Notes from My Cram Sessions | The Prospect Overview
It's a busy time for Draft Sickos! Enjoy my latest findings and musings on Dyson Daniels, E.J. Liddell, Kennedy Chandler, Ousmane Dieng, and more!
It's that time of year. Most leagues have wrapped up their play. To outsiders, it seems like this should be a dead period for scouts and Draft Sickos like myself. That's probably why my wife keeps pestering me with questions like, "Why are you still watching so much basketball?" or "How come you haven't taken out the trash for several weeks?" or "Did you forget the name of our child?" IT'S BECAUSE I'M BUSY! This is the part of the draft cycle in which I dive deeper into players that I didn't focus on as heavily throughout the process. My method is simple: during the season, I try to catch as many guys as I can, but I primarily pay attention to those at the very top of their class. Players like Dereon Seabron and Alondes Williams generated serious buzz as potential first-round picks but have since seen their stock slip. I've seen a good amount of them, but the erratic nature of the draft process outside of the lottery sees players constantly moving up and down. I wait until the year is over and I have a clearer picture of the hierarchy before I dissect their games with greater scrutiny. Currently, I'm working out the kinks in my board through the late lottery and first round. I'll be taking you through some of those observations today.
The biggest riser on my board has been the G League Ignite's Dyson Daniels. I want to start by noting what I refer to as "The Jrue Holiday Factor." which will be shortened to "JHF" going forward. Even when Jrue Holiday is having an off-game, his off-game is so good that you still want him on the floor. It's because he's a hyperintelligent defender—he's willing to mix it up on the glass to keep plays alive, a selfless teammate, a good passer, and someone who understands how to take a backseat in an impactful way. Players with the JHF are extremely valuable and have a higher floor even if the problem areas of their game don't fully develop the way you might hope.
Outside of Chet Holmgren, I believe Dyson Daniels to be the top JHF prospect in this class. An exercise I love to do is watching a prospect's best and worst games. Their best games give an indication of their ceiling, and their worst games provide a telling insight into how they respond when things aren't going their way. Daniels had some of the best bad games I've come across. He's constantly competing at the point of attack on defense, giving guards fits with his poke-ins and walling off their drives with his incredible length. On offense, he takes what is given to him and doesn't need the ball to make an impact. He cuts pretty well, knows where to go on the court to provide teammates with spacing, and moves the ball at warp speed to find the open man. He makes quick decisions, a critical skill when coming onto an NBA floor as a rookie. The ball never sticks with him. I was most impressed by Daniels' transformation as a shooter. His 30.4% three-point percentage on the year is certainly far from ideal, but it's worth noting that as a G League player, it was from NBA range. However, over the last 10 games of the season, he shot 41.2% from three on 3.4 attempts per game. This wasn't simply variance, though; his shot was completely different. His shot prep was sped up off both the catch and dribble. Daniels even nailed a side-step three after pump-faking a defender who closed out too aggressively in a game against the Santa Cruz Warriors. His free throw percentage has been rough, 60% on the season-- but he's been a reliable free throw shooter in his career prior to the Ignite. I truly believe he is going to be a solid NBA shooter. When you add in the fact that he's a smart player who acted as a 6'8" point guard for a professional team at 18 and 19 years old who can create offense off the dribble, deliver a wide variety of passes, muck it up on the glass, and provide elite defense on the other side of the ball...he projects to be a high-level, winning player. I can't find anyone to knock him off the number 6 spot on my board. His ceiling is being wildly underestimated when you consider what he can already do at such a young age and how well those skills lend themselves to playoff basketball.
E.J. Liddell has truly solidified his stock as a Top 20 prospect. I've long felt that trustworthiness is an under-discussed trait among evaluators. If a coaching staff can't trust a player's decision-making ability on the floor, they're not going to get as many developmental opportunities. If they don't get the attention they need as a result of that, they can flounder, bounce around the league, and never get the chance to reach their optimum outcome. Liddell is a player who a coach is going to be able to trust. He processes the game at a fast pace and has the necessary quick reaction times to capitalize on what he sees. Take a look at this next clip, which is one of my favorite plays of this draft cycle:
Liddell looks physically heavy, and he's not going to beat Ja Morant in an end-to-end sprint. But he's still springier than his appearance indicates, and his reaction time works wonders for him. His awareness of the floor is going to prevent him from getting embarrassed. Rarely are there defensive possessions where you think, "What on earth was Liddell doing or thinking there?" He's tuned in and has the tools to disrupt offenses. Much of this carries over to the other side of the floor. Liddell has a more potent first step than you might think to beat closeouts. His three-point percentage and volume have steadily increased each year, up to 37.4% on 3.8 attempts per game this past season. His physical strength is a great asset, too, as he can punish mismatches inside and bully his way to easy looks against smaller players. I don't think he'll be asked to do this often in the NBA, but he also made tough mid-range shots at the end of the clock when necessary for Ohio State this season, which is a great trait to have in his bag for big games. He's unselfish to boot, and he will occasionally sling a mesmerizing high-speed dime to an open teammate when the defense commits to him. The sales pitch is simple: he's 6'7", long, strong enough to boss around Keegan Murray and hang with Kofi Cockburn, quick enough to keep up with Johnny Davis, a quick thinker on defense, a respectable outside shooter, a reliable passer, and can hit tough shots when required to do so. All of that says "playoff basketball player" to me.
