Scouting Notebook: On the Road
After hitting the road for the scouting grind, our own Tyler Rucker gives his thoughts on a wide slate of 2023 NBA Draft prospects as well as some names to keep an eye on.
On the Road
The scouting grind can be a vicious battle. With each trip, evaluators find a new way to test the battle between mental exhaustion and unlimited happiness.
If you’ve gone through the process, you know just what I’m talking about: prepping for a trip, going over each detail with extreme attention, debating if you want to make it an overnight trip, locating all potential coffee intake locations—there’s glory to be found when it comes to life on the road.
When it comes to the scouting process, attention to detail is key. The 2023 NBA Draft class is shaping up to be one full of fascinating prospects. While there are plenty of names that have been impressive early on, there’s also a wide range of talent that is starting to scratch some heads.
Incoming freshmen have struggled to deliver on preseason hype. Touted returners are starting to inch up boards with consistent play. Upperclassmen are starting to make a case to intrigue NBA teams with their versatility.
With each NBA Draft class comes the realization of potential headaches. While it’s easy to sit at home and binge-watch hours of film, some players require a closer evaluation. When a prospect presents a potential challenge, I have always been told to “go see them in person.” So that’s just what I did.
The idea of the “Scouting Notebook” is to give fans a closer look at some of the prospects I’ve had the chance to evaluate in person. As the draft season progresses, this will also include some buzz around the scouting world.
Over the past month and change, I’ve found myself hitting the road to get a look at a wide range of players. Let’s take a look at some players who have got my attention over the last couple of weeks in college basketball.
The versatility of Baylor freshman Keyonte George
The goal moving forward is to have the ability to scout as many prospects live as a Draft class will offer. That dream will be accomplished one day. For now, each Draft season requires some strategic planning when it comes to scouting trips.
The first trip I wanted to attack was the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas. This event would feature Baylor, UCLA, Virginia, and Illinois. It was my best opportunity to get a look at Baylor’s talented freshman combo guard Keyonte George.
Throughout the preseason, George has been a name that has gotten my attention. Keyonte was expected to be an offensive force for the Bears as a freshman. Listed at 6’4” and 185 pounds, George has the size to be an intriguing combo guard at the next level.
Seeing him in person, I was pleasantly surprised by George’s ability on the court. It’s always so important to see a player in person, especially when you want to get a feel for their physical profile. Before the game, George was locked in. Although he’s listed at 185 pounds, I found myself impressed with his build. It’s something that translates well on the court. Keyonte has the frame to give out punishment off the dribble, something that can give opponents headaches.
Going up against the assortment of talented defenders on the Virginia Cavaliers, Keyonte showed some impressive grit. His shot was struggling to get going early on. At one point, I found myself thrilled with the scouting opportunity at hand. If your shot isn’t falling, how else are you impacting the game?
George had a couple of turnovers from pressure and looked to be having trouble off the bounce. That’s when he dug deep and tried to make an impact in another way. Throughout the 2022-23 season, Keyonte has shown the ability to light up the scoring column. But another area of his game has become a sensational development.
The playmaking ability of the 6’4” guard has been brilliant. George is currently averaging 15.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. He’s shown the ability to be a grinder in an assortment of outings. It seemed as if George was having a nightmare performance against Virginia; that was until he started to put the Bears on his back. Although Virginia would pull off the “upset” at the moment, it showed a lot of character for George—especially when you looked up and realized he finished with 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Keyonte has the tools to be a dangerous weapon offensively. His offensive efficiency hasn’t been clicking at full power. When it does, he has the talent to start to trend upward on Draft boards in a hurry. I found myself leaving Las Vegas pleasantly surprised at the defensive upside as well. It was something that caught my attention from the opening tip. George will have his growing pains as a defender, but the desire and fundamentals should have NBA scouts pleased moving forward.
Virginia’s Reece Beekman and Illinois’s Coleman Hawkins will have fans
When a player continues to “pop” on film, you make note of it. When a player “pops” in person, you find yourself extremely intrigued. That’s just what happened when I found myself spectating the games in Las Vegas.
