The Draft Deeper Greatest Miss List
As a finale in written form to a time of offseason reflection, our own Nathan Grubel goes back through some of his biggest misses in his time scouting.
I love admitting that I was wrong about ANYTHING.
Why would I say such a thing? Aren’t we all supposed to have a certain level of pride to which we stick to the “courage of our convictions” and live and die by our takes and beliefs?
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Or is it better to admit defeat and use it as a lesson to learn from our mistakes for the next time?
Luckily, I’m not in a section of the basketball landscape where I have to worry about not having a next time. There’s no pressure on me from where I sit to deliver on every single evaluation to the point where if I’m not careful, that very thing could skew one of my viewpoints in a terrible direction.
No, I don’t have to be right all of the time. But I strive to be. That’s why admitting when I’m wrong is so crucial to my growth and, frankly, to everyone’s growth.
Scouting is no different. There are plenty of times I’ve identified players before their cases have taken over the mainstream media space. There are also times, as you’ll read below, when I stuck to my guns and fought against the changing winds blowing right by my face.
Why I’ve chosen to write about my wrongs is simple. I NEVER want to paint a picture that I’m the world’s best talent evaluator or the smartest guy in the room. I’m far from it. And ANYONE who wants to live by that persona, that’s great. But I don’t believe in that way of living, and I especially don’t want to give off those vibes in the basketball world.
Growing and learning from certain biases is a part of life and, in turn, part of the game of basketball.
So what I’m doing here is pretty simple. I have ranked accordingly a number of evaluations that I’ve gotten wrong from when I first started working in the private scouting space back in 2016, all the way through the 2021 draft cycle. I even have a bonus player picked out from the 2022 NBA Draft, who I’m already having similar regrets about right now.
What’s different about this exercise is that I’ve chosen players from both ends of the spectrum as far as my wrongs. Not only have I included players that I was too low on, but also too high. And these misses are ranked by my regret level. Which mistakes haunt me the most to this day?
One important note: I didn’t keep a “big board” each and every year I’ve done evaluations. Some of these players I’ll happily attach my ranking of them to their section. Others, I’ll just speak to whether I was higher or lower on them and obviously detail why. Just keep that in mind as you read through this piece.
Hopefully, everyone who reads this learns something from it; to me, though, it’s also therapeutic. It’s good to get these feelings off my chest in written form.
So without further ado, let’s start with my greatest scouting regret over the last six years.
1. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
2020 NBA Draft, Pick 21
No, I’m not being a homer with this one.
I’m not trying to suck up to Tyrese Maxey or any other Philadelphia 76ers fans. This one, this one truly hurts.
It’s not only that he’s become one of the best young guards in the league within the span of a few years. It’s not just the fact he’s become a 40-plus percent three-point shooter and will seemingly continue to take intriguing steps at furthering his game off the bounce.
Maxey’s misevaluation haunts me because I underestimated the value behind having a work ethic such as his.
Coming out of Kentucky, I knew Maxey loved the spotlight. His quickness and burst, as well as his knack for getting downhill and finding ways to finish around the basket, showed up on tape for every evaluator. Those things were obvious.
What wasn’t so obvious were the skills around being a point guard in the NBA today. Outside shooting and making the right passing reads out of the pick-and-roll are requirements that have to be met to play the position at a high level today. Team defenses are too smart and too well-equipped to fall behind the eight ball against a poor perimeter shooter operating the opposing offense.
Where I messed up was how hard Maxey worked to make such rapid improvements to his game. Even going into the draft, I was familiar with the interviews and stories narrating how he started the “Breakfast Club” in Lexington. Continuously getting up for 6 AM workouts and putting in the work well before tip-off should’ve been the light that went off in my head to tell me that “this kid has the chance to be special.”
Alas, I was comfortable with drafting Maxey in the 20s, which was exactly where the 76ers stole him in the 2020 draft. The work that he’s put in to better his shot not only off the catch but also off the dribble is nothing short of remarkable. Maxey even has a floater that rivals that of the best floor generals in the league in terms of trustworthiness from out as far as the free throw line!
