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No Stone Unturned 2023: The Wings, Part 2
No Stone Unturned is back with five more under-the-radar wings! Plus: Insights from Belmont Head Coach Casey Alexander, East Carolina's Brandon Johnson, and Eastern Washington's Cedric Coward!
Welcome back to No Stone Unturned! In this series of articles, I will be digging into five players at different positions who are flying under the radar but warrant attention. For my methodology, I started by seeking out players with interesting statistical profiles or players who had popped on film for me this past season. From there, I compiled a list, worked my way through the film and date, then chose my favorites. I avoided prospects who have received rankings on mainstream Top 100 lists and early mock drafts. I’m looking for deeper cuts who aren’t receiving much love yet but still have a real crack at making a mark in the draft space this coming season. Today, we are looking at the first group of unheralded wings who could sneak into the NBA Draft conversation by the end of this draft cycle.
The “wing” distinction is a broad one, obviously. We’re talking guys who will primarily guard positions 2 through 4, whether on the higher or lower side of that equation; 15 total wing players will be covered. They’ve been broken up into different groups based on their skill sets, so there won’t be too much overlap in terms of style, proclivities, and concerns. No matter what type of wing you’re looking for, I tried to find them! You can check out the column I did on big men here and the first group of wings here. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter!
Brandon Johnson, 6’8”, East Carolina, Redshirt Junior
2022-2023 Season Stats: 12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.9 TOV, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 43.9/33.3/74.6
Signature Performance: vs. SMU. 27 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks. 8-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, 7-7 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Memphis. 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals, three blocks, one turnover. 5-13 FG, 3-10 3FG, 2-4 FT.
-vs. Cincinnati. Two points, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers. 1-5 FG, 0-2 3FG.
-vs. Houston. 12 points, one rebound, two assists, two blocks, one turnover. 4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 1-4 FT.
-vs. UCF. 12 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, two turnovers. 2-13 FG, 1-6 FG, 7-8 FT.
-vs. Houston. Seven points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, two turnovers. 2-8 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2-3 FT.
Brandon Johnson attended Rolesville High School in North Carolina. He was a standout in basketball, averaging a double-double while also winning the Northern Athletic Conference 4A Player-of-the-Year Award. Additionally, Johnson competed in football as a defensive end and right tackle. During an interview, he told me that he began to focus more on basketball as he grew and lost weight, but that “the physicality of football and knowing how to use my body in different ways” benefitted him on the basketball court. Despite his success, significant attention wasn’t coming Johnson’s way. “Coming out of high school, I had one D-III offer and about three JuCo offers. I always wanted to bet on myself. I knew I could play Division I, so I went to Brunswick [Community College]. It motivated me and gave me the work ethic that I have now,” he told me. Johnson played a complimentary role on a great Brunswick team as a freshman and generated more buzz. He received Division I offers from Grambling State, Jacksonville, Radford, Old Dominion, and East Carolina, which was the school he would ultimately attend.
As a sophomore, his minutes and production were up and down. He started his junior year hot, dropping 24 points, seven rebounds, and three assists against Mercer. This was the beginning of his breakout campaign. Johnson gives the credit to those around him for his leap in production. “My coaches and teammates put confidence in me. There was never negativity toward missed shots or turnovers. They just kept building me up,” he said.
Brandon Johnson is a modern power forward who can influence the game for the better in a multitude of ways. “My versatility helps me a lot because I know if one thing isn't going right, I can make something else go right. Either way, I can affect the game positively,” Johnson noted. A late-bloomer, Johnson’s biggest improvements came in the form of his shooting this past season, and that shooting has opened up a lot for his game. As a sophomore, Johnson shot 21.4% from three and 57.5% from the free throw line. During his junior campaign, Johnson shot 33.3% from three and 74.6% from the free throw line. Further affirming these improvements is the shooting volume. Johnson went from taking 1.5 threes per 100 possessions to 7.9 threes per 100 possessions. There was a change in confidence, but also in mechanics. “The improvement was from working on my fundamentals and my mechanics. I fixed a few things, like my guide hand. My thumb used to guide the ball when I pushed it off, so I was missing left to right. It was that, and getting more reps in,” Johnson explained. He knocked down 40% of unguarded catch-and-shoot threes, so teams don’t let him take many open ones. Johnson has shown flashes of hitting from NBA range and moving into his shot as a pop man after setting a ball screen.
