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Magic 8 Ballers: Still in Mintz Condition
It's always a risky move to ignore draft buzz and come back to college, but what aspects of Judah Mintz's game still show so much promise?
It’s as ubiquitous a phrase as any in popular culture, with the concept extending across music, video games, movies, television, and even sports. In basketball specifically, it’s a term that gets a lot of run when talking about young players, and for good reason.
The development of prospects is so closely monitored and scrutinized that just a minor slip-up can send a player’s stock spiraling. That’s especially true for second-year players in the NBA, as their teams clamor for them to take a drastic leap after their rookie year, and also for college players who choose to return for their sophomore seasons.
Although freshmen are the hottest commodity on the draft market, sophomores aren’t far behind. Over the past five NBA drafts, an average of 11.8 sophomore players have been selected, with 6.4 of those would-be slumpers going in the first round. Despite the phrase, there are too many factors that make grouping all sophomore players into a homogeneous group to analyze.
For players like Kobe Bufkin, Johnny Davis, and Devin Vassell, it was a sophomore skyrocket more than a slump, as certain sophomores play virtually no minutes as freshmen, only to see their minutes, production, and draft stock all rise exponentially in their second year. On the other hand, some like Terquavion Smith, James Bouknight, and Kai Jones all had some palpable buzz as first-year college players yet saw their draft buzz fizzle in their sophomore year.
There’s a veritable crop of sophomore prospects this year, as 13 second-year college players are on the 2024 No Ceilings Preseason NBA Draft Guide. Of those baker’s dozen, it’s high time to turn the Magic 8 Ball toward one of the more polarizing but polished guards in the draft class: Judah Mintz.
Quick Shakes of the 8 Ball:
Judah Mintz took a somewhat less standard path to freshman stardom, coming from former high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy before choosing to play for the Syracuse Orange. He was the crown jewel of Syracuse’s recruiting class, but he mostly bubbled under the radar heading into his first year.
That bubbling quickly became a flood as Mintz started every game for the Orange and made the All-ACC honorable mention. Mintz was the second-leading scorer for the team while leading Syracuse in assists, steals, and free-throw attempts per game. This production is nothing to sniff at; Mintz played next to certified scorer Joe Girard III and pivotal post Jesse Edwards, two established college stars who got their own alongside Mintz.
It’s remarkable that under Jim Boeheim, a coach often stingy with freshman minutes, Mintz was neck-and-neck with Girard III and Edwards in minutes per game. Given his talented offensive game, it’s easy in retrospect to understand why Mintz was a critical piece for the Orange. Still, it doesn’t make his presence any less noteworthy from a historical context.
On the court, Mintz was the straw that squiggled and stirred the Syracuse offense. Per Synergy, Mintz led the team in percentage of team possessions, which aligns with what I saw on film. Almost every time down the floor, Mintz was the primary creator for the Orange, directing traffic and balancing getting his offense versus setting up his teammates.
Given the zone scheme that Syracuse played last year and Mintz’s deficiencies on that end, defense won’t be a significant focus for our Magic 8 Ballers inspection. Instead, Mintz’s offense is firmly under the microscope, given he showed just as many compelling tools as he did confounding flaws in his offensive approach.
When watching Judah Mintz for the first time, what struck me was the pristine polish on his offensive arsenal. This isn’t to say he’s a finished product by any means; instead, I was drawn to the dizzying dribbling, acrobatic finishes, and constant aggressiveness that Mintz showed from the first game of the season through the ACC tournament.
Almost all of Syracuse’s pick-and-roll offense stemmed from Mintz, which put him in control of the team’s offense. The first element of Mintz’s game that made him worthy of this was his ball-handling, which is deliberate and delicate to watch in real time. Mintz can put any speed or pace on the ball when he attacks, freezes defenders with hesitations, and has as deep of a bag of dribble moves in the 2024 draft class.
What makes Mintz’s handle special is that it isn’t just for show. His control of the ball allowed Mintz to both create separation coming off of screens and also to create individual offense for himself on one-on-one opportunities. At the next level, that’s crucial, even if Mintz could benefit from a bit more core strength to keep him from physical on-ball turnovers.
Mintz’s handle helped him get downhill, but it was his finishing at the cup that sealed the deal on so many of his possessions. Although he isn’t often finishing his plays off with a dunk, Mintz does have the type of subtle vertical athleticism that lets him uncork a jaw-dropping dunk when one least expects it, whether on the fast break or off a cut.