One player that continued to make plays all over the court was Virginia Cavaliers junior guard Reece Beekman. It’s always fascinating to see some of the early-season “showcases.” This is a popular time of the year for the “movers” of a draft class: individuals who you might not have had high on your board to start the season, but who quickly show that their game is reaching another level for the upcoming year.
Going up against Baylor, Beekman continued to make plays all over the floor. He wasn’t lighting it up when it came to shooting. But Beekman continued to be one of the most impactful players in the game. Although he’s listed at 6’3”, I left Vegas with the realization that it was only a matter of time before Beekman started to buzz in NBA circles.
He’s the gadget type of player that teams will be intrigued by to add to their rotation. Beekman just knows how to make winning plays. Against Baylor, he finished with 10 points (2-of-6 shooting) and 10 assists. Beekman averaged 8.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.1 steals per game as a sophomore in 35.1 minutes. During that same year, he posted shooting splits of 44.9/33.8/76.1.
This year, Beekman is up to 10.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game in just 27.0 minutes. His shooting splits have taken a serious climb up to his current marks of 43.6/47.1/85.7. The next step for Beekman will be producing at a consistent level over a larger sample size. What’s most fascinating about Beekman is his performance against tougher competition. If you look at just his production in his games against Michigan, Illinois, and Baylor, Beekman has the numbers of a potential first round selection.
Reece Beekman vs Michigan, Illinois, Baylor
35.0 MIN | 15.0 PTS | 3.3 REB | 6.0 AST | 2.0 STL
50.0 FG% | 66.7 3PT% | 81.3 FT%
His production in his other five games has been a bit lower. Virginia still finds itself at 8-0 on the season, and Beekman has been a big part of their impressive play this year.
Other Five Games
20.5 MIN | 7.0 PTS | 2.8 REB | 3.8 AST | 1.4 STL
38.5 FG% | 36.4 3PT% | 91.7 FT%
The other name that has started to warm up in NBA Draft circles is Illinois junior forward Coleman Hawkins. The 6’10”, 225-pound forward was becoming a popular breakout candidate to watch out for heading into the 2022-23 season.
Illinois is going to be one of the biggest wildcard teams to monitor throughout the year. The roster is full of players that can get scorching hot and take over a game, but they also have plenty of players that can struggle to get it going on a consistent level. Hawkins is a fascinating evaluation. Watching him against UCLA, I found myself wanting more. It wasn’t that he wasn’t making an impact, but I continued to want Hawkins to show some more aggressiveness. He’s a smart player that can make some sensational reads on the court with his playmaking vision.
If you pair that playmaking with a smooth shooting stroke from outside at 6’10”, there are going to be plenty of fans in NBA front offices. Sometimes when you evaluate a prospect in person, you just don’t get the resolution that you wanted. That requires getting home and flipping on the tape to re-evaluate what you saw. Hawkins can simply make an impact in a variety of areas. Because of that, he’s going to have the curiosity of plenty of NBA personnel.
There are some games in which you can tell that Hawkins is cooking with gasoline. He has the tools to impact a game on both sides of the floor. That was on full display when he finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists on 7-of-11 shooting against Syracuse. Hawkins just needs to be more consistent to continue to be a “fan favorite” when it comes to his potential at the next level.
UCLA wing Jaylen Clark is starting to open some eyes
The beauty of scouting, though, is that you can leave with an entirely new prospect that can grab your attention. Prior to my trip, fellow No Ceilings member Albert Ghim continued to praise a different player that caught his attention on a scouting trip. That player was UCLA junior wing Jaylen Clark.
Listed at 6’5” and 195 pounds, Clark has shown some flashes during his sophomore year. In 18.1 minutes, he is posting averages of 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds. If you watch UCLA’s showdown against Baylor, it won’t take long to notice the junior wing. Clark has become a disruptor on the basketball court. His shot looks a bit funky from the outside, but he’s playing with improved confidence. That’s the joys of scouting: when a player starts to have the light come on…it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Clark has quickly cemented himself as a dark horse to monitor in scouting circles. While there’s still plenty of work for improvement, he’s become a player that is simply taking his game to another level.