I was slow to come around to Kennedy Chandler, but I'm there with him as a for sure first-rounder on my board at this point. In a sentence I never expected to type a year ago, the playoff performance of Jose Alvarado has lent credence to Chandler's game. He's so nasty at the point of attack on defense. Even if his size concerns you on defense in big games, the way the Hawks have managed to scheme around the defense of Trae Young gives reason for optimism that he won't be an easily exploitable hunting target. So much of what I love about Chandler is stuff that doesn't show up on a stat sheet-- the way he doesn't get tricked by clever ball-handling, the poise he developed as the season went along, his passion for the game, and the obstacles he's overcome as an undersized guard. As Tennessee's season progressed and they emerged as a true top team in college hoops, their trajectory dovetailed with that of Chandler. He became more composed, throwing in more hesitation to accentuate his burst and passing out of trouble more consistently. Chandler could also profile well next to a bigger initiator thanks to his willingness to move off the ball and lightning-quick first step off the catch. I'd started to disregard Chandler as a first-round prospect mid-way through the season when his shooting numbers weren't there. By the time March rolled around, I knew I had made a mistake. Going back into the film, it's even clearer that I did. I believe that Chandler's tenacity, speed, shooting, and peskiness will keep him in the NBA for a long time.
Unfortunately, not all of my findings can be positive. Tari Eason was a player I've had sneak into lottery range at various points throughout this draft cycle. He's still worth a first-round pick, in my estimation, but he's not in that lottery range for me now. Much was made of the fact that he was overburdened due to the lack of a traditional point guard during the time Xavier Pinson was on the shelf. There is some credence to that, but I feel it also gives too big of a pass to his decision-making, which was frustrating at times. Eason threw some slow, air-mail style passes that were easily picked off, and he needs to put more care into that area of his game. He really dislikes going left, and he struggles mightily when forced in that direction. To be fair, that was a critique of Franz Wagner headed into the draft last year, and he shored up that issue rather quickly. But Franz was a bit more straightforward and less creative in a way that mitigated the issue in some ways; Eason can be more forceful with his handle and get himself into trouble. Wagner was tentative, but that prevented mistakes. Eason also struggles to finish through contact, and his tendency to force bad shots too early in the clock has nothing to do with the lack of a stable point guard on the floor. Still, the ceiling with Eason is fantastic. Despite some wonky directional misses, he has a chance to be a respectable NBA shooter. His 35.9% from three and 80.3% from the line give reason for optimism, and the shot is much more consistent than it was a year ago. It's clear that he recognized the need for improvement and put in the work, which is always a good sign. But right now, someone like Liddell feels safer and more reliable to me.
Another player I've had a harder time with is Overtime Elite's Jean Montero. Though Montero's performance at the Nike Hoop Summit gave me some reassurance, I was disappointed by his lack of dominance against younger competition as I dove back into the OTE tape. While the games were played at a faster pace, I often wondered why Montero wasn't able to control the pace of the game as his team's lead ball-handler. His passing was breathtaking, but there was a casualness permeating his game that was frustrating. Montero would settle for difficult jumpers or wild floaters too frequently. Defensively, he did a great job of taking advantage of players who weren't as in tune with their dribbling, but those easy steals aren't going to be on the table at the next level. I think he's a better shooter than his OTE numbers indicated, but I'm still not entirely sold on him as a first-round bet at this point.
I've long been a big Ismael Kamagate propagandist. While I'm not out on him by any means, I'm definitely a bit lower after diving back in. His lack of elite length, paired with his at-times clunky second jump, gives me pause for a one-position big. To his credit, he has done a better job of getting low in his stance when switched on smaller players recently. My reservations are primarily out of concern about his size and jumping ability from a standstill when competing against more traditional big men.
An international prospect I've bought into more is Ousmane Dieng. I was critical of his lack of toughness and his defensive struggles in my feature piece about him. While I still have reservations, he showed a greater level of competitiveness in his final outings for the Breakers. He was more willing to go all the way to the cup as a driver, he showed fire trying to disrupt plays as a defender, and he carried himself with more confidence. It felt like he dialed up the aggressiveness meter in a way that was exclusively helpful to his game. Still, his defensive footwork was iffy at times, and his lack of strength leads to him fouling too frequently because he can't remain vertical against contact. With his final outings, though, he has to be a first-rounder. There's too much upside and rapid improvement to pass on at a certain point.
Dalen Terry has been a massive riser for me. His jump shot form is less funky than I recall, and he's genuinely trustworthy off the catch. He didn't get to take many jumpers off the dribble, and that is the one thing holding me back from skyrocketing him higher. His clever reads, ability to deliver multiple types of passes effectively, defensive versatility, and competitive spirit are all enticing. He's a player who could become immensely more valuable if he builds up his jumper, and he's not even bad in that area right now.
I want to end by giving love to Nikola Jovic.
Jovic has done a much better job of embracing physicality and taking advantage of mismatches. Early in the season, there were times when it seemed like he was allergic to the rim, pulling up for jump shots instead of getting to the cup out of fear of being bumped by a stronger player. The problem isn't completely fixed, but it's better than it was. A willingness to go inside and operate closer to the basket significantly opens up his excellent passing ability. With his deep shooting range and quick trigger, he's already a threat on the perimeter. Being a problem going downhill is the missing piece for him. Defensively, things are still messy. His balance is beyond shaky, and he's way too content to commit a foul as opposed to putting in the slightest bit of effort to recover when he gets beat off the dribble. If a team can tune up the defense, there's a nice trajectory for him as a perimeter playmaker with size. At a certain point in the first round, it will be hard to pass him up.