More than a dunker, though, Mintz is an artist in the air, contorting his body and arms to extreme angles to get shots off through tight defense. It doesn’t matter whether he’s off-balance or falling over; Mintz has such a wide range of potential finishing angles and release points that he’s a threat to put the ball in the hoop with any head of steam.
Per Synergy, he shot 55.2% on 134 lay-up attempts, which is a good-not-great number that speaks to the degree of difficulty on many of the shots he took last year. Mintz was never scared to dive into the teeth of the defense, but a bit more discretion in his sophomore season could help him out, especially if that comes in the form of a counter like an improved jumper.
Mintz already has one tool in his back pocket that helps him when the paint is walled off: his floater. With the degree of difficulty and speed at which he took them, I’d rank Mintz’s floater up there with ones like Derrick Rose and Trae Young. That bears out in the numbers as well, as Mintz shot 43.3% on 67 floater attempts, an efficient number for that type of shot.
In concert, the great handle, finishing package, and floater counter make Mintz a dangerous downhill guard, but the modern game requires guards to be more than just driving demons. Even though Mintz’s finishing and rim offense would excel at the next level, there will always be a cap on how effective he can become as long as his jump shot isn’t a weapon.
Mintz’s jumper is neither a trainwreck needing major renovations nor a funky form that could use a single tweak to fix. There are a few elements to Mintz’s game that make his jump shot more of a weakness than a strength right now, starting with his balance.
Any modern guard worth their salt as a shooter can stop on a dime, fire shots from an off-angle, and still drain deep looks. The key to being a sound off-balance and pull-up shooter still comes down to balance, a place where Mintz has to improve. Too often last season, Mintz would get to his spot with a good move, only to not get his feet set well under him and misfire an attempt that should’ve been a more straightforward make.
Per Synergy, Mintz only shot 33.8% on 151 “dribble jumper” attempts, a number that’s simply too low to be a real offensive threat as a guard. Some of his issues come down to an odd habit of pump-faking his elbow jumpers and trying to lean in for contact a la DeMar DeRozan without the same success.
More of Mintz’s issues come from his current struggles behind the arc. Again, his shot isn’t broken, but it’s becoming less and less possible to be an impactful guard and only shoot 29.9% on three-pointers. It was a small sample size, with Mintz only taking 67 threes last year, but how often does a player increase their shooting volume and percentage from a spot on the floor?
Mintz would’ve had a lot more buzz if he was a plus shooter, but if he can just become league average, he should be alright given his solid passing skills. Mintz isn’t the type of distributor who can create the openings for players, and he still does miss a few reads that good point guards hit, but his downhill verve and passing instincts have made him into a solid creator for others with the ball in his hands.
Mintz had a 1.87 assist-to-turnover ratio last year, which isn’t a stellar number, but led all players on the Orange. Like his drives and pull-up jumpers, almost all of Mintz’s assists came out of the pick-and-roll, where he took his time to dissect defenses before tossing lobs, skips, and dump-off passes to his teammates.
The ability to get into the lane with ease, alongside the willingness to give the ball up to shooters and finishers in good positions, bodes well for what Mintz’s game can be if he never becomes a good shooter. Still, Mintz could improve his placement of passes, as he often got overzealous and threw passes out of bounds over his teammates’ heads.
If you put Judah Mintz in an NBA offense tomorrow, he’d do more than survive, which is more than many draft prospects can say. His ability to get into the lane and either finish at the rim, hit a floater, or dish to a teammate gives him some secondary creator upside at the next level. Until his jump shot is a threat, however, that’s as far as Mintz can go.
Inside Scoring Package: You May Rely on It
Outside Scoring Package: Concentrate and Ask Again
Passing Package: Signs Point to Yes
Scouting a player’s defense in a zone scheme is always an exercise in obfuscation. Sure, the outlines of what a player will be like playing primarily man-to-man defense are there due to their latent instincts and visible tools. Still, most of the potential is theoretical and not anecdotal.
This issue has hampered my evaluation of Syracuse players and the past. It continues with Judah Mintz, who will never be tasked with being a perimeter stopper for his next team but needs to show the type of frame, commitment, or talent to be even a league-average defender at the NBA level.
Let’s start with the positives. Mintz led the Orange in steals last year, using his above-average wingspan and quick hands to snatch waylaid passes out of the air and firmly deposit them in the other basket. These “pick-six” steals were primarily where Mintz made his impact, as he rarely locked up a player on the dribble or even had to.