There are still some legitimate questions as to whether he’ll get to making higher-level passing reads or not. And he’s not exactly a “plus” on the defensive side of the ball, either.
However, with how good of a three-level scoring threat he’s becoming, having James Harden next to him to facilitate and dictate the offense takes away the need for Maxey to NEED to continue growing so quickly in that area. And on defense, I trust that his competitiveness will continue closing the gap there because of the fact that he’s built very well for a smaller guard in terms of strength and toughness.
Just a week ago, I ranked Maxey ninth (!!) on my 2022 NBA Top 25 Under 25. Really, it’s because I still don’t know how much better he can become. A lot of smart evaluators have compared him favorably to Kyle Lowry. While I personally doubt he’ll be as good of a defender as Lowry, I think his offensive upside is much, much higher. And guards who can dribble, pass, and shoot with the speed and quickness to make up for the lack of plus height are still incredibly valuable players.
NBA teams can never have too many guys who can handle the rock, pull up from three, and find ways to put the ball in the basket in as efficient of a manner as Maxey. And not only did I miss on too much of the scoring package, but I also bet against the very kind of person Maxey is.
I believe in putting in the work to overcome any obstacles and odds. I should’ve put more faith in the morals and characteristics I value with Maxey, and I refuse to make that same mistake again.
2. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
2017 NBA Draft, Pick 4
Speaking of regrets, this evaluation is a doozy.
I was so high on Josh Jackson coming out of Kansas that I compared him multiple times to Jimmy Butler. Someone at the wing position with top-shelf athleticism who could handle the ball, make plays for others, and find enough ways to impact the game from a scoring standpoint as well as defensively.
At the end of the day, I ended up being the most wrong about his jump shot and how it never worked out for him. His three-point efficiency saw a spike over the second half of his first year, where it seemed everything he shot off the catch from the corners was finding a way to go in.
Jackson’s hot streak couldn’t overcome the overall mechanical deficiencies in his form. A wonky catapult-like shot has continued to hold him back in his career, not to mention I put a little TOO much faith in his handle and passing reads.
Not only hasn’t he been the greatest outside shooter, but he is also turnover prone when he’s had too much offensive responsibility. Now role-wise, he hasn’t had the same volume within an offense since he was on the way out of Phoenix. But when given the opportunity, Jackson could never put it together for extended enough stretches.
And even though the things I’ve outlined aren’t career enders because of his ability to defend one-on-one and make plays in transition, they are if he’s not able to focus both on and off the court because of other distractions.
While I won’t spend too much time here going over any specifics because I wasn’t deep enough as far as intel dating back to college to legitimately report anything, there were signs even back at Kansas that Jackson struggled with some things.
Unfortunately, those issues manifested themselves at the NBA level. And at the end of the day, you can’t become a better basketball player if you can’t get on the court and actually play the game enough.
So while there were some signs on the tape that Jackson would have a difficult time hitting his highest of outcomes, there was enough intel to where I should’ve put more stock into it and not been so eager to have him as the top overall player on my board in 2017.
In conclusion, my regret has nothing to do with ranking him as a lottery talent or suggesting a high upside. It was dubbing him as the best overall talent in the draft without taking those other negative factors into more consideration.
Being a number one overall pick means far more than simply having the talent to justify the selection. There are leadership responsibilities that come into play with being the face of a franchise. Maturity, communication, and dedication are important characteristics of any player supposedly worthy of that draft capital.
The lesson I learned from Jackson is to take EVERYTHING into account when handing out a ranking at the top of my draft board.
3. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
2018 NBA Draft, Pick 5
When I talk about “bias” and sticking to my guns, Trae Young put me in the most hot water.
I remember one of the first roundtable meetings I was part of at EV Hoops, the private scouting firm I worked at before I pursued more public scouting opportunities. We were discussing players who weren’t as highly ranked in the ESPN and RSCI Top 100 and trying to figure out whose early season performances could lead to massive spikes in their draft stock.