Johnson also gets a lot of easy buckets on the offensive glass. His offensive rebound rate of 8.6% and his 2.6 offensive rebounds per game generate high-quality second-chance looks for the Pirates. “It helps the team because it gets us more possessions. The other team can’t win if they're not rebounding. It frustrates them, the coach gets on them, and that makes it worse for them. I’m never going stop competing for rebounds,” Johnson remarked. Per Synergy, putbacks generated 12.4% of his offense, giving him another way to make an imprint on the game. There’s a toughness to his game that shows up on the glass on both ends, and also his attacking. Johnson plays strong through contact, doesn’t get bumped off his spot, and still manages to get to the free throw line a lot (4.1 FTA/game). Johnson has no problem decimating mismatches against smaller players. His passing pops on film, too. He does a great job of mapping the floor, knowing where his teammates are, and knowing where they will go. His general feel is high, allowing him to make slick feeds that the defense doesn’t anticipate, especially when he’s operating out of the post or at the top of the key. The timing, accuracy, and creativity of his passes stand out. When I asked about this area of his game and how he developed it, he told me, “Really, just watching basketball. Watching film, seeing what passes I can make, seeing what comes available, and trying new things on the court.”
His versatility carries over to the defensive end of the floor. Johson’s STL% of 1.7 and BLK% of 2.2 are solid marks for a forward prospect, and the film paints a more complete picture of what he can bring to the table. When guarding on the perimeter, the way he slides his feet and utilizes his strength prevents quicker players from taking advantage of him. In situations where he’s on true post players, his clever use of hands, his length, and his ability to front opposing big men prevent opponents from getting the ball inside. He knows when and how to help and rotate, which Johnson considers his biggest strength, noting, “I have my teammates back, and can stay one step ahead playing team defense.” A competitive spirit emanates from him and his demeanor gets his teammates going. “I make the offense uncomfortable with my physicality. When I’m on offense, I know physicality can make it a long night. I want to make it a long game for them and make them as uncomfortable as possible.”
What Needs Improvement
The easiest way for Johnson to get onto more radars is probably continuing to improve from distance, and I think he will, considering his progression last year. What I’d like to see most is improved self-creation. His first step is pretty mundane, and he doesn’t have a lot of counters to get to the basket, forcing him to rely more on his power. It works in the AAC, but that’s a tougher ask in the NBA. During our conversation, he noted that further developing his handle and ability to put the ball on the floor has been one of his biggest focal points this off-season. I’d like to see him continue to develop athletically in terms of quickness and leaping ability. His production was still up-and-down at times last year, and playing with more consistency would help his case.
I like Brandon Johnson’s game a lot. I’m also buying the fact that he’s a late-bloomer and that there is likely more development in front of him than most players going into their senior season. His significant improvements as a junior paired with his slow ascent to becoming a Division I starter tell the tale of a guy who knows what he needs to get better at and has consistently put in the work. Oh, and he’s 6’8”, strong, has good feel on both ends of the floor, and knows how to play a role. He’s exactly the type of player teams should be looking for on the margins. It’s not a done deal for Johnson—he needs to continue to shoot better, the handle has to come along, he has to be more consistent, and it would be nice to see more athletic developments from him. But it’s hard to look at what he was as a sophomore, see what he became as a junior, and then not expect him to keep cranking on that improvement dial. He’ll be on the cusp of my Top 60 to start the year.
Zack Austin, 6’7”, Pittsburgh, Redshirt Junior
2022-2023 Season Stats: 14.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.7 TOV, 1.1 SPG, 2.1 BPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 43.7/33.3/78.6
Signature Performance: vs. North Florida. 24 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one block, one steal. 8-14 FG, 1-3 3FG, 8-9 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
Zack Austin played high school ball at Winston-Salem Prep in North Carolina. He wasn’t an immediately dominant force, spending two years on the junior varsity team. He would go on to win a state title there. In grassroots play, he competed for Team Winston, a team that appears to be unaffiliated with major shoe circuits based on my digging. Austin then spent a year at Monrovian Prep. He received Division I offers from High Point, Appalachian State, and South Carolina State. Austin committed to High Point and redshirted his first year on campus. During his first season, he stuffed the stat sheet, won Big South Freshman of the Year, and made the All-Big South Second Team. As a sophomore, he posted similar numbers but didn’t receive any accolades. After the conclusion of the season, he entered the transfer portal and committed to Pittsburgh.
