Taking Out the Trash Volume 5
In this week's installment of Taking Out the Trash, Garbage Time Ghim breaks down one of the best shooters in the country, Hyunjung Lee.
Volume 5 is here! With it being the fifth installment of my column, I couldn’t help but think about the fifth version of one of my favorite movie franchises. Like most decent human beings, I love the Fast and the Furious series. If you’re not into that universe, go see someone cause you’re just flat wrong about life. My favorite movie in the series has to be Fast Five—that movie had the best music, the wildest cast, and the best chase scene in the franchise. These dudes dragged a bank vault through the streets of Brazil for 30 minutes without it ever stopping. That’s some elite movie magic. The movie also features the best song ever; please listen below and have a better day.
Not only did the movie have awesome action, but it had maybe one of the funniest scenes you’ll ever see in your life. Watch the clip below and wait for the 00:49 second mark when Dom says, “I remember everything about my FADAH~~.” It’s easily the funniest thing ever and the most random accent that has no origin. Who in the world says father like that, and why is Dom saying it like that? It makes no sense to me. For a franchise that recently sent a car into space, this random scene has to be one of the wildest choices they’ve ever made.
Now that you’ve laughed your ass off, let’s get into volume five and probably the best thing you’ll read this week. For this week’s installment, I decided to finally take the plunge and write about my favorite player in this draft class. Today, we dive into maybe the best shooter in the country, the most awkward runner I’ve ever seen, and a man who is the crown jewel of South Korean basketball, Hyunjung Lee from Davidson.
I remember a moment from a couple of months ago when I was at work, and one of my co-workers came in real early and asked me if I had watched this new show on Netflix called “Squid Game”—he had binged it over the weekend and wanted to talk about it. Being the resident Korean in the office, I, of course, had heard of the show; however, I hadn’t watched any of it because my wife and I aren’t into gory stuff. I just told him I’d seen it but couldn’t get into it. My wife and I like watching Korean melodramas filled with long stares, terminal illnesses, and wild backstories that make no sense. A couple of weeks later, “Squid Game” had captivated most of the world and became the number one show on Netflix. I remember saying to my co-worker, “It’s a really good time to be Korean.”
I want to be clear, the success of “Squid Game” isn’t the only reason why it’s an awesome time to be Korean. You can’t watch a football game on Sunday without watching at least 4-5 commercials from Korean brands. I’ve probably seen the Samsung commercial with BTS at least 600 times by now. Growing up, most people I met thought I was Chinese or Japanese and didn’t even know South Korea existed. To now live in a world where K-Pop is super popular in the states, Bibigo (a Korean food brand) is the jersey sponsor for the Lakers, and people line up for hours to eat Korean BBQ in LA is pretty surreal.
Of all the things I’ve listed above, the person who gives me the most joy and warm feelings has to be Hyunjung Lee. I intentionally waited for volume five to get into him because I didn’t want to seem too eager. I didn’t want to be the only Korean writer talking about the only Korean draft prospect for his first article. I thought easing into it and giving him a chance to play and spread his wings first was the better route, and now we’re here.
If you’re not familiar with who he is, I’m glad you’re here because you might just be blown away by how awesome he is. I’m not going to argue that he’s a bonafide lottery pick, but I do believe he deserves to be discussed as a legitimate first-round prospect. Buckle up because I’m about to take you into the complex and beautiful game of Hyunjung Lee. Most of his game is awesome, some of it needs work, but all of it is perfect.
If you talk about Lee, you have to start with his shooting. Starting with anything else would just be irresponsible. If we go with the raw stats so far, Lee is currently shooting 48% from the field, 39% from three, and 80% from the free-throw line. Those are some luscious numbers. Last year, in his sophomore season, his shooting splits were 51/44/90 while playing 30 minutes per game. His percentages have dipped a little bit this season, but that makes sense considering his larger role in the offense and larger volume as well.
Now that Kellan Grady is gone and running around in Lexington, Lee is carrying much more of the offensive burden. I know the dip in his free-throw shooting is odd, but they still have a large chunk of the season left, and I fully expect that percentage to be closer to 90% than 80% by the end of the season. Beyond the percentages, though, the eye test is where you’ll be most impressed.
Lee has a quick release, smooth mechanics, a very repeatable form, and he can get set quickly and on the move. I noticed he does a weird thing with his right foot to get set, but I don’t think that’s a problem; it’s more of a quirk.