One of the interns who came on at the same time that I did wanted us to buy into Young incredibly early on in the year. He pointed to how well he performed statistically before he even got to Oklahoma, and he pulled apart different aspects of what he was showing in college to illustrate the type of ceiling he could have in the NBA.
Prolific playmakers who can shoot from all over the floor don’t exactly grow on trees. Those who have those traits and also put up historic levels of production in college are even rarer.
Young’s case should’ve been so much clearer to me after watching enough of the film. Early on, when I dug into the tape to figure out if he was worth skyrocketing up my board, I questioned some of the burst in traffic, decision making, passing velocity, and shooting efficiency. Did Young make the RIGHT decisions to justify an NBA team drafting him and essentially giving him the keys to the same house he’s lived in his whole life?
Was he worth the show being entirely centered around him? Could he continue to average 28 points and 10 assists in the most difficult professional basketball league in the world? And if he wasn’t the type of high-level decision maker, passer, or shooter that others were billing him to be, was he best suited as a backup point guard? And if THAT was the case, why am I talking about drafting him as high as fifth??
It turns out that all of those concerns I had, along with his size and liability on the defensive end, have been made null and void. Young is one of the league’s best guards PERIOD. And I’ve been proven wrong ten times over.
While I was correct that year to favor Shai Gilgeous-Alexander higher than the general public and buy into his upside at 6’6” with plus length, I was also wrong to anchor myself to my bias against Trae. Even after beginning to see the light on why his ceiling was special enough to roll the dice higher than where I had him ranked at 15, I kept him there on my board and have regretted it ever since.
Now Young has taken his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, and he leads a dynamic backcourt with another player who I’ll share some words about later on.
I’m sorry that I doubted you, Trae.
4. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
2020 NBA Draft, Pick 1
Anthony freaking Edwards. Or should I say Anthony “Freak-Of-Nature” Edwards?
I remember sitting down and watching his performance in the Maui Invitational against Michigan State. That second half of basketball was one of the best I’ve ever seen from a scoring standpoint. Edwards just kept giving the Spartans tough shot after tough shot, and he looked unstoppable. It was as if I was watching another legendary shooting guard give an opposing defense the business.
And with his size and athletic ability, THAT is the game I should’ve just brought myself back to each and every time I sat down to try and rank him in the 2020 draft class.
Yet, I didn’t. And my mistake haunts me to this day because of how good Edwards already is.
There are some players here from more recent drafts like ‘20 and ‘21 that I have lower only because they’re still so young that we can’t definitively sit here and say today that we know how their futures are going to play out.
And while I could make that same argument for not having this much regret within the span of only two years, Edwards is a different breed of star already.
When I ranked him fifth in my Top 25 Under 25, I mentioned that it wasn’t just the talent that pleasantly surprised me. It’s his maturity and leadership that have given him the edge, to me, in his development so early on.
Just as I said in the Jackson section, top picks are drafted to be the next face of a franchise. Even with the Minnesota Timberwolves already having Karl-Anthony Towns in place as a star, Edwards was taken to hopefully one day lead the franchise in a direction they haven’t stared down in quite some time.
In six playoff games this past season, Edwards stepped up to the plate and answered the call of being a number one option and potential defensive stopper.
He gave the Memphis Grizzlies the business at times, a good team on defense, mind you. Nailing jumper after jumper from deep, there were stretches in some of those games he looked like the Edwards from Georgia that I saw tear it up against Michigan State.
And there’s no way Edwards could’ve gotten to that point already if not for hardcore passion for the game and the drive to be more than just a complementary player to KAT.
Edwards’s friendly nature, desire to get better, and willingness to bond with his teammates (and, frankly, everyone around him) shows that he’s more than equipped to lead the Timberwolves to great heights. And having a player at the center of the locker room who can connect the dots and bring everyone together is what every franchise hopes to find in the lottery.