Zack Austin has one of the most attention-grabbing styles of basketball on the planet. His strengths can be summed up in three components: defense, shooting, and attacking the rim. We’ll start with the defense, as that’s the most eye-popping element of his game on paper. That holds true in actuality, too. He has potent physical strength and moves like a pro. He tracks the ball well from a hand-eye coordination standpoint, which paired with his instincts and physical tools, leads to outrageous steal and block totals. Through two college seasons, he has a STL% of 2.2 and a BLK% of 7.7. The block total in particular is outrageous for a wing prospect. His timing as a weakside rim protector is stellar, and when he jumps, he floats. It’s tough to score against him at the basket and essentially provides his team with an additional mobile big man despite only being 6’7”. When he closes out or rotates, he covers ground well and gets to his spots quickly. When he contests opposing jumpers, he springs high and fast, making it a meaningful contest that’s hard to shoot over. At the point of attack, he does a good job of containing the ball and staying in front of his man. Between his speed, strength, and assertiveness, he should be adaptable to different defensive schemes and hold his own guarding a few different positions.
On offense, Austin does a lot of two things that I’ve found to be indicative of NBA success when paired together—making threes and dunking the basketball. Last season, he was one of only five players to register 35 or more dunks and 50 or more made threes, per BartTorvik. Two of those players (Kobe Brown and Taylor Hendricks) were first round picks. Austin’s percentage of 33.3% doesn’t pop off the page, but there are reasons to buy his shot. First off, there’s the volume. He lets it fly, taking 11.3 threes per 100 possessions. It looks the part, as his body moves in one fluid motion, and he has a high right-handed release. Lastly, he’ll connect from deep behind the NBA line, so his range is difficult to question. Teams can’t leave him open, if nothing else, as Austin made 41.7% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot threes, per Synergy. Those shots made up less than one-third of his attempts for a reason, and that’s because teams respect his shot. Close out too hard, though, and you’ll pay the price. Austin’s a violent downhill driver who can put anyone on a poster. His power and speed are a scary combination when he attacks. He’ll take off from what appears to be too far from the basket, but it’s actually perfectly fine, he’s just that explosive. Opponents have to be careful to contest against Austin but still maintain a level of balance in case he decides to take it inside. Between his ability to shoot the long ball and finish above the rim, he’s a terror in transition.
There are positive odds and ends that tie his game together. Austin does things off the ball that shine in a complimentary capacity. He uses his body to set screens, and he’s comfortable going into his shot after a pick. His instincts as a cutter are sharp, leading to him converting 62.1% of his attempts on those play types. While he’s not a hyper-threatening playmaker, he has moments of solid vision where he’ll whip sharp passes to the open man. Austin makes plays on the glass, too, flying in for putbacks on offense and scrapping to end possessions on defense. High Point played bigger last year, so he didn’t get to shine as much in that capacity this past season, but he averaged 8.0 RPG as a freshman.
What Needs Improvement
The biggest issue that popped up on film was Austin’s decision-making. It’s part of why he posts low assist rates (career 9.2 AST%) and a lower three-point percentage than he should. Taking threes is good and I’d much rather have a prospect who believes in their shot than one who doesn’t, but Austin was too prone to forcing looks from long range at times. When teammates throw their hands up after a shot, that’s not a good sign. I’m hoping that part of it was tied into playing with a ball-dominant, scoring guard and that in a new environment, we’ll see more refinement and ball movement from him. On defense, he leaves his feet way too often, and pump-fakes can be his kryptonite. Austin has strong recovery tools and he puts in the effort to do it, but that scares me a little bit as he heads into a much more athletic conference. I’m also a bit worried that he didn’t make a significant leap between his first and second college seasons, but I’m leaning toward that being more circumstantial/scheme/fit related than anything on his part.
