Sleeper Deep Dives: Terrance Arceneaux
Terrance Arceneaux faded a bit after a strong start last year, but his remarkable defensive prowess and developing shooting touch could lead to 2024 draft looks if he breaks out this season.
Terrance Arceneaux was one of the pleasant surprises of the start of the 2022-23 college basketball season. Arceneaux, the #45 recruit in his high school class per RSCI, wasn’t exactly an unknown prospect, but he started strong with his first five games of the season. Arceneaux averaged 9.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game in just 17 minutes per contest to start the campaign for the Houston Cougars on 49/38/50 shooting splits, including a 15-point outing with three steals against the Oregon Ducks. With some impressive offensive moments and consistently excellent defense, Arceneaux appeared to be on track to be a potential surprise candidate for the 2023 NBA Draft.
The results from that point forward were…not as impressive. Arceneaux struggled to score consistently or earn any consistent playing time. He averaged 13.9 minutes per game for the season, vacillating from two minutes in their last regular season game to 35 minutes in the AAC Conference Tournament Championship game and everything in between. He was one of three Cougars freshmen (including Jarace Walker and Emanuel Sharp) to earn a spot on the All-AAC Freshman Team, but that paints a rosy picture of Arceneaux’s freshman year outside of his hot start. While his defense was spectacular from start to finish, his offensive production was variable at best and non-existent at worst.
With the Houston Cougars now six games into the 2023-24 season, the situation for Arceneaux appears to be more stable this season. He has been the sixth man for a Houston squad that remains undefeated despite losing Walker and Marcus Sasser to the NBA.
Arceneaux’s offensive arsenal will be the ultimate determining factor for his NBA future. The 6’5” guard was one of the best defenders in a small-minute role in college basketball last season; his length, athleticism, and defensive awareness are already NBA-ready.
There are positive signs so far that Arceneaux has taken some steps forward in terms of his offensive game. However, while it’s still early, it seems as if Arceneaux is behind Jamal Shead, LJ Cryer, Damian Dunn, and Sharp in the crowded Houston backcourt rotation.
Given his current role, Terrance Arceneaux might have a bit of an uphill climb in terms of the 2024 NBA Draft at this point. However, his defensive prowess is special enough that some small steps forward offensively could lead to some increased draft intrigue sooner rather than later. So…let’s dive deep!
Defense: Lockdown Potential
The place to start with the Terrance Arceneaux evaluation is his defensive prowess. While on the shorter side for a modern NBA wing at 6’5”, his elite athleticism and massive wingspan more than make up for it.
Arceneaux has the requisite athletic tools to be a plus defender, but many players have the tools without the know-how or the effort level. Arceneaux has all of it, and he has it in spades. He fights hard over screens, rarely gets caught ball-watching, and hounds his defender at the point of attack. He’ll probably guard mostly 1-3 at the NBA level, but he’s not afraid to switch off and scrap in the paint if the play requires it.
The numbers back up the exceptional tale of the tape for Arceneaux. He ranked in the 97th percentile defensively last year, per Synergy, allowing a microscopic 0.571 points per possession. That mark has taken a slight uptick in the early going this season to 0.8 points per possession, but his defense has been no less stifling. Arceneaux is currently ninth in the Big 12 in Defensive Win Shares, and he has played a huge part in the astonishing Cougars defense that has allowed just 49.8 points per game to start the season. He couples his lockdown defense with an incredible propensity to avoid mistakes. Arceneaux has committed just five fouls through his first six games, with a foul rate of 1.7 per 40 minutes; he does an excellent job of staying vertical near the basket, and rarely gets tangled up reaching for steals.
While he did nab a few steals in his five-game hot streak to start last season, Arceneaux is more of a lockdown guy than a chaos creator defensively. He’s a bit of a set-it-and-forget-it type—if a guard or a wing gets hot, just toss Arceneaux their way and take the guy out of the game. However, Arceneaux has been a bit more adept at forcing turnovers this season, which is certainly an intriguing development:
The steals game is a tricky one when it comes to prospect evaluation. On the one hand, turnover generation is immensely valuable, and high steal rates in college almost always lead to high steal rates in the NBA. On the other hand, gambling in the passing lanes is a risky game.
For Arceneaux, most of his steals in the early going have come from straight-up ripping the ball away from his opponents. However, responsibly taking risks could take Arceneaux’s game to another level. In addition to his increased steal rate, Arceneaux has three blocks in six games to start the season after rejecting just five shots all of last season.
The foundation for Arceneaux as a lockdown defender is already there. The biggest remaining question for him on that end is if he can be something more. Lockdown defenders are always valuable, but lockdown defenders who are also defensive playmakers are a cut above that. If he can add that element to his already-loaded defensive arsenal, the bar for his offense to clear becomes that much lower—and his avenues to earning NBA playing time become that much easier to see.
Offense: Finishing Strength and Shooting Development
Let’s start with the negatives of Terrance Arceneaux’s offense to get those out of the way before looking at the reasons to be optimistic about his developmental path on that end of the floor.
