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No Stone Unturned: The Wings, Part 3
Scouting reports and notes on intriguing under-the-radar wings, including comments from two players and a head coach! The third in a three-part wing series of No Stone Unturned.
Ben Sheppard, 6’6”, Senior, Belmont
2021-2022 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 TOV, 1.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG
2021-2022 Shooting Splits: 49.6/37.1/71.9
Signature Performance: vs. Tennessee Tech. 41 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block. 11-16 FG, 5-8 3FG, 14-17 FT
Tough Test(s) (Games Against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. LSU. 14 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal. 6-16 FG, 2-7 3FG, 0-1 FT
-vs. Saint Louis. 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 turnover. 3-11 FG, 2-7 3FG, 1-2 FT
-vs. Murray State (2/24/22). 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 turnover. 2-12 FG, 2-7 3FG, 2-2 FT
-vs. Vanderbilt. 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover. 4-13 FG, 1-6 3FG, 2-2 FT
Ben Sheppard isn’t supposed to be here. Not as a leading man for a college team and certainly not as a wing. “I wasn’t very highly recruited out of high school,” Ben told me. “I actually grew six inches my junior year of high school. The middle to later part of my last AAU season is when my recruiting picked up.” Still, it wasn’t the highest levels of attention— it was mostly low majors, some Ivy League schools, and mid-majors. “My dad asked me to write down ten schools I thought I could play at. I wrote down eight high-majors, Santa Clara, and Belmont.” Belmont ended up offering him a scholarship on an unofficial visit, and he committed on the spot. Funnily enough, Santa Clara was the home of another lightly-recruited prospect who had a late growth spurt in Jalen Williams, who was selected with the 12th overall pick in the last NBA Draft.
From an offensive standpoint, Ben Sheppard pops on two critical levels: at the rim and beyond the three-point line. Sheppard is a good cutter, ranking in Synergy’s 91st percentile on those possessions, and he converted an exceptional 67.7% of his shots at the basket in the half court. Sheppard’s quickness and propensity for changing directions get him to the cup for well-timed 45-degree and backdoor cuts. Once there at the rim, his extraordinary body control allows him to finish. His vertical athleticism is potent, and he can contort his lengthy frame away from defenders to get off clean looks. Sheppard’s cutting and shooting are aided by his excellent cardiovascular fitness. “I think it’s something I’m gifted with. I’ve always been able to play for long periods of time. I use that to my advantage, knowing that I can keep up intensity on defense and in transition,” he noted.
Sheppard never stops moving, and he’s always moving at high speed. He’s difficult to track on the perimeter as a result, and he makes defenses pay when he gets room to shoot. Each season he’s taken more threes (1.3/game, 4.3/game, and 5.9/game), and he’s hit them at a progressively higher clip (27.9%, 32.8%, and 37.1%). He’s great from a standstill, ranking in Synergy’s 88th percentile on spot-ups, but his movement shooting adds a wrinkle to his game, ranking in the 70th percentile off screens and 84th off handoffs. Sheppard attributes this growth to his confidence, saying that his time at Belmont and getting up shots has led him to feel more comfortable from long range.
Another interesting skill in Sheppard’s pocket is his passing. Given his lack of size in high school, he often played the point guard position growing up. While his assist numbers might not leap off the page, the film reveals some creative abilities with the ball in his hands. Sheppard is comfortable moving the ball with one hand ambidextrously, and he can sling surprising passes to get good looks for his teammates. In a game against SIU-E, he threw an over-the-shoulder backward pass to get an easy layup for a teammate in transition. On the topic of his passing, Sheppard stated, “Grayson Murphy did it all [last season] and got a lot of shots for us. I think my passing has been overlooked because I haven’t been ‘the one.’ I grew up playing point guard. I love creating for people.”