There are reasons I can talk myself out of Austin. I have concerns about his feel on offense and his gambling habits defensively. Ultimately, I keep coming back to a few key factors that make him undeniable. First off, he’s a 6’7” dude with NBA athleticism and he harnesses that into functional production. Few wings have the ability to help at the rim the way he does. Pair that with his speed and toughness, and he looks the part of a modern defender. Offensively, he can hit threes from the NBA line, and if you chase him off of it, he can finish in spectacular fashion. Lastly, I love that he’s going to Pittsburgh, a program coming off a strong season where several transfers took massive steps forward in their game. I wish Austin had more connective tissue to his game, but zooming out, there are valuable skills and tools in his arsenal. He’s more in the “watchlist” category for me than a specific tier of my board. How Austin adapts to his new environment is going to be fascinating. He may take a year to settle in, but if he gels with the Panthers out of the gate, NBA front offices are going to catch on in a hurry. There’s a path for him to work his way into second round consideration next year.
Cade Tyson, 6’7”, Belmont, Sophomore
2022-2023 Season Stats: 13.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.3 TOV, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 49.0/41.7/85.9
Signature Performance: vs. Indiana State. 24 points, seven rebounds, one assist, onesteal. 10-17 FG, 2-7 3FG, 2-2 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Bradley. 15 points, six rebounds, two steals, one turnover. 5-11 FG, 3-4 3FG, 2-2 FT.
-vs. Drake. Six points, three rebounds, one assist. 3-10 FG, 0-4 3FG, 0-1 FT.
Cade Tyson (the brother of recent Denver Nuggets draft pick Hunter Tyson) had a fantastic high school career at Carmel Christian School in Matthews, North Carolina. He scored over 2,000 points, won the 2022 North Carolina Mr. Basketball award, and led his team to the NCISAA 4A state championship. He played AAU ball for Team Curry but played a more complimentary role during his final grassroots season. In a conversation with Belmont Head Coach Casey Alexander, he noted that “[We were drawn in by] his length and skill level. I also thought there was a pretty high level of competitiveness with him. We're a pretty offensive-minded team, and we didn't know exactly what position he would play. But he fit our style and culture.”
As a freshman, Tyson exceeded expectations. He was the team’s second-leading scorer, trailing only Ben Sheppard, who was selected in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft. His work earned him the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Award. Tyson’s output even came as a surprise to the coaching staff. When I asked Coach Alexander if he expected that type of output from Tyson as a first-year player, he said, “No. We thought he was a good player and would contribute right away, but didn't he think he'd be a starter after a few games and be our second-leading scorer.”
Cade Tyson is exceptional at putting the ball in the basket. This is a great skill to have, because when you put the ball in the basket, your team gets points, and by scoring more points than the other team, you win the game. I’m being facetious, but in all sincerity, few NBA long-term rotation players struggle with efficiency, so it’s a meaningful trait. Only three other freshmen in the nation posted similar shooting splits to Tyson while attempting over 100 threes: Brice Sensabaugh, Gradey Dick, and Alex Karaban. It all starts with the three-ball. Tyson is lethal off the catch, hitting 43.2% of those attempts this past season, per Synergy. Leaving him open is a colossal mistake, as he hit 57.4% of his unguarded threes off the catch. There’s pro functionality to this element of his game, as he sets tons of screens, moves himself open when there are holes on the perimeter, and has range beyond the NBA line. To call him a knockdown shooter would be an understatement. He’s not just an outside shooter, though. His shooting opens up the rest of his game, and there’s a lot to like there, too, as he’s a truly dynamic scorer.
“His ability to catch and shoot is his greatest weapon, but he’s not one-dimensional,” Coach Alexander commented. “If he were just a stand and hands ready catch-and-shoot player…there are a lot of players that can guard that guy. He's a little bit old school, using length to score from 12-15 feet...it's a little bit countercultural to how the game is played now, but he's so highly effective getting his own shot off in that range.” Tyson has strong answers for the “just chase him off the line” strategy. In the halfcourt, he made 40% of his pull-up twos and 58.3% of his shots at the rim, both strong numbers. Whether he’s using his strength to fight all the way to the rim or using basic counters to get to his spot in the mid-range, every shot Tyson takes feels like it’s going in. His size helps him to shoot over defenders, and his strong body prevents him from getting bumped off course when attacking downhill. He’s proven to be a three-level scorer in a good conference that featured loads of talented wings last season.