18.1 MIN | 6.7 PTS | 3.8 REB | 1.0 AST | 1.1 STL
50.6 FG% | 25.9 3PT% | 54.2 FT%
27.8 MIN | 15.1 PTS | 6.1 REB | 1.8 AST | 2.3 STL
62.1 FG% | 45.5 3PT% | 64.3 FT%
Overtime Elite: Thompson Twins Deliver on Hype
Heading into the 2023 NBA Draft cycle, Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson were two of the most talked about prospects in this year’s class. The Thompson Twins were generating plenty of hype, especially after an impressive previous year with the Overtime Elite.
But this season saw the Elite take a serious step forward by adding a wide range of talent to their league, as well as easier viewing possibilities. I hit the road to Buckeye, Arizona to get a look at the Thompson Twins, playing with the “City Reapers,” myself.
I had the opportunity to pick the mind of various No Ceilings members who were able to view the twins in person earlier this year. With any prospect, I tend to wait to see if I “buy in” on all of the preseason hype.
To say that I was impressed with the ability of the Thompson Twins would be putting it lightly. But I found myself intrigued with other areas.
Let’s start with Amen Thompson. Just like his brother Ausar, Amen is listed at 6’7”. It doesn’t take long to notice that Amen is in his comfort zone with the ball in his hands. He moves around the court with relative ease, and the playmaking is just as good as advertised. Both Thompson brothers impressed me with their physical profiles. They are lengthy with frames that look to have the potential to put on good weight.
Amen’s shot is going to be a work in progress, as it was expected. But what Amen can do with the ball in his hands is simply sensational. The next step in his development will be taking steps forward when it comes to playing off the ball. There are plenty of flashes, and it looks to be trending in the right direction. Amen’s ability on the defensive side of the ball looks to have a scary upside as well.
When it comes to Ausar Thompson, I found myself extremely pleased with the type of player he projects to be at the next level. While Amen is dangerous with the ball in his hands, Ausar showed plenty of flashes of great floor vision as well. His shot looks to be trending quicker in the right direction. The first attempt for Ausar in the game was a rapid catch-and-shoot three from the corner. Nothing but net.
While Amen looks to be at his best with the ball in his hands, his brother looks to be a natural when it comes to playing off the ball. That will be something to monitor when it comes to how NBA scouts might view the comparisons of the two. While many thought at the beginning of the year that the “difference” between the two might be higher, I left my in-person experience thinking it’s a lot closer than expected. Both players have fascinating skills, and fit will be everything. Ausar looks to have the defensive potential to be an absolute problem at the next level.
Watch Out for Arizona Wildcats big man Oumar Ballo
I made another trip out to Las Vegas for “The Clash” showcase. The top showdown on the card featured the Indiana Hoosiers going up against the Arizona Wildcats. The hope was to get an extended look at Indiana freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino. The talented freshman remained out with a back injury (rest up, JHS), but I was also fascinated by another showdown.
Indiana senior Trayce Jackson-Davis remains a prospect I continue to be high on (more on him in a second). I was thrilled to see what TJD could do going up against Arizona’s big-man duo of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo.
Early on in the game against Indiana, it looked as if Ballo was drawing the assignment of going toe-to-toe with TJD. After an eye-opening performance at the Maui Invitational against Creighton, Ballo was starting to generate some steam as a player to keep an eye on.
Throughout the game against the Hoosiers, Ballo was absolutely sensational. A HUGE tip of the hat to the developmental staff for the Arizona Wildcats. The work they’ve done with Ballo since he’s come over to the program has been remarkable.
Ballo showed some flashes last year with the Wildcats as an intriguing rotational piece. After losing the likes of Dalen Terry, Christian Koloko, and Bennedict Mathurin to the NBA, the Wildcats had minutes that needed to be filled. Although a junior, Ballo won’t turn 21 until July and is an absolute load on the court. He’s listed at 7’0” and 260 pounds, and he has shown the ability to be a dynamic presence in the paint.
What Ballo has showcased to start the year cannot be ignored. He has his limitations, but he continues to show some sensational skills on the court. It’s become one of my favorite evaluations in this class because you continue to ask yourself: “why not?”