When I brought up defense, Sheppard was earnestly delighted. “I definitely take pride in defense. When I was smaller [before his growth spurt], guarding smaller guards and bigger people, that helped me when I grew. I can still guard the same type of players. The way I was going to get playing time my first two years was my defense. That’s my favorite side of the ball.” The conviction in his voice when he said “that’s my favorite side of the ball” was unequivocal. His length, combined with his quickness, cardio, and motor make him a headache on that end. He’ll chase players around screens effectively, spring into passing lanes, and contest shots with fervor. Sheppard’s best performance on that end came against Vanderbilt, where he was matched up against Scotty Pippen Jr. Sheppard gave Pippen fits, chasing him around screens, walling off his drives, and contesting his long-range jumpers. Pippen finished the game with 10 points, one of his lowest totals of the season. “My mentality is that I’m trying to not let my man score on every play, and just dogging them on that end,” Sheppard told me.
What Needs Improvement
While Ben Sheppard led Belmont in scoring this past season, he’ll actually see an increase in his on-ball usage this coming season. Lead guard/wizard Grayson Murphy exhausted his eligibility and will no longer be setting the table for the Bruins. The squad also lost another high-end wing in Will Richard, who transferred to Florida. Sheppard only ranked in Synergy’s 38th percentile on pick-and-roll possessions and wasn’t as productive of a shooter off the dribble. Additionally, he has a tendency to play upright with the ball. When he does, his handle gets high, opening the door for pesky perimeter players to swipe the ball loose. Sheppard has been focused on preparing for this change in dynamic. When I asked what he’s been working on the most this off-season, he told me, “Shot creation. Most of my points have come in transition, off set shots, or mid-range pull-ups. I need to be able to create something when the shot clock rolls down, and that’s something I’ve worked on a lot this season.” Sheppard would also benefit from adding size to his frame. There were a few instances of players drawing fouls from him because he wasn’t able to stay vertical when he met players at the rim as a help-defender, and when he does get caught by screens (which isn’t often), the physicality can slow him a bit. At the point of attack, there were times when he was a bit too aggressive in his reactions which left him open to countermoves.
Ben Sheppard’s film tells the story of a mature, role-accepting player with a relentless motor. I came away from my conversation with him more affirmed in that position. Sheppard’s late growth spurt is a story common to a number of prospects in recent years. He’s added to his game each season, becoming a prolific shooter and dogged defender. It will be interesting to see what his efficiency looks like as he is forced to take on a greater on-ball role in his senior season. Regardless, I’m more than willing to make a bet on Sheppard. NBA teams are constantly on the hunt for players who can operate without the ball, provide good defense, and knock down open threes— all things Sheppard does well. Add in his document track record of improvement and professional mentality, and it’s hard to imagine him outside of Top 100s come the end of this next draft cycle. Currently, he slots at the back end of my Top 60 heading into the season. If he can take a step forward as a playmaker, there will be little to question about his game. A priority signing or second round selection should come his way if he progresses in that department.
David Jones, 6’6”, Junior, St. John’s
2021-2022 Stats: 14.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.4 TOV, 1.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG
2021-2022 Shooting Splits: 44.5/29.7/69.2
Signature Performance: vs. Louisville. 33 points, 14 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal. 15-22 FG, 3-8 3FG
Tough Test(s) (Games Against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Loyola-Chicago. 19 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 2 steals, 1 block. 8-21 FG, 1-6 3FG, 2-2 FT
-vs. St. John’s (1/5/22). 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 steals, 3 blocks. 5-14 FG, 1-5 3FG
-vs. Villanova (1/8/22). 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers. 3-11 FG, 1-5 3FG, 5-7 FT
-vs. Marquette (1/11/22). 9 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals, 1 block. 4-10 FG, 1-5 3FG
vs. Creighton (1/22/22). 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 6 turnovers, 3 steals, 3 blocks. 4-14 FG, 0-4 3FG, 1-1 FT
-vs. Villanova (1/25/22). 1 point, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 1 block. 0-9 FG, 0-3 3FG, 1-2 FT
-vs. Connecticut (1/29/22). 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 3 steals. 2-13 FG, 0-4 3FG
-vs. Xavier (2/5/22). 10 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block. 5-12 FG, 0-4 3FG, 0-1 FT
-vs. Providence (2/12/22). 19 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 block. 7-19 FG, 4-7 3FG, 1-1 FT