The odds and ends of his game are solid. His competitiveness pops on film. Tyson gets physical on the glass and on defense, rebounding well for his position and using his chest to prevent drives to the basket. He uses his frame and length to fight around screens and stifle ball handlers. “He's a smart kid, a tough kid, and a physical kid. The vast majority of defense is being a team defender and he’s good at that. That's where his competitiveness comes in, he's not disinterested on that end,” Coach Alexander noted. Tyson’s a communicative player on both sides of the floor. His instincts are sharp as an off-ball player. I noted how he moves himself open on the outside well, but he’s great at cutting, too. Tyson shot 75.9% on possessions as a cutter this year, a testament to his timing and ability to finish through contact at the basket. There are also flashes of him making sharp, accurate passes to the open man on offense.
What Needs Improvement
The biggest challenge facing Cade Tyson is going to be his athleticism. He’ll need to get quicker and more vertically explosive. His lack of foot speed can cause him issues on defense, and a more potent first step would help him get inside more easily on offense. As of now, he’s tough to project positionally at the NBA given these issues, making him a 3/4 tweener. If he’s faster, getting more separation, and sliding more easily, he’ll be cooking with gas. I’d also like to see Tyson develop more of a playmaking bag, both for himself and others. He’s able to score at will with a simple arsenal for now, but adding more counters would serve to get him cleaner looks more consistently. While it wasn’t his role to set up others this past season, better leveraging his own scoring gravity to set up open teammates would take his game to another level.
While Cade Tyson was spectacular as a freshman, I still think it’s best to take the long view with him. With that said, he deserves to be on radars right now because of his size, toughness, and how prolific of a scorer he was during his freshman season. That combination is going to continue to make him a player of interest. With the departure of Ben Sheppard, he’ll have a chance to take on a larger role. It’s possible he explodes next season, but if he doesn’t that’s more than okay—he has several years to grow into the player he’ll end up becoming. In the meantime, Tyson needs to fill out his game by adding athleticism and becoming a better passer.
I’m bullish on his ability to make those adjustments given the motor that he plays with and after hearing Coach Alexander talk about his demeanor. “I think the greatest thing about Cade is the confidence he plays with. Even beyond that, he plays with a high level of confidence because he's earned it and put in the work. He's very serious about the game and his personal success, and he’s worked really hard. That’s why he's been able to step in and compete,” Coach Alexander said. That stuff matters. He’s also going to continue with a college program that has helped multiple players make consistent year-over-year improvements. I’m willing to bet on workers with a signature skill every single time, and Tyson has one in his scoring. It’s best to play it safe and start monitoring him as soon as possible (if you aren’t already).
Andrew Rohde, 6’6”, Virginia, Sophomore
2022-2023 Season Stats: 17.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.2 TOV, 1.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 44.8/32.0/81.5
Signature Performance: vs. Western Illinois. 26 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block. 8-17 FG, 2-4 3FG, 8-8 FT.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Creighton. 15 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal, two turnovers. 6-16 FG, 3-8 3FG.
-vs. Oral Roberts. 12 points, four rebounds, five assists, one steal, three turnovers. 5-14 FG, 2-7 3FG.
-vs. Oral Roberts. 23 points, four rebounds, two assists, three steals, four turnovers. 8-22 FG, 4-9 3FG, 3-4 FT.
Andrew Rohde played high school basketball for Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He was a First-Team All-State selection and led his team to the state tournament finals during his senior year. On the grassroots circuit, he competed for Phenom University alongside high-major players such as Seth Trimble, Jackson Paveletzke, and Danilo Jovanovich. 247Sports labeled him as a three-star recruit. Coming out of high school, he received offers from DePaul, St. Thomas, University of Illinois-Chicago, Western Illinois, Western Michigan, UW-Milwaukee, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, and Appalachian State. He attended St. Thomas for his freshman season, where he immediately carved out a role in the starting lineup. Rohde led his team in scoring, won Summit League Freshman of the Year, and earned a First-Team All-Conference selection. At the conclusion of the season, he entered the transfer portal, and in April, he committed to Virginia for the upcoming season.