I won’t lie—Lee is not the smoothest athlete on Planet Earth. If anything, I’d actually describe him as being a little awkward. He’s really upright wherever he goes. Whether he has the ball in his hands or not, he kinda looks like a 6’7” totem pole moving around the court. But despite some stiffness in him as an athlete, there’s nothing wrong with the shot. The guy gets it up quickly, with good balance and nice follow-through.
I wanted to start off with this clip because it’s the perfect little appetizer into Lee being an imperfect prospect. At the start of the clip, you see Lee trying to create off the dribble against Jaden Shackelford, and he gets completely shut down. Lee lacks the first-step quickness, strength, and handle, to shake up and break down Shackelford off the dribble. But I like this possession because he makes the quick decision to get rid of the ball, re-sets in the corner, and is shot-ready off the catch. In just this sequence, we get a beautiful vignette of both Lee’s strengths and his weaknesses.
I firmly believe that Lee will be an able and ready shooter off the catch from day one in the NBA. This is not a “swing skill” for him—this is a known skill from the jump. As he showed in the clip above, the guy can get his shot off real quick and has no problem getting it up with a hand in his face. When you watch some of the best shooters in the game, it’s important to highlight the shooting mechanics, but I also believe it’s important to talk about shot readiness. When you watch Lee, whether it’s off the catch or coming off screens, the guy is always ready to shoot and can even do it without being fully set. Davidson does a great job of running Lee off of pin-downs and stagger screens throughout the game to get him good looks.
In that same game against Alabama, Lee hit this beauty in the clip above. You can see from the video how Lee does a great job of using the screens to get open and is ready to shoot as soon as he catches the ball. This was a tough shot, and he also picked up the foul. When you watch shots like this, it’s easy to see how he could translate this part of his game to the next level. It’s important to note that this was a big game for Davidson against an Alabama team that was the 10th ranked team in the nation at the time. Hitting tough shots against tough competition should help Lee’s case with NBA front offices.
Before I wrap on his shooting, it’s important to note that most of Lee’s attempts from the outside are off the catch. He’s been assisted on 95.8% of the threes he’s hit this season, according to Barttorvik. He hasn’t done much shooting off the bounce, and I don’t think that’s really going to be his strength. At this point, the nicest thing I can say about Lee’s handle is that it’s functional. When you combine his lack of burst, stiffness, and functional handle, he’s not going to be like Bonafide and Stretch from “NBA Street” and breaking guys off with moves.
Lee may not be able to break guys down, but that doesn’t mean he’s just a standstill shooter either. I was on the No Ceilings Podcast a couple of months ago, and Tyler Metcalf brought up the point that Lee is an excellent finisher at the rim, and that’s due to his elite movement off-ball and utilization of screens. Lee is currently shooting 78% on close twos, according to Barttorvik. Of course, many of those close twos are wide-open layups, but I think it’s important to focus on how he’s generating these easy shots.
He’s not just using his screens well, but he’s also using them with savvy and timing. In some of these clips, it might look like the defender just did a bad job of tracking him off the screens, but I also believe that the threat/gravity of his shooting will get defenders going the wrong way or get them trying to cheat to prevent the shot. Look at the two clips below, and tell me the defenders don’t have the scouting report on Lee in the back of their minds. I love how Lee stays active, reads the defense well, and times his cuts to the basket perfectly.
Before I move on to some of his areas of improvement, we have to highlight his passing. I know I went the boring route and started off with his pristine shooting, but Lee’s passing for me is another clear, translatable skill that he walks into the league with from day one. I don’t want to oversell his passing as if he’s going to be an offensive hub or imply that teams will be looking to run their offenses through him. I think the best way to describe his passing is that he’s a plus passer, a guy who can connect some dots for you with his ball movement and vision. I know people have used the term “connector” a lot recently, and that’s a good way of thinking about Lee.
I like how he makes quick decisions with the ball, leads cutters towards the basket, and throws some pretty entry passes into the post. If I were to compare him to an NFL quarterback, he’s definitely more of a Chad Pennington than he is a Tom Brady. He’s accurate and makes the right reads, but he’s not good enough to be your number one creator. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Pennington and what he was able to accomplish with his lack of arm strength, but we always knew he was never going to lead the Jets to the promised land.
Like I said, none of these passes I posted are going to end up on any highlight reels, but I like that he can do it. I like that he can offer another wrinkle to his game. In the last clip against Robert Morris, I really like how he handled that situation. He saw that his man was selling out to prevent the shot while coming off the screen. He makes the quick decision to attack the basket, sees the help coming, and throws up the lob. This isn’t some sort of ground-breaking play, but it was the right one, and it’s good that he has tape like this to show NBA scouts.