-vs. Connecticut (3/5/22). 13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal, 3 blocks. 6-16 FG, 1-8 3FG
-vs. St. John’s (3/9/22). 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 blocks. 5-7 FG, 1-2 3FG
From a physical standpoint, David Jones is a force. He’s strong and long, and his legs are enormous for a basketball player. As a result, Jones is a daunting presence on the defensive end. His block and steal percentages both topped three this past season. Jones flies off the ground with ease around the rim to collect blocks. Even better, his powerful frame helps him absorb contact and stay vertical, preventing him from getting called for fouls on the interior. On the ball, Jones is laser-sharp with his ball tracking and reaction times. He’ll tip passes the moment they leave a ball handler’s handles or swipe the ball free if they dribble in front of their body. If a player picks up their dribble in front of Jones, he swarms them. He’ll try to knock the ball loose if they go up for a shot and smother them with his long arms to limit their passing options. Jones mucks it up— he’ll force players into mistakes and capitalize the instant they make one. His help instincts are rock solid, and he can recover well to close out when needed. In totality, he’s a player who can comfortably guard wings, immediately picks up anything left on the table, and provides high-level weakside rim protection.
Jones’ tools are evident on the offensive end, too. While he’s not James Harden, he has a decent amount of craft to his game as a ball handler. This enables him to get downhill, where his combination of physicality, lift, and fearlessness allows him to be a potent finisher. He’s strong with the ball, rendering strip attempts useless. Defenders who try to impede him often merely bounce off his body. Jones ranked in Synergy’s 71st percentile on shots at the rim this past season. His vision on his way to the hoop is solid, too. He averaged 2.4 assists per game as a sophomore, and his array of passes looked deeper than it did in the limited action he saw as a freshman. His passing bag is most evident in transition for now, where he can throw effective lobs and whip passes to generate easy looks. He’s not as developed in the halfcourt yet, but the flashes are enticing, and he’s definitely up to snuff for a wing in terms of his vision and playmaking.
What Needs Improvement
The obvious elephant in the room with Jones is his shooting. The number of wings who don’t hit threes at a respectable clip and also play meaningful NBA playoff minutes isn’t a big one, and the exceptions are usually supremely skilled in another area to cover for it. Jones doesn’t quite profile to that level anywhere yet, though I do believe he’d be a great NBA defender in time. There’s still some reason for optimism— he’s solid off the catch and generated 1.167 points per possession on pick-and-pop jumpers. Jones is willing to take these shots, but sometimes he’s too willing. He’ll take an unnecessary contested three with a hand in his face. His shooting base is also inconsistent. He gets extremely narrow when he shoots off the dribble. Off the catch, he generally shoots with his left foot out front (he’s a left-handed shooter), but the distance of how far it is out front varies from attempt to attempt. Jones cutting out the more difficult attempts and having a more consistent motion would help his numbers. I’d also like to see Jones make quicker decisions on the ball. There were possessions where he’d hold the ball for too long or over-dribble and force DePaul to take bad looks at the end of the shot clock. Defensively, he can be a bit heavy-footed at times, and it may be best for him to actually slim down a little to improve his lateral agility. While it isn’t a tracked statistic, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who played more minutes with their jersey untucked last season. If he makes it to the next level, he’ll have to make sure he reels that in when Chris Paul is around.
David Jones took a massive leap from his freshman to sophomore season. Part of it is that Jones didn’t enroll until the winter quarter, joining the team late into Big East play. His sophomore campaign gave him a runway into the season for the first time. Now, Jones is off to St. John’s. I’d love to see him take a similar leap, but I have some real concerns about the Red Storm’s roster construction. They’ll have two ball-dominant guards with questionable jump shots in Posh Alexander and Andre Curbelo. When Jones does get to drive to the bucket, teams will be able to swarm him with little fear of consequences due to the lack of Red Storm floor spacers. While his situation at DePaul wasn’t perfect, I’m uncertain if things will be easier at St. John’s. Ultimately, I’m encouraged by the giant step he took during his first off-season. His physical tools, defense, and upward trajectory as a shooter make him worth monitoring. If it all comes together, Jones could warrant consideration as early as the back-end of the first round. He’s a “wait-and-see” prospect for now, and how things click for his team could wildly sling his trajectory in either direction.