In 15.3 minutes as a sophomore, Ballo averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. This year, Ballo is up to 18.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 74.7% from the field. His touch around the basket, combined with his footwork, will continue to get the attention of evaluators. With a big man class that is looking for players to make a statement, Oumar Ballo is starting to throw his hat in the ring. Although Ballo fits the build of a throwback big, he’s a player that is starting to show some fascinating upside.
Puzzling Case of Trayce Jackson-Davis
I’ve joked with my No Ceilings podcast co-host Tyler Metcalf about my love for Indiana Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis over the years as a prospect. The realization is that while TJD might not be a lottery pick, he looks to be a perfect rotation piece at the next level.
The biggest question with TJD moving forward is the outside shot. Seeing it in person, it looked to be trending in the right direction. TJD has the skills around the basket to be a fantastic piece in an NBA rotation. He’s a rebounding machine who can use his sneaky quickness and athleticism to get where he wants. Pairing that with some explosive leaping ability, he could be a sneaky good get for a team that needs an energetic presence off the bench.
After seeing TJD in person, I found myself wondering which team would be smitten by the idea of his ability. There are still plenty of questions from TJD, and I believe his fit, just as it is for most prospects, will be everything. If TJD can end up on a team that makes his role simple, he could carve out a long career at the next level.
UNLV guard Keshon Gilbert impresses
The other game on display during my recent Las Vegas trip included UNLV going up against Washington State. While the game wasn’t going to get ESPN foaming at the mouth, there were plenty of prospects I wanted to get a look at now for down the road. For Washington State, I still find myself fascinated about the future of french prospect Kymany Houinsou. At 6’6” and 195 pounds, Houinsou has the tools to be a name to circle for years to come.
But another name quickly got my attention throughout the game. It seemed as if every time you took a breath during the game, UNLV sophomore Keshon Gilbert was making a play. Gilbert is having a heck of a “statement season” so far.
14.3 MIN | 2.6 PTS | 2.3 REB | 1.7 AST | 1.2 STL
34.1 FG% | 28.0 3PT% | 69.0 FT%
27.9 MIN | 15.5 PTS | 2.8 REB | 3.7 AST | 2.1 STL
53.8 FG% | 56.7 3PT% | 80.9 FT%
I promise you that you read all of those numbers correctly. What impressed me the most when it came to Gilbert against Washington State was his mentality. There were plenty of instances in which Gilbert played like it was his last possession on the court. He played with great determination and competitiveness on both sides of the ball.
Gilbert went on to finish with 25 points against the Cougars on 10-of-15 shooting. Gilbert has serious burst within tight windows and can use that explosiveness to get through traffic. He’s a name to watch closely moving forward.
You Have My Attention: SMU sophomore Zhuric Phelps
If you’ve followed the No Ceilings podcast, you know I’m a sucker for returning prospects—especially when they come back and see their game take off to another level. That’s just the case when it comes to Phelps. At 6’3” and 175 pounds, Phelps is a bit undersized when it comes to the physical profile truthers out there.
It’s what he does on the court that has me throwing those concerns out the door. Phelps is smooth with the ball in his hands and has the ability to gather buckets in a mass quantity. The more I watch his game, the more I continue to find myself intrigued with the upside down the road. Am I saying that Phelps is going to be a 2023 NBA Draft prospect? Not necessarily. But it wouldn’t shock me if that idea starts to get some heat in the kitchen.
14.9 MIN | 3.8 PTS | 1.9 REB | 1.0 AST | 0.8 STL
38.7 FG% | 23.1 3PT% | 60.0 FT%
32.5 MIN | 19.5 PTS | 4.1 REB | 2.7 AST | 1.7 STL
41.8 FG% | 30.9 3PT% | 69.2 FT%
There’s plenty of offensive firepower to his game, enough that will warrant his consideration moving forward. Phelps has the tools to be a fascinating three-level scorer. He will need to be efficient with his production moving forward. If he can prove that, there’s going to be some intrigue with the 6’3” sophomore.