Areas of Improvement
Something I don’t like doing when breaking down prospects is looking at them as finished products or talking about them in definitive terms. Going into the 2020 draft, I was convinced Tyrese Haliburton would not be a good shooter on the NBA level. It wasn’t just because his shot looked weird, but I thought the shot took way too long and had too many moving parts. As I’m writing this, Haliburton is shooting over 40% from three this season, and he was just announced as a sophomore player for the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend. Clearly, I was way off.
When looking at draft prospects, I’ve learned that it’s good to highlight areas of improvement rather than labeling them definitive weaknesses. It’s important for me to always remind myself that they’re college kids and when they get into NBA programs, a lot can change. With that in mind, I want to dive into some of the warts of Lee’s game.
Hyunjung Lee is not Matisse Thybulle, and he’s not Scottie Pippen; he’s not even the current version of Avery Bradley. I know I said I wouldn’t speak in definitive terms, but this is true on so many levels. The biggest area of improvement for Lee is definitely on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not because he doesn’t try, though; as we dive into some of these clips, you’ll see that the effort is there. The problem is, sometimes you can try your best and still be bad at something.
Back in high school, I had a friend whose brother was so sick of his grandma making the same meal for them every day that he complained and asked her to make them spaghetti. His grandma went to the market and bought noodles and ketchup. She boiled the noodles and served them with ketchup on top because she thought spaghetti was just noodles and ketchup. She was an elderly Korean woman in her 70s who had never made spaghetti before, let alone even tried it. She gave her best effort, but it was a disaster. Shouts to my friend who sat there and finished all the food on his plate, what a legend.
Let’s take a look at some defensive spaghetti with ketchup.
As you can see, he’s not lacking effort. There’s some passion in this possession as Lee tries to stay in front of his man. Lee tries to get in a stance and starts galloping sideways. It’s awkward, it’s tough to watch, and he gets absolutely torched for it. Even after his man gets past him, he keeps galloping and makes a late attempt at swatting air. The sad part is, I really like how he put in the extra effort to get over the screen; he just had no answer for the cross-over.
These two plays speak to something that I think might be a huge reason why he struggles staying in front of faster guards. He’s got good size at 6’7”—I haven’t seen his measurables, but I don’t think he has a negative wingspan. The issue that you can easily see on tape is that he has some stiff hips and heavy feet. When he’s guarding out in space, he has a ton of trouble changing directions and moving his feet quickly enough to stay in front of top-end speed. It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t look like a disciple of Jose Canseco either. When you combine the lack of foot speed, stiffness in the hips, and lack of upper body strength, these clips start to make a lot of sense.
I think he had some bright moments with his off-ball defense. I think many times he made good reads, knew when to come down to help from the weakside, and did an okay job of crashing the boards. I did notice a couple of possessions where he got caught ball-watching a little bit, but we can live with that once in a while.
To be fair, not all of the tape I watched was a nightmare.
This was not perfect, but I thought he looked a little smoother here, and I liked how he didn’t give up on the play and did a good job of contesting without fouling at the end. Plays like this get me excited because if he keeps putting in this level of effort, maybe there’s hope for him to at least become an adequate defender. Or at least one of those guys where you avoid talking about them as one-on-one defenders and just highlight their team defense.
One of the toughest things for me when evaluating players is weighing theoretical skills versus actual skills. I have such a hard time coming up with Big Boards because it’s so hard to weigh the value of skills that a player has now versus swing skills that a player may or may not have in their arsenal one day. The reason why I love players like Lee is that he comes into the league with defined skills that he can rely upon from day one. There’s nothing theoretical about his shooting or his functional passing. At the same time, I also understand why a guy like Lee isn’t a prospect who many will be talking about in the lottery. The hope that comes with athletic freaks with a ton of theoretical skills will always be worth swinging for because if all pans out, you might have a Giannis on your hands. Of course, if things don’t pan out, you might end up with a Perry Jones.
Teams love shooters. Teams love big shooters. Teams love big shooters that can do a little more than just shoot. Davis Bertans got 80 million over five years from the Wizards; you see where I’m going with this.
I think Hyunjung Lee has enough tangible skills right now to contribute to an NBA team from day one, and not many taken before him in the draft will be able to say the same.