drag set that results in him getting to the right elbow. Langston Love (#13) ends up becoming the primary man to stop Nowell, with Caleb Lohner (#33) stepping up to help. The problem with that is that Lohner leaves his assignment, Nae’Qwan, open in the corner. It’s probably the shot Baylor’s coaching staff was more than comfortable conceding, but the risk of leaving Tomlin all alone comes to fruition. Our guy, still displaying those same shot mechanics displayed earlier, nets in three points.
While spotting up is the play type Tomlin is featured in the most, he’s featured as a cutter often. Synergy grades him out in the 40th Percentile (Average) within this play type; he’s 22-of-38 while functioning as a cutter. I’m almost blue in the face saying this, but he’ll get better with improved strength and continued experience.
Against Oklahoma State, we’ll look at a set that has the offense runs through the big on the elbow—something that happens in the NBA regularly. Before this point, Nowell has the ball but gives it to the player that starts off with it on this clip: Desi Sills. The rest of his Kansas State teammates are all along the baseline. Tomlin steps up and gets the ball at the left elbow. Nowell jets off of Nae’Qwan’s right side and gets the rock off of the DHO. Nowell’s man, Caleb Asberry (#5), gets a hard screen from Tomlin. This forces a switch. Tomlin turns towards an empty lane while Asberry is looking to recover to Nowell. A big miscue by the Oklahoma State defense, as it leaves Tomlin open right at the cup. Our guy gets the ball, takes a power dribble, shields off Kalib Boone (#22), and lays in the ball.
We’ve touched on some of the defensive stats earlier. Tomlin averages 1.2 SPG and 1.1 BPG. He also has a block percentage of 4.2% and a steal percentage of 2.4%. Tomlin has 23 total steals on the year, along with 21 blocks. His natural feel and athleticism are good enough to help him make some solid defensive plays for the time being. Again, strength and experience will help him become even better.
Tomlin’s experience in the sport relative to his peers isn’t at the same level, but the way that he can survey the court on defense appears to be a sixth sense. Nae’Qwan goes from being the player that has the deepest position on offense, to having to get back and set up on defense while Baylor transitions from defense to offense. Adam Flagler (#10) gets the ball after the rebound is corralled, and looks to set up the pick and roll with Ojianwuna. Our guys is defending Bridges on the left wing. Keyonatae Johnson (#11) and Iyiola are the primary defenders on this play, but Ojianwuna is able to slip past the both of them. Look at how well Tomlin is able to keep track of his man and the ball. Bridges continues to move to the right corner—where his teammate, Dale Bonner (#3), is already stationed. Knowing his teammate can track two players standing right next to each other, Nae’Qwan takes a line to Ojianwuna to contest his shot. He is behind Ojianwuna, but Tomlin possesses nice athleticism and length, which helps him to get up with the shot and deny the shot attempt. Incredible timing and ball tracking.
Same game here, but at a much later point. We’ve seen an example of Tomlin’s recovery, but now we’re going to take a look at how switchable he can be. Our guy is originally covering Thamba but ends up switching onto Keyonte George after the screen. George then goes to the right wing and hands the ball off to LJ Cryer (#4). Tomlin switches from George to Cryer as the ball handler moves from the left wing to the top of the key. Cryer goes from the top of the key to the left wing, handing the ball off to Flagler. Flagler gets into his dribble, looking to uses his handle and speed to get past our guy. Nae’Qwan shuts the door on him, forcing Flagler to step back outside the three-point line to reset. George circles all the way around, back to the top of the key to get the ball back, to which Tomlin switches onto him again. George is able to drive into the lane but cannot shake Nae’Qwan. Our guy does a great job of sliding his feet and keeping his hands high while Keyonte gets deep paint position. Tomlin leaps as the shot goes up and sends it away, giving Kansas State the ball.
Notice the number of switches Tomlin makes on this play. A player of his size and position being able to switch onto three separate guards on one single possession is remarkable. He denies position, keeps with his man, slides his feet, and blocks a shot all in one play. Given his level of experience and natural ability, the possibilities are endless when you start to think about how versatile of a defender Nae’Qwan could be.