Steve Settle III, 6’10”, Redshirt Junior, Howard
2021-2022 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.1 TOV, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG
2021-2022 Shooting Splits: 49.0/35.3/76.7
Signature Performance: vs. Notre Dame. 25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 turnovers. 9-17 FG, 2-5 3FG, 5-6 FT
Tough Test(s) (Games Against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Villanova. 14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers. 6-9 FG, 1-2 3FG
Steve Settle III first burst onto my radar with his strong outing against Notre Dame. I’d gone into the game with the intention of monitoring Blake Wesley, but Settle continuously stole my attention. While skinny at a mere 175 pounds, the 6’10” player is a true wing. He was putting the ball on the floor, making solid passes, knocking down jumpers, and playing disruptive defense. I took his name and tucked it in my back pocket. Until now.
Positional size has become increasingly important at the NBA level. Teams want long players who can stay in front of guards, tip or steal passes, and help provide additional rim protection as big men are continuously pulled further away from the basket. Settle has loads of positional size for a wing. He utilizes it best on defense. He gives players fits when they have to shoot over him, and his long strides help him cover a ton of ground in a hurry. Settle’s closeouts are dangerous for spot-up shooters. His defensive stance is a good one and provides nightmare fuel for smaller guards when he’s switched onto them. If a player tests him and gets stuck in the mid-range, Settle will go swallow up their shot with a block. To top it all off, Settle is consistently communicating on that end and has great feel to punish poor shot and pass choices. He finished this past season with a 2.5 STL% and 2.6 BLK%. No one wants their defense to get scrambled, but when it does, Settle thrives thanks to his rare combination of physical gifts and awareness.
Settle’s offensive upside is every bit as tantalizing. From the perimeter, he’s a rock-solid catch-and-shoot player. He knocked down 36.7% of his no-dribble jumpers from three-point range last season, per Synergy. The jumper is a near set-shot with a high, clean release. His aforementioned ability to put it on the floor helps him on the outside, too. Though it wasn’t on high volume, Settle ranked in Synergy’s 90th percentile on points per possession generated in the pick-and-roll, including assists this past season. Without a screen, he has some solid rip-through maneuvers to initiate a drive, and he takes giant strides to get to the basket. When forced to settle in the mid-range, his length does him wonders again, as he’s difficult to contest and boasts soft touch. Settle ranked in the 87th percentile on mid-range jump shots last season per Synergy. At the rim, Settle does better than his narrow frame would indicate, converting 63% of his attempts there.
Settle thrives in a low-maintenance, off-ball role, too. He moves the ball quickly when his shot isn’t there and has a good map of the floor at all times. His feel shows up again as a cutter, where he pounces on opportunities to get to the basket whenever his defender gets lulled into ball-watching.
What Needs Improvement
Steve Settle III’s frame betrays him at times, and he’ll need to get stronger. His sense and timing as a cutter are excellent, but he would be a much better finisher if he handled contact better. His length can bail him out at times, but as he faces increasingly more developed and athletic opponents, it will only go so far. Added bulk would help him get more advantageous looks and leave less up to chancier floaters. He would also be best served to work on his feet. Offensively, he can set up and hit some tougher shots after dribble moves, but his feet can be too heavy and clunky at times. This prevents him from consistently getting the space he needs as the defender has ample time to react. On defense, it’s more of the same— he can end up crossing his feet and isn’t that smooth laterally. While his length gives him a cushion at the collegiate level, I worry about his scalability against pro competition.