Simply put, Arceneaux does not have the skill set that you would hope to see from a 6’5” guard. His handle is shaky, especially when it comes to creating shots for himself away from the rim. He doesn’t generate offense for others, either; he can make the simple pass to keep the ball moving, but he doesn’t do much more than that. While his 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is at least a sign of his ability to avoid mistakes, his 1.6 assists per 40 minutes last season is well below what you would expect from a guard. That’s also held true so far this season; while Arceneaux has yet to commit a turnover, he’s also dished out just five assists in his first six games. Barring an unexpected dramatic turn of events, he will need to have his offense created for him at the next level.
Now, on to the reasons for optimism. The biggest bullet point here is that Arceneaux seems to have taken a step forward as a shooter this season. His shot release last season was slow enough for defenses to be able to bother him most of the time, even with a late closeout:
Arceneaux’s 25.0% mark from three-point range last season tells the story pretty emphatically, but there’s more to it than that. Arceneaux ranked in the 27th percentile offensively overall and in the 21st percentile on jump shots last season, per Synergy, and those numbers got even dicier when defenses keyed in on him beyond the arc. He was truly abysmal on guarded catch-and-shoot looks, ranking in the fifth percentile with just 0.46 points per possession.
It’s still early, of course, but Arceneaux seems to have made some key steps forward with his shot this year. He appears to have sped up his release a bit, and his mechanics are more consistent than last season:
The early results this year haven’t been as impressive as they were last year, but the advanced numbers seem to agree with the film in terms of his improvement. Arceneaux currently ranks in the 69th percentile overall offensively this season, and it’s mostly due to his improvements as a shooter. He’s currently in the 44th percentile on jump shots, a decent jump up from last season, and he’s also in the 40th percentile on spot-ups this year after finishing in the 29th percentile last year. Arceneaux is getting to the free-throw line much more often; he’s already taken 13 free throws after taking just 19 all of last season, bumping his free-throw rate from .143 up to .419. While his 61.5% mark from the stripe is not exactly anything to write home about, it is also a step up from his rough 10-of-19 (52.6%) hit rate last season.
Arceneaux’s increased willingness to attack the basket also dovetails nicely with his most bankable offensive skill at the moment, namely his finishing at the rim. Arceneaux was solid in that regard last year, knocking down 49.2% of his shots inside the arc, but he’s gone from solid to stellar to kick off this season. He is a great finisher and an adept cutter who takes advantage of his spot-up-heavy role in the Houston offense to punish defenses who don’t pay attention to him beyond the arc His dicy handle and relative lack of passing skills do somewhat limit the damage that he can do as a downhill attacker, but he uses his length and athleticism well to finish over and around people when he does get to the cup:
Arceneaux has knocked down 55.6% of his two-pointers to start the season, an excellent mark for a player of his archetype. The majority of those two-pointers have been right at the basket, and he’s converting those looks at a high rate.
Arceneaux ranks in the 79th percentile in at-rim finishing this year after finishing in the 58th percentile last year. Arceneaux has also been much more aggressive attacking the glass this year, pulling down 1.7 offensive rebounds per game to start the season.
Some of these offensive numbers, as with all numbers in the small sample size theater of the early season, should be taken with a grain of salt. One bad game could tank his finishing numbers, and a cold shooting streak could quickly dim the shine of the first few games—just as it did for Arceneaux last season. However, the positives do all point in the right direction for him. The shot looks better on film—and the numbers are backing that up. He has looked more aggressive with the ball in his hands—and the free-throw rate is backing that up. It’s always difficult to tell how much of the start of the season is a mirage in college basketball before the tougher conference slates, but both the process and the results for Terrance Arceneaux have been better than they were last season.
Terrance Arceneaux is in a very interesting position at the moment in terms of his draft stock. On the one hand, his defense is clearly NBA-level already, and he has continued to solidify his status on that end of the floor. On the other hand, the offensive end is where he needs to prove his worth the most, and the Cougars have plenty of mouths to feed offensively before Arceneaux.
With his current playing time and current roster situation, Arceneaux is likely to fly under the radar for another season. He might be a prime candidate for a transfer to earn more of an offensive opportunity, but he’s also a player who falls firmly into the “if he can just do enough offensively…” camp. Playing with a strong team around him allows Arceneaux to play to his strengths as a defense-first complementary piece, and the Cougars afford him plenty of chances to do just that.
Terrance Arceneaux is already a difference-making defender, and his offensive game is showing solid signs of development in the early going this season. He may end up being a prime candidate for a breakout in his junior season, but a solid shooting showing this year could bump up his 3-and-D candidacy.
In a 2024 NBA Draft class that is shaping up to be chaotic and full of surprises, Arceneaux’s current defensive prowess and future potential could be enough to entice NBA suitors sooner rather than later. Given what he’s already shown, the flash in the pan that we got to see to start Arceneaux’s college career could be less of an anchor around future expectations and more of a nice flourish built on a solid foundation.