Nae’Qwan’s rotational and recovery abilities haven’t been solely on display for timely blocks this season. We see here that Tomlin is operating as a shooter on offense, then going back to defense. Note the miss—not an ugly one (for those of you that like to track how misses look, this was for you). Texas’s Disu gets the board and gets the ball to Marcus Carr (#5). Carr and Disu look to get into their two-man game on offense, while our guy is defending Timmy Allen (#0) in the left corner. This is another example of Nae’Qwan being able to keep tabs on his man and the ball. As Disu dives to the cup, Carr looks to get him the ball via a bounce pass. Tomlin’s reaction is perfect, as he pivots hard to the lane and picks off the feed. The versatility he provides with his positional ball handling makes him a transition threat as Kansas State gains possession.
As athletic as Nae’Qwan is, there are (and will be) more athletic players that line up across from him. Should he get switched onto a wing with speed and explosiveness, he’ll really need to craft his technique to be a little cleaner. On this inbound play, the ball changes hands quite a bit before Jalen Wilson gains control of it. Tomlin makes a combination of errors at once on the onset: he drops back a good bit—which is fine—but also positions himself to attempt to force Wilson to his left. Separately, either one of those approaches is fine. But together, they set Tomlin up in a bad manner. Wilson catches the ball and goes to his right. This makes Nae’Qwan have to flip his hips and is immediately forced to recover. Wilson is able to zoom right past Tomlin and lays it in for two.
Here’s the inverse of concerns. Players being too twitchy and athletic on the wing can be concerning, but so can more physical, post-oriented ones. TCU’s Eddie Lampkin Jr. (#4) is listed at 6’11” and 300 pounds, and obviously has a strength advantage. Tomlin is initially defending Emanuel Miller (#2), but the Horned Frogs run a smart set to have a post-to-post screen that forces a switch. Nae’Qwan now has a strength disadvantage to overcome, along with a spatial one. Lampkin Jr. has inside position on our guy and gets the ball. He easily converts despite Tomlin’s best efforts. Nae’Qwan often relies on his recovery ability to defend, but recovering usually means you start off at a disadvantage. Increased strength and experience will allow him to find ways to be proactive vice reactive.
Getting into the evaluation of these prospects, particularly at this point of the draft cycle, is a bit of a challenge. Keyontae Johnson is talented, no doubt, but there is the reality that his medicals will likely be one of the anticipated ones of this class. The ambiguity that surrounds the cause of his collapse will be a focal point within any NBA front office. His offensive skillset meets the mark for role players of his ilk. He can space the floor, he makes timely cuts, and he can finish at the cup. The state of his ball-handling and playmaking consistency do place some limitations on him, in terms of high-end outcomes, but there are certainly ways that he can make positive contributions to a team on that end. Defensively, Johnson’s size, strength, and awareness are all tools that should help him fit within a team’s scheme, but the defensive playmaking ability on his own seems to be average at best. He doesn’t appear to be highly switchable—which again gives him some setbacks in his draft stock. Maintaining acute awareness on that side of the floor will be vital for him to see significant playing time for the majority of NBA teams. All things considered, Keyontae Johnson has a range that is in the middle-to-late second round for me right now—again, this is contingent on his medical evaluations.
Nae’Qwan Tomlin’s stock is also hard to pin down. On one hand, you have the age/class argument working against him. On the other hand, similar to that of a much younger player, he is a very malleable prospect. He doesn’t have much experience, with this season being the first that he’s had the access to the facilities and programs that Kansas State has at their disposal. The untapped potential—the rawness of Nae’Qwan’s game rivals that of a one-and-done prospect. Combining that with the sheer production that he gives as a play finisher and defender, along with the shooting promise and you have an intriguing frontcourt player. With the range of players from about 23 on having thin margins of separation in my eyes, Nae’Qwan could rank anywhere from a priority second round pick to a priority undrafted free agent—and this could vary drastically as the season progresses.