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The Creative Genius of Jean Montero
Jean Montero has shown a creative flair during his lone season playing in the Overtime Elite. Now it's time to prove that he can also play with the nuance of an NBA point guard.
Basketball is a beautiful game. There is an element of creative synchronicity that differs from other sports. When played the right way, at the highest of levels, it looks like art.
The Overtime Elite is not art. It is, however, the current home to one of the draft’s most creative prospects, Dominican-born Jean Montero.
Montero entered the year as the 12th ranked prospect on the $DRFT IPO. His flashes playing for Gran Canaria in Spain, as well as his MVP showing at Basketball Without Borders, put him on the radars of NBA scouts as a high-end point guard prospect. But Montero’s decision to play for the perplexing Overtime Elite experiment during its inaugural season has led to a drop in his draft stock, as many scouts have wondered what level of NBA prospect Montero truly is.
For fans of high-level hoops, the Overtime product is a disaster. The games, which you can find on YouTube, represent a mix of sloppy AAU play and obnoxious teenage twitch video game streamers. They’re mixtape culture incarnate. The arena is dope as hell, and the visual presentation is excellent, but watch long enough, and you may think you’re watching the last game of a three-hour pick-up run at LA Fitness rather than a high-level organized basketball game.
It’s not for me, and that’s fine; however, Jean Montero plays there, and so as an evaluator, it has to be for me.
The OTE program is stuck between wanting to be a serious hub for draft prospects and wanting to be a content factory for Instagram. Marketing the product to this demographic makes evaluating prospects harder but not impossible. While the Overtime Elite prospects aren’t playing the same high-level competition as some of their counterparts, prospects like Montero are still showing the kind of flashes that translate to the NBA game.
OTE games are sloppy and unorganized, but there is a creative freedom that Montero is afforded while playing in this environment. The 6’2” guard can take chances that other NBA prospects playing in high-stakes games simply can’t. Sometimes it leads to bad shot selection or a funky turnover, but it also allows Montero to stretch his limits and experiment in ways that may help his long-term development as he learns what he can and can’t do.
In some ways, it reminds me of the kind of freedom that LaMelo Ball played with during his stint playing in the NBL. LaMelo’s decision-making was disastrous at times in Australia, and it led to many scouts (myself included) questioning if he could rein it in when the games mattered. That’s what happened. LaMelo still dazzles with his creativity in the NBA, but his play is more nuanced.
Montero isn’t a 6’8” jumbo initiator that allows his team to play with the same kind of lineup versatility as Melo, so it’s not exactly apples to apples, but there is something to letting guys explore their basketball personalities. We all make iffy decisions when we’re young, but as we get older and wiser, we eliminate the bullshit and hone in on our strengths. You see the duality in the chances Montero is willing to take in his hit-ahead passing in transition.
This draft class is devoid of high-level playmakers. There is no Josh Giddey or Cade Cunningham. Montero may be the most creative passer in the Top 30 by default. He isn’t elite in this regard, but he does demonstrate the kind of feel needed to playmake in the NBA.
Montero can make simple reads in the P&R or more advanced reads slinging the ball cross-court to the weakside of the floor. Montero’s pace combined with the threat of his ability to score the rock demands attention that frees up these looks. Montero’s unpredictability with the ball in his hands draws four black jerseys on this possession, ultimately leading to a wide-open three off the skip.
Montero is a slithery ball handler who has some real wiggle and craft that allows him to break down the defense. Montero should thrive playing off ball screens at the next level, where his ability to play at different speeds and go high to low will make him an elusive cover when he gets a defender on their heels. Montero isn’t afraid to attack the rim, and he should get there often with the space an NBA offense should provide.
The issue is that the finishing isn’t good. I don’t have the stats to empirically back this up because OTE is holding them hostage. You’d probably have a better shot at stealing the Declaration of Independence with Nick Cage than getting your hands on Montero’s shooting percentage.
In a way, it makes the process more fun because it becomes purely an eye test evaluation—just old-school scouting purity. Unfortunately, my eyes are telling me the finishing is bad. That feels like a pretty big concern for a smallish below the rim guard.
There are flashes of touch and creativity, and often times the process is exciting as he shows how lethal he can be in attack mode, but the results usually end up looking like there is a lid on the hoop. Things will only get tougher for him as he has guys like Rudy Gobert and Jaren Jackson Jr. waiting for him at the rim.
Montero will need counters early on. The floater is an integral part of a small guard’s scoring package. I think Montero’s touch is decent here when projecting forward, but it’s not a strength. He can get to his spots easily enough, but the timing on when he gets the floater off as the defense rotates towards him needs some cleaning up.
I’m buying Montero as a shooter. Sometimes he’ll shoot it from way behind the line for no reason other than proving that he can. This is something I distinctly remember Omar Cook doing for St.John’s in 2001. Even as a 15-year-old kid, I would just ask…why? Shooting from the four-point line isn’t something Montero can do consistently at this point, but he can do it sometimes.
Shooting from range that borders on absurdity is almost becoming a prerequisite for a small guard, so I don’t blame Montero for experimenting with it. Still, his pull-up ability feels more natural at more rational distances. You can see flashes of Darius Garland in Montero’s pull-up game as he busts out high-level combo moves to free himself up for open looks. Guys like Garland or Fred VanVleet have to hit these types of tough pull-ups in the league to open up the rest of their arsenal. Montero has the potential to hit those same kinds of tough shots.
Montero is going to bread his butter on the offensive side of the ball, but you’d be surprised by his skill guarding the ball. The free-flowing nature of these OTE games doesn’t much lend itself to intense defense being played all that often, but Montero is an absolute pest when he’s locked in. Montero will get up in your shirt and mirror your movements, beating you to the spot forcing you into a tough contested look or to even move off the ball entirely.
He also has some of the quickest hands in the class. Montero is consistently getting deflections and poke-a-ways and just being the kind of annoying pest that gets under a ball handler’s skin. Ball handlers hate feeling uncomfortable, and Montero makes sure that any decisions they’ll have to make won’t be easy.
Montero is on the smaller side, and he won’t offer the kind of defensive switch-ability that most NBA teams covet from defenders. He’ll struggle on bigger wings that he ends up cross-matched on, and he may get clobbered on some screens. It’s an issue he’ll have to overcome, but NBA defenses are sophisticated, and as long as he competes defensively and provides positive value on the other end, he’ll find his way on the floor.
In a class that doesn’t have many standout guards, it feels like Montero is becoming somewhat lost in the shuffle. Choosing to play for a new league has proven to be volatile, but NBA decision-makers have the kind of background on him that goes beyond his play on the floor this year. It wouldn’t shock me if he shows out at the Nike Hoop Summit in a few weeks and boosts his draft stock back up into the lottery conversation. Look beyond the dog and pony show, and you’ll see the NBA star quality flashes. Montero brought creativity and flair to Team Overtime. Now, it’s time to work on the substance.