By playing as one of the two heads of the hydra in Syracuse’s zone, Mintz spent much of his time sliding his feet, applying light ball pressure, and using his length to dissuade opponents from attempting an entry pass. There were few, if any, times that Mintz had to stick to a particular offensive player and play tight man defense on him, which makes his evaluation on that end cloudier than most.
In the moments when Mintz had a chance to step outside the rigid framework of the zone, he didn’t make much of note, with most of his noticeable plays spelling out more tragedy than triumph. The lack of effort that he showed on these plays is a bit more concerning, given Mintz won’t have too long of a leash to close out slowly and let players drive by him like a turnstile on defense.
Again, I’m not going to dwell on Mintz’s defense for too long, given it’s an imperfect evaluation, and it won’t be his primary role in the NBA. If he gets drafted in the first round, it’ll be because he can put pressure on a defense, not through his defense.
If Mintz ever wants to take his game to the next level, however, he’ll need to start trading in the breakaway steals for more committed perimeter defense and discipline. Outside of his improving jumper, that could be the quickest way for Mintz to grow at the next level substantially
Perimeter Defense: Don’t Count on It
Interior Defense: Very Doubtful
There’s much of Mintz’s game already established and set in stone for next season. He’ll still be in charge of Syracuse’s offense, he’ll still do most of his damage at the rim, and he still won’t be expected to be a major impact piece on defense. What’s notable, however, is that everything around Mintz differs from last year, which makes his sophomore season an intriguing evaluation.
The biggest change comes in the coaching position, where Adrian Autry is the heir apparent to Jim Boeheim. Besides being a new voice in the room, Autry’s switching the defensive scheme at Syracuse from a 2-3 zone to a man-to-man system. There will likely be some kinks to work through, but seeing Mintz in a more traditional defensive scheme should make evaluating his defense much cleaner.
It’s not just the team concepts that will change next season for the Orange; there’s also a markedly different roster. Joe Girard III graduated and chose to rep a different orange jersey with the Clemson Tigers, while Jesse Edwards headed to Morgantown to start for the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Losing that much offense will force Mintz, alongside other players, to step into more prominent roles, but he won’t have to do it alone. Former five-star guard JJ Starling, who had a solid freshman campaign at Notre Dame, chose to head closer to home to pair with Mintz in the backcourt. To replace Jesse Edwards, the Orange brought an inter-conference transfer center in Naheem McLeod.
McLeod hasn’t had a lot of run in his first few seasons, but at 7’4” with some shooting touch and shot-blocking skills, he should be one of the best big men on the team’s roster this year. The same goes for Starling, who will step into Joe Girard III’s minutes with a different set of shoes. Last year, Girard III took 231 three-pointers; Starling took just 87.
It would be forcing Starling to change too much of what makes him unique to ask him to be a volume shooter from deep. With that said, to run a modern offense, that volume of three-point shooting will have to come from somewhere.
That’s where Mintz may come in…or he may not. The only constant that Mintz can count on is that he will have the ball in his hands for most of Syracuse’s possessions. For Autry’s Orange, Mintz could be a more polished version of who he was, honing his finishing skills and passing reads. Or, if he leans into defense and deep shooting, Mintz could evolve into something more.
With a nonconference slate that includes Tennessee, either Purdue or Gonzaga, LSU, and Oregon, alongside heavyweight teams like Duke, Virginia, and UNC, the Orange are facing an uphill climb to make it back to the NCAA tournament. If they’re going to get back there, it’s going to be on the back of a monster sophomore season from Judah Mintz.
The Final Shake:
With each successive draft class, the sheen on the new freshmen and freshly eligible international prospects gets even shinier. It makes sense that a team would want to get a player as young as possible into their developmental system, but it makes the margin of error thinner for older prospects.
Older players are under more scrutiny and often have their flaws used against them more than the younger classes. That’s the risk that Judah Mintz made when he came back to college instead of chasing his dreams at the NBA, and it could be the fate that befalls him if he gets off to a tough start for the Orange.
By my eye and analysis, however, Mintz is one of the best drivers out of the 2024 guards, has enough passing and floater chops to switch up from his fastball, and should have all the touches in the world to make some of his weaknesses into strengths. It’s about as ideal of a setup that Mintz could’ve hoped for returning to Syracuse.
That’s why I’m bullish on Mintz to establish himself as a quality combo guard prospect who, due to his offensive upside, should be a fixture on most first round draft boards throughout the year. If he can start to hit shots, there’s even the chance that Mintz’s game will look squeaky clean, and his stock would send him up to the lottery, where a team would snag a foundational guard piece who could one day contribute significantly to a winning offense.