Don’t let the overall percentage fool you—Andrew Rohde can shoot the cover off the basketball. He’s able to hit from NBA distance in any context. Defenders can be left feeling foolish when they go under ball screens and give him space to pull up. Rohde is exceptional coming off handoffs, where per Synergy, he converted 46.7% of his triples. There is a real deal movement skill set here. Rohde runs actions hard off the ball, and he’s great with misdirection. When the defender is able to hang with him, he uses his balance and quickness to pivot and reverse direction, buying him space and time. Speaking of time, Rohde needs little of it to get off his shot. There’s often minimal dip and the ball is coming out of his hands in a hurry without sacrificing quality in terms of his release. The fact that he converted 52.6% of his threes in transition is encouraging, too, as the Tommies didn’t run him off ball screens much, but we’ve at least seen him hit on the run on a consistent basis. Rohde faced heaps of defensive attention, and he took a lot of difficult shots as a result. Ultimately, between the variety, range, volume, and free-throw percentage, I’m betting he’s a much better shooter from a percentage standpoint when he’s in a more complimentary environment at the professional level.
The next big strength in Rohde’s game dovetails with the gravity that he creates as a shooter, and it’s his passing. He feels the game at a high level. When he requires the defense to switch, help, or rotate, he’s ready to punish them if a man is left open. Rohde is comfortable slinging out of the live dribble, which leads to him getting the ball where it needs to go at the drop of a hat. He excels at making the right type of pass given the situation and has a wide variety of them at his disposal. In particular, Rohde loves his pocket bounce pass, and it’s one of his go-to dishes out of ball screens. Teams will want to close out hard on Rohde, but if you fly by him, he can make plays going downhill, whether it be for himself or others. Only 13 other players in the last decade that stood 6’6” or taller matched his 24.3 AST%. Rohde took over 30% of his halfcourt shots at the basket and converted 56.2% of them, even if he’s a bit below-the-rim as an athlete. If you chase him off the line, he’s still able to finish or find someone else who’s open, making him more than just a specialist.
Rohde’s feel for the game carries over to the defensive end of the floor as well. His best trait on that end of the floor is his ability to generate steals. This past season, he posted a STL% of 3.0. Rohde’s awareness, timing, and length are to thank for that high mark. He can play big in passing lanes, he knows when he can gamble, and he knows when it’s time to strike. On film, it’s evident that he’s consistently talking and communicating on that end of the floor. His work ethic is good on this end, as he’ll put in the work to chase players running around screens and he doesn’t get caught snoozing.
What Needs Improvement
Most of the concerns around Rohde come back to his physicality and athleticism. He’s listed at 185 pounds, making him on the slimmer side for a player his height. Despite his length, he didn’t make much of a mark on the glass or block many shots, even while playing in a smaller conference. I’d feel a bit better about that if he was better laterally, but he has work to do there, too. While he operated as a guard offensively, I included him in the wing group because his lack of quickness is likely going to project him as more of a two or three at the next level. Trenton Massner (who I covered in this series last year) was one of the better athletes in that league, but an average athlete by NBA guard standards. Rohde struggled to stay in front of Massner, and that gives me pause as he heads to the ACC. Developing more speed and shake could open up more for him on offense, too. He’s also far more comfortable driving left than right, which can limit his ability to counter.
There are fair reasons to be concerned with Andrew Rohde. The percentage from deep has to start matching the eye test, he has to develop athletically, and he has to become a more physical player. He’ll be navigating these issues as he moves up from the Summit League to the ACC, a serious jump in competition. Complicating matters even further is Virginia’s strong depth at the guard and wing positions. Reece Beekman is back for his senior year, sophomore Isaac McKneely can really hoop and is a possible breakout candidate, and Dante Harris was impactful during his time at Georgetown. Further up the positional spectrum, Ryan Dunn seems primed to explode onto the scene, Jordan Minor brings the defensive punch that Virginia tends to value, and Jacob Groves is an experienced floor spacer with size. If Rohde is struggling out of the gate, this is a team with plenty of other options.
These issues could be impediments to Rohde in the short term. That said, he’s still absolutely worth tracking in the long run, even if he doesn’t have a seismic impact out of the gate at Virginia. He’s 6’6”, every shot he takes feels like it has the chance of going in, and he has the passing prowess of a small guard. Defensively, if he can get more up to speed (no pun intended) athletically, there’s something to work with given his length and instincts. A basic principle that I like to stick by is that even if it isn’t totally conventional, players who greatly out-produce peers their own age are worth monitoring, and that’s what Andrew Rohde did in his freshman season at St. Thomas. The abilities to space the floor, make great decisions, and think the game at a high level aren’t going to become less valuable any time soon, and those abilities are what Rohde brings to the table. Plus, playing in a more complimentary capacity could allow him to show off those skills in a more efficient, projectable manner. He’s a multi-year player to watch.