Marry that with the fact that he’s one of the most gifted athletes P3 has ever tested, AND he has parking lot range, and Edwards is primed to live up to his monstrous ceiling.
So why then did I have him FIFTH on my 2020 draft board?
I didn’t bet enough on his intangibles either. I saw a player on the court who was an inefficient scorer and playmaker coming back to his decision-making, he was turnover prone in college, and his willingness and engagement on the defensive side of the ball waned at times.
No, I never bought into the rumors that he didn’t love basketball, but I did question if he had the understanding of how to play the game at a high enough level to live up to his potential.
The truth is, a lot of scouts like me fall into the trap of skewing too far toward the decision-making side of the game and paint the picture of “does he have the IQ that some of these other guys do to succeed?”
An answer to that question that I’ve come around to accept is that it’s likely a no, but a lot of these kids are also 19 and 20 years old. Having too high of expectations from a processing standpoint, and that can even bleed into some defensive concerns, is just downright unfair. Not to mention I just don’t want to be caught calling someone dumb or stupid in a scouting report because that’s just not fair.
What I’ve been trying to do a better job of is understanding what kind of role did a player have before they got to college, and are they being asked to do something completely different? And in turn, what would that look like at the professional level?
Sometimes a player is tasked with too much responsibility out of the gate when moving up a level in competition. But if that player has physical ability that no one else has and a skill set that, when brought along with the other parts of the game could be absolutely incredible, DON’T BET AGAINST THAT PLAYER!
Athleticism isn’t everything, but it can be when married with the right skill set. I put far too much stock in things I shouldn’t have with Edwards and underrated just how quickly he could become one of the best two-way wings in the NBA.
5. Lonnie Walker, San Antonio Spurs
2018 NBA Draft, Pick 18
Would it surprise anyone if I said that I had Lonnie Walker fourth overall on my 2018 draft board? All of you are surprised? Good then, at least I know I have your attention!
Why did I buy in so much on Walker as a prospect? To put it frankly, I wanted to buy in on the 6’4” shooting guard with a 6’10” wingspan who showed flashes of awesome shot creation off the dribble, a nasty ability to get to the basket, freakish bounce, and defensive potential.
At his best, Walker locked up other perimeter players in college. I watched him in person put the clamps on guys even dating back to high school, using his length and foot speed to form a wall against other lead ball handlers. Throw in that I also saw him drill a number of tough looks from the outside and throw down some killer dunks, and I was sold on what he could be at the NBA level.
When making bets on players, a lot of evaluators tend to point to the guys who “look” like stars. Do they have the athletic ability to explode down the floor in transition, rise up over the defense and throw the hammer down? Are they comfortable taking certain shots and pulling up from anywhere to put points on the board? Do they have the instincts and willingness to sit in a defensive stance and guard someone on the other end?
Those are the guys who scream “star potential” to me; when drafting near the top, it’s been my philosophy to star hunt as long as one can. Take the upside swing on a guy who, if he puts it all together, could be downright spectacular on the biggest stage.
However, I overlooked one very important thing that stands out to me more than his lack of off-ball defensive awareness, sloppy dribble, or poor shooting habits: INCONSISTENCY.
My biggest regret with how high I ranked Walker was I talked myself into the tools and raw potential and put too little stock into inconsistent production at the college level.
There would be stretches of games where Walker would put 20+ points on the board and do it in a variety of ways. The shot would be wet, the finishing would look awesome, and he would pop athletically. Then there would be contests where he just flat-out disappeared on the tape, and I never quite wrapped my head around why.
Well, that Lonnie who disappeared has been the Lonnie we’ve seen in the NBA. No, it hasn’t helped that Coach Pop hasn’t given him consistent runway for the San Antonio Spurs, but Walker hasn’t done a ton to prove he’s worth more playing time. The shot hasn’t been nearly as consistent as the 35% shooter on good volume we saw in college, and his handle hasn’t been tight, leading to turnovers when he’s tried to do too much too quick off the bounce. And defensively, he’s been a bit of a mess at the NBA level.