Steve Settle III checks plenty of modern NBA boxes: his feel is high, he’s a solid shooter, he can guard a few positions, he’s a trustworthy decision maker, and he’s 6’10”. Still, he’s thin, and I would like him to be more dominant as a scorer and finisher, given the level of competition he faces most often (Howard ranked 353rd in Division I for Strength of Schedule, per Sports Reference). To make matters worse, he’ll likely have less spacing next season as electric sharpshooter Kyle Foster (45.9% from three on 7.9/game) is now playing professionally for Chorale Roanne Basket in France. Settle was the only other player on the squad to hit over 32% of his triples last season. I’m ultimately bullish on Settle, given how well he performed against their best opponents. Length, smarts, defense, and shooting are skills I don’t feel comfortable betting against with a player. After a redshirt year and a freshman season that saw him only play five games due to COVID cancellations, Settle now has a full year of college experience and a real off-season under his belt. I’m excited to see if he can step up for Howard as a leading man. If he does, the eyes of the basketball world will follow.
Steele Venters, 6’7”, Redshirt Junior, Eastern Washington
2021-2022 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.8 TOV, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
2021-2022 Shooting Splits: 45.6/43.4/84.7
Signature Performance: vs. Southern Utah. 29 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists. 9-17 FG, 6-11 3FG, 5-5 FT
Tough Test(s) (Games Against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. Washington State. 8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers. 3-6 FG, 2-3 3FG
-vs. Colorado. 23 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block. 9-17 FG, 5-11 3FG
-vs. Texas Tech. 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 turnovers. 2-9 FG, 2-7 3FG
-vs. Fresno State. 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 1 steal. 6-14 FG, 5-10 3FG, 1-1 FT
Steele Venters can really shoot it. The Ellensburg, Washington native boasts a high, pristine release that is right out of an instructional video. His 43.4% from deep this past season came on an astounding six attempts per game. He’s electric off the catch, ranking in Synergy’s 88th percentile on catch-and-shoot looks and generating 1.421 points per possession no-dribble jump shots. He also ranked in the 73rd percentile on shots off screens, where he is comfortable shooting regardless of which direction or angle he is forced to take. While Venters isn’t ultra-speedy, he knows how to change directions and get himself distance from defenders on those types of plays. If you go under a screen when he’s on the ball, he’ll make you pay for it. His range is outrageous, too- he’ll comfortably shoot from NBA range and isn’t going to hug the three-point line.
Venters can score inside the arc, too. He ranked in the 72nd percentile at the rim in the half court and has real bounce off two feet. There’s some impressive mid-range shot-making in his bag, too. Venters can put it on the ground a little bit, and his length makes his attempts difficult to impede. The icing on the cake is that despite taking over 12 field goal attempts per game, Venters’ offensive output still feels low maintenance. He doesn’t force bad looks, passes out of trouble well, and moves the ball in a timely fashion. The ball doesn’t stick with him, which profiles well for the next level.
On the defensive end, Venters is engaged and pays attention. His vertical pop allows him to nab surprising blocks on closeouts and occasionally help out at the rim. He’s an opportunistic thief, too. Venters has a good sense for when players are uncomfortable with the ball or when a dribbler isn’t prepared for his presence. He closed the year with a STL% of 1.5 and a BLK% of 2.2.
What Needs Improvement
Steele Venters has good defensive stats, but the actual film can be frustrating at times. He’s a block-seeker on closeouts and can pay the price for it. While it occasionally results in blocks and good contests, pump-fake merchants can leave him in the dust. When he’s forced to change direction off the ball due to screens or pivots, he slows down and can’t navigate the floor as seamlessly. On the ball, he’s stiff through his hips and can be too content to let his man past him without so much as a counter. If he’s getting beat in a straight line by Big Sky players, he’ll have a massive amount of adjusting to do at the next level. He’ll often tell on himself with his feet, too, sagging far off perimeter players in hopes that they don’t drive at him and settle for a jumper instead. This tactic can bite him when he’s met with opposition that is both able to attack and shoot. Lastly, I wish Venters had a bigger presence on the glass, given his size and lift.