Cedric Coward, 6’6”, Eastern Washington, Junior
2022-2023 Season Stats: 7.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 TOV, 0.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG
2022-2023 Shooting Splits: 68.3/39.4/74.2
Signature Performance: vs. North Dakota State. 12 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals, one block.
Tough Test(s) (games against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Texas Tech. Three points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal, two blocks, two turnovers. 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 1-1 FT.
-vs. Washington State. Eight points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal, two blocks, one turnover. 4-5 FG, 0-1 3FG.
-vs. Oklahoma State. Four points, nine rebounds, one assist, one steal, one turnover. 2-2 FG, 0-1 FT.
Cedric Coward grew up in Fresno, California. In an interview, he told me that while football was the first sport he played, he always loved watching basketball more. “What made me stick with basketball more was Kobe Bryant. He was my favorite player. I’m trying to get better each and every day, just like him,” he said. Despite making two all-conference teams in high school, his recruitment was light. He attended Willamette University, a Division III school in Oregon.
Coward caught the attention of Eastern Washington’s staff after a D-III vs. D-I game when Willamette played against Portland University. In that game, Coward only played 22 minutes, but he finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. “I showed that I can play with and against those guys, and not just hold my own but succeed. After I visited, I knew Eastern was the place. I loved the style of play, the coaches…they let us be free, but let us understand the discipline aspect. Their honesty and loyalty toward me brought me to Eastern,” Coward told me. During his sophomore season, he played only 21.6 MPG, but stuffed the stat sheet to a near-comical degree. His diverse statistical output made him unavoidable in BartTorvik queries, and the film backed up the data.
Cedric Coward is a basketball buffet—you want it, he’s got it. “I believe I impact the game in multiple ways. Whether it’s on defense, on the glass, or scoring in times of need…I think it comes with my motor. I want to go out there and be as efficient as possible. You don’t want to go out there and be quiet and inefficient. I want to do what I can stay in the game and help the team in the best way possible.” Much was made of the draft strategy of the Memphis Grizzlies, targeting players who met the following threshold:
Efficient shot selection: EFG% above 57%
Value beyond scoring: DREB% and AST% both above 14%
Defensive playmaking: BLK% and STL% both above 2%
Alright, let’s see how Coward stacked up:
Efficient shot selection: EFG% = 73.0%
Value beyond scoring: DREB% = 20.4, AST% = 14.9
Defensive playmaking: BLK% = 3.5, STL% = 2.1
Simply put, Cedric Coward leaves his fingerprints all over the game. Let’s start with the defensive end. Coward is a real-deal competitor on that side of the floor. He plays bigger than he is and scraps for loose balls. “The motor has always been in me. If you let people outwork you, you’re not better than them. If you let them outwork you and have more energy and more grit than you, they’re better than you. I never want anyone to have an edge over me in energy or grit, or I’m losing half the battle,” Coward explained. His awareness, timing, and ground coverage make him a threat in passing lanes and at the rim. Coward’s nose for the ball is second to none, and it feels like he’s constantly creating setbacks for the opposing offense. Despite often being the smaller man, he’ll often boss around bigger players on the glass through sheer force of will. He’s playing in a smaller conference, but still, his defensive rebound rate tops that of players like Evan Mobley, Isaiah Stewart, and Brandon Clarke when they were in college. He stays balanced when guarding the ball, he takes big strides when rotating, and he can soar to contest shots anywhere on the floor.