It’s not that there still isn’t top-end talent inside of Walker because there is. But SOMETHING has held him back from bringing it out on a game-to-game basis, and the evidence was there in college.
When something in your gut tells you as a scout to buy into those times when a player shows you over the course of an entire season who he is, listen to it. I didn’t, and bought into way too much of the pure talent, and now Walker is on his second team looking for a fresh start with the Los Angeles Lakers.
I sincerely hope Walker gets his career back on track and proves himself like Malik Monk did with that very squad last year to earn a new opportunity.
6. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic
2020 NBA Draft, Pick 15
Yes, it’s a little too early for me to fully regret my evaluation of Cole Anthony. I still believe in the pre-injury ascension we were beginning to see last season in which he was quietly putting together a potential All-Star case.
My regret with Anthony comes from having him as the top player on my 2020 board.
Yes, I had him FIRST OVERALL…
Why would I take a leap of faith like that with Anthony?
Well, for starters, I believed in the man I saw Anthony as both on and off the court. I could tell that his teammates loved to play with him, and I saw a mature communicator who knew how to engage and deal with others. That type of leadership at the point guard position, to me, is incredibly valuable.
Not to mention every time we see Anthony on social media during the offseason, he’s backing up his talk and is in the gym absolutely grinding. This man lives in the gym as he develops offseason routines with his fellow Orlando Magic teammates.
From a character standpoint, Anthony has the complete package for someone who I could draft to lead my team from the guard spot.
As far as his skill level, he’s a three-level scorer who is crafty around the rim, capable of pulling up from the mid-range at weird angles, and is a legit threat off the catch and off the bounce from three.
He is an underrated pick-and-roll playmaker and competitive defender for his size, and I saw legitimate star potential with Anthony. And to a degree, I still do.
But after the first few years of their careers, having Anthony over the likes of Anthony Edwards and even LaMelo Ball has proved up to this point reckless. Yes, I even had James Wiseman and Deni Avdija over those two as well.
The moral of this story is that I may have royally screwed up the top of the 2020 class. Along with Maxey, I have a number of lessons that I learned from that draft specifically.
But with Anthony, even if he works out and stays on course to live up to the type of player I feel he can be, the game of basketball is trending away from point guards who don’t have elite physical separators in terms of size or speed. Anthony isn’t a bad athlete by any means, but he’s not elite.
With the number of jumbo perimeter creators in the game today, along with the continued focus on finding size and length with shooting skill on the wing, the margin of error for smaller guards who don’t have that top-shelf burst to blow by anyone is getting narrower by the year.
The one thing that can save Anthony in terms of being more than a sixth man is his shooting ability. I firmly believe he’s better than the career 33.7% shooter he’s been from deep, but there are nights where he can’t buy a jumper, and it significantly impacts the other parts of his game.
When the defense plays to his perimeter lethality, he can pump and get by guys leading to a number of good things that can happen when he gets downhill. It’s when defenders don’t have to worry about the jumper where too much falls apart, as he doesn’t have the size and strength to consistently finish over and through NBA defenders.
And when he’s playing with tunnel vision and not taking his teammates into account, the turnovers pile up, and one questions whether he’s worth a starting role or if he’s better suited off the bench.
Those questions led a lot of evaluators to drop him to the back end of the first round on their boards. And while those scouting reports have been proven wrong, Anthony hasn’t shown enough on a consistent basis to warrant bucking the recent trend of drafting size and length at as many positions as possible.
In order to make it past those physical prerequisites, one has to bring outlier skills or traits to the table. Anthony hasn’t done that YET, but there’s still time in my mind for him to do so.
7. Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
2016 NBA Draft, Pick 29
There isn’t really a TON for me to say on my evaluation of Murray, except for the fact that I never got past the “group think” portion, which is why I ended up feeling right about where he was drafted in the first round.