Venters has one of the most polished shooting profiles in the country. He can hit in a variety of ways, and he can score at all three levels. His decisions with the ball are sound, and he looks like a player who would thrive in a smaller role. However, I struggle to get past the defense. Though his off-ball instincts are generally solid, he would be an easy on-ball target for NBA teams at this point. Part of that could be chalked up to his offensive usage, but the mechanical issues are hard to overlook. If Venters can be more fluid and less upright on that side of the ball, he’ll be much more attractive to NBA front offices. He’s not a bad run-and-jump athlete; he just doesn’t always move in ways conducive to getting stops right now. This is a much more manageable defensive concern than that of many shooting specialists, who often lack size, burst, and pop. Venters might figure out all the answers this next season, but his size and ability to fill it up everywhere on the floor make him worth monitoring.
Michael Moreno, 6’7”, Senior, Eastern Kentucky
2021-2022 Stats: 11.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 TOV, 1.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG
2021-2022 Shooting Splits: 44.4/35.8/67.7
Signature Performance: vs. North Alabama. 24 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block. 9-14 FG, 2-6 3FG, 4-4 FT
Tough Test(s) (Games Against Quad-1 Competition):
-vs. USC. 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals. 1-7 FG, 1-5 3FG
“My father was a college player when I was born, and I actually took my first steps on the basketball court.” That was what Michael Moreno told me when I asked what got him into the sport. There’s being from a basketball family, and there is living and breathing basketball, which is what I believe Michael Moreno does after our conversation. He was recruited to Eastern Kentucky by A.W. Hamilton, a man who has rebuilt the program with a distinct identity, “The Most Exciting 40 Minutes in Sports.” Hamilton told me, “We’re relentless on both ends. We play all 94 feet. We play an NBA-style offense and get the ball up and down the court as fast as we can. We want good shots and quick shots…On defense, we want to be disruptive…It’s a fun style of play, but it’s a hard style to play. It requires unbelievable conditioning and effort.”
Coming out of high school, Moreno may not have been the perfect fit on paper. He was bulkier, a 6’7” bruising big man. Still, Hamilton was intrigued by his feel. “His basketball IQ is through the roof. He doesn’t have to be the fastest or quickest to excel. He says plays happen before they happen,” he stated. Moreno, who grew up in the same town as Hamilton, he was on board with the vision EKU’s staff had for him. “I trusted him and knew him. He had a plan ready to develop me and help me get better. It was close to home, so I can play in front of my family,” he said.
Despite being a post player in high school, Moreno transitioned to more of a wing role with ease. A big part of that is his shooting. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit 40.1% of his threes on 5.5 attempts per game. “He’s on pace to break the EKU record for most threes ever made, and in high school he played the five. Fast forward three years, and he’s one of the best shooters in the country. It shows how invested he is into getting better,” Hamilton noted. While his percentage dipped a bit this past season, EKU was decimated by injuries and down to seven scholarship players at one point, making it difficult to get easier looks. Still, Moreno excels from three-point range, especially when he pops after a screen. His large, powerful frame allows him to set meaningful picks that generate space for his ball handler, and then he transitions into some of the cleanest, lightest shot prep footwork I’ve seen. One moment he has the menace of an offensive lineman, and the next, the feet of a ballerina. Moreno takes great pride in this element of his game. “I was fortunate to be that post presence in high school because I took pride in having great feet. Whether it was traveling less, sealing for positioning, or getting into a move, it was always an important part of my game. It was a matter of getting comfortable with doing it on the perimeter…Slip screens, pick and pops, you want to be able to have light feet and create substantial space.” Moreno generated 1.167 points per possession on plays where he popped, a great number. His shooting touch and ability to convert with a hand in his face also extends into the mid-range, where he ranked in Synergy’s 77th percentile. His footwork, patience, and strength also help him to be an effective finisher around the rim.