Offensively, Coward is hyper-efficient. He hit 39.4% of his threes this past season, though he only took 2.6 per 100 possessions. Still, it looks good mechanically; he made 74.2% of his free throws, and at the D-III level, he made 45.3% of his triples on higher volume. When I asked about his shot, he told me, “My jump shot is a great weapon. Last year, it wasn’t as key for me to take jumpers as much as it will be next year. I want to do it as efficiently as possible, but I know I’m a great shooter. I’ve been working, and I know the number of hours I’ve put in to perfect my jumper.” Additionally, the fact that he had to move into a number of his threes was encouraging. Coward cleans up around the basket, too. He made 76.4% of his shots at the rim in the halfcourt. This is the result of him cutting when he has an opening, using his length exceptionally well, and using physicality to his advantage. Oh, and he rebounds a ton on that side of the floor, too. Coward had a 9.4 OREB%, an astounding mark for a player his size. This opens up easy putback looks for him and plays a role in his ridiculous 68.3 FG%. Speaking to this aspect of his game, he said, “My mentality is ‘go get it.’ If you’re not going to get it, who will? I think I have that but a lot of our guys on the team have that as well. When it came to offensive glass and shooting a high percentage, I just work to get the best shots for me. Whatever it is, I do what’s most efficient in the moment and find the best possible shot. I find the best possible shot and put in the work to hit that [68.3 FG%] percentage.”
Further adding to the intrigue is his feel. Two things stand out in particular—Coward has real playmaking chops, but he also knows how to take care of the ball. His 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio speaks to that. He sees the floor well, reads defenses at a high level, and can whip sharp passes directly to his target. There were times when he hit teammates out of his live dribble, and he can put it on the floor well enough to make that a legitimate tool. While Coward was efficient in his role as a play finisher, he’s already demonstrated that he has more to his game than that, and he can set up his teammates, too. “If you get everybody in a groove, the team does better. I just love to get my teammates involved. I love to get not just myself, but them, the most efficient shots. When we get in that groove, everyone plays better,” he stated.
What Needs Improvement
The discussion here is more about scalability and adjusting to a bigger role and a higher level of competition more than anything else. NBA front offices are going to want to see Coward continue to make threes on higher volume. Right now, his game on offense is very interior-oriented, and it’s tough to make a living that way in The Association when you’re his size. Without a volume uptick, interest will be tough to come by. Not only do NBA players tend to take and make shots at a higher clip, but they can do it in a variety of ways, and we haven’t gotten to see that from him at the Division I level. He’ll also need to prove that he can continue to be effective with a bigger offensive workload and that he’s more than just an elite role player on a smaller conference squad. Coward noted that he’s put in work on his guard skills and shooting off the dribble in order to adapt. Aggressiveness adjustments will be required as he assumes a larger share of offensive responsibility next season. He can get overzealous on defense and commit frustrating fouls at times, and that matters more when you’re needed for 34 minutes instead of 21. His feet at the point-of-attack will need to get a hair quicker, too, as he’ll be defending more explosive players at the next level.
With the departures of Steele Venters to Gonzaga and Angelo Allegri to the professional ranks, the leading man roles at Eastern Washington are available for the taking. They’ll still be returning a lot of talent and size, so it’s unlikely that they’ll suddenly roll out a heliocentric system where everything runs through Cedric Coward. Over the past few seasons, they’ve spread the wealth, letting numerous big, skilled players operate when the situation called for it. Add in that he was a role player who scored less than 10 PPG last year, and it’s easy to look at Coward and say he’s a long shot. In many ways, yes, he is.
I feel that scouting on the fringes is like jazz—it’s about the notes you don’t play and the players you don’t talk about. I could throw out 1,000 different guys and say they have a chance, but that ruins the sanctity of putting your foot down and proclaiming, “I believe in this player.” I’m playing this note, and I believe in Cedric Coward. I think that at some point, whether it’s this year or further down the road, he’s going to work himself into NBA front office conversations, even if it’s just at the Summer League roster spot or Exhibit-10 level. The advanced numbers are screaming at me and so is the film. He was one of the most focused, driven, and serious players I’ve spoken to in the last two years. Coward will also be young for a junior, as he’s still 19 years old.
I could be wrong. Maybe Cedric Coward is just a really good college role player. But I think that with his tools, motor, size, and the sheer number of ways he can impact the game, he has much more of an NBA chance than most people realize. If nothing else, I hope you watch him play. It’s easy to get bogged down in film, to get a little tired of the redundancy of clinically dissecting tape while digging for hidden areas of upside or potential flaws that opposing teams could exploit. When I watched Cedric Coward, it was impossible to feel anything but overwhelming enthusiasm for the sport we love. His selflessness, activity rate, efficiency, and motor are a reminder of how beautiful the game of basketball can be when played by a skilled player who is determined to do everything the right way.