Where Moreno’s film popped the most for me was with his passing and decision-making. He sees the game at warp speed. NBA teams want players to make decisions in a half-second, and that is something Moreno has down to a science. He can make quick touch-passes to perimeter shooters, throw perfectly placed interior dimes from the top of the key, and mix in fakes to set up a better read. Moreno attributes his passing acumen to his high school coach and to trusting his teammates. “Seeing a lot of doubles in high school helped me a lot. My teammates used me to their advantage. My teammates would use my attention, and they became great cutters and great spot-up shooters. There’s an art in being a selfless guy and making the extra pass. The extra pass is the first step, and that’s just the surface level; there’s making a right pass on top of that.”
Moreno’s strength and instincts help defensively and on the glass. On defense, he’s savvy and knows how to pick his spots. He holds up well when switched onto big men and makes offenses pay when they throw lazy passes. His mental processing allows him to react quickly and get into advantageous positions. When crossed match onto guards, he stays balanced and can play cat-and-mouse to force them into difficult shots. As a rebounder, Moreno knows how to carve out space and has a good nose for where the ball is headed when it comes off the rim.
What Needs Improvement
Moreno isn’t a twitchy athlete or big leaper. His feel covers up for this, but he’ll need to be quicker and more explosive to thrive at a professional level. He can get beat backdoor by quicker players, and his finishes all come below the rim. This has been a point of emphasis for him over the years, and it was actually where Coach Hamilton said he’s come the furthest as a player outside of his shooting. “He’s completely transformed his body. He looks like a different person,” Hamilton told me. Moreno also noted to me that fitness was the primary focus of his off-season, “The main point was getting my body right…For me, it was important to have the mentality to get in better shape, look better, and lose weight. I was able to drop about 20 pounds this summer.”
There are some other elements he’s working on as well. Moreno wants to become more of a creator and threat on the ball. While he can attack a closeout well, he’s not much of a self-creator at the moment. He’d also like to guard the ball on the defensive end. Coach Hamilton has also worked on improving his shot even more. “I wanted him to get his shot off quicker. We really worked on that. He’s getting six inches lower on his catch and shoot. He’d catch it straight-legged. Now he’s ready [mechanically] and getting his shot off faster and with more range,” Hamilton said. An interesting thing to consider with all of this is that this is the first fully healthy off-season Moreno has had. Hamilton remarked that Moreno, “had a good spring, a great summer, and a phenomenal fall,” meaning we could see a bigger leap from him this year than past off-seasons.
Michael Moreno unquestionably has a professional basketball player’s ability to hit jump shots and read the game. The questions surrounding whether or not he grabs the attention of the draft community largely surround whether or not he has professional physical tools. He’ll need to be more athletic, he’ll need to look more switchable defensively, and he’ll have to show that he can do more as a creator for himself on the ball. Additionally, Eastern Kentucky’s roster returns multiple productive players from last season, including Devontae Blanton, another breakout candidate who was strongly considered for this series. Moreno would likely need his scoring numbers to pop to attract more eyes, and it may not happen due to the strength of the roster around him. Still, I wanted to highlight Moreno because I adored watching him play. He’s selfless and smart, and he can shoot. Few players do the complementary parts of the game better. “I believe in being a low-volume guy, a team-first guy, and someone who plays ball the right way. There’s a lot of little stuff people forget about. For me, it’s about plugging all those gaps. I accept my role, and it’s helped me turn into an ultimate glue guy,” Moreno said.
After speaking with Moreno and Coach Hamilton, I realized that these traits extend off the court. Moreno raved about his teammates and talked about how much the EKU staff and his high school staff helped round out his game. He has a palpable passion for the intricacies of the game. Hamilton commented that “he holds himself accountable every single day, and that makes him a leader for our program. He does the little things that add up to big things. He’s invested in the little things,” and closed our call by saying Moreno is, “A great basketball player and he’s a way better person than he is a basketball player. Unbelievable person. A special, special man.” Straight up, this is a guy you want in your locker room. Our conversation led me to believe he could easily find a career in coaching, broadcasting, or media whenever he’s done playing. No one is going to beat him on intangibles, and that’s a sizeable, important thing to professional organizations when evaluating players of a similar talent level.
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