The main concerns in the mainstream draft space were that Murray had the size, length, and tools to play in the NBA, but he lacked the scoring threat and passing skill to separate himself as a starter and potential star in the league. Evaluators back then also undersold his defensive impact and how he could guard multiple backcourt positions in the league.
Boy, were they, myself included, wrong.
Murray has clearly put in the work to improve his ability to progress through multiple reads out of the pick-and-roll to make better decisions in setting up his teammates. He’s above the 50th percentile per Synergy as of last year in terms of both scoring and passing out of that play type. He rates out well enough in isolations, is excellent in hand-off situations, and is a better shooter, particularly off the bounce, than given credit for being.
What he’s done to improve as a pull-up shooter inside the arc has opened up more windows for him to pass effectively or get to the rim. And we know with his speed that he’ll continue to rate out well and prove a problem in transition.
His overall three-point percentage and rankings finishing around the basket should be higher for an All-Star level guard, but he rebounds well on both ends for his position and is as dynamic of a multi-positional perimeter player as you’ll find in the NBA.
Just because a player is “raw” in college doesn’t mean he can’t grow into something more in the NBA. And when he has plus size, length, and speed, it gets easier to imagine what a top-end outcome could look like for a player like Murray.
What kills me here, though, and why Murray’s evaluation is a regret of mine is, as I mentioned before: I fell into “group think” on him. I didn’t take the time at that point in my career to think far enough beyond the current landscape and imagine what the potential could look like five years from draft day.
I did it with Lonnie Walker, and it burned me. I didn’t do it with Murray, and it burned me. The NBA Draft is an absolute crap shoot all the time, and sometimes the situation is a major factor in a player living up to their potential. But both players were drafted by the Spurs, and look how Murray turned out. Murray’s work ethic has never come into question, and he’s proven how serious he takes the game of basketball on the court.
My point here is that the lesson I’ve learned with Murray is that I’d rather miss on being a tad too imaginative with player outcomes. Bet on the upside, especially if the physical tools are there. Don’t narrow your opinion too much based on what others think.
Find a case to make, give a reason in your argument, and don’t back down as a scout. Stand on your own two feet!
8. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
2018 NBA Draft, Pick 3
I don’t have any regrets with Luka Doncic in terms of my overall player projection. I saw him as a star-level prospect before the draft, and I bought into the fact he could be a special player.
My misstep in where I ranked him comes from the fact that I had him second on my board.
That’s right: I was one of the scouts who had Deandre Ayton first overall, and I praised the Phoenix Suns for drafting him.
What I bought into with Ayton was how dominant he could be from a physical standpoint as a big. His ability to rebound, run the floor, finish, AND the shooting and passing flashes he showed all intrigued me. I envisioned a David Robinson-like player at the next level, and that’s a guy who I would love to bet on with the top pick in the draft.
But I didn’t put enough stock into Doncic’s credentials as I should’ve. This man has essentially won at every level he’s ever played at and has had ridiculous success even in the NBA playoffs so early in his career. No, he hasn’t won a title yet, but he’s still under 25 years old and has one of the best playoff points per game averages in league history.
Doncic was a cold-blooded killer as a scorer over in Europe, and as the No Ceilings podcast guys pointed out in a recent episode, his mastery of the pick-and-roll offense at such a young age is something we rarely ever see from any prospect at the same stage of their careers.
Luka was as unique of a prospect as they come. Oh, and he’s 6’8” with a handle, post-up game, outside shot, legitimate rebounder, and one of the most confident sons-of-bitches I’ve ever seen.
Boy, do I regret not having him first overall that year. I put too much stock into the negativity that was buzzing around me in the office and with certain people I talked to about him. I heard enough comments suggesting he was too slow and heavy-footed to do the same things he was doing overseas against quicker, stronger athletes in the NBA.
All of that talk pre-draft was poppycock. Doncic’s footwork, understanding, vision, and post skill give him enough to work with even if he isn’t the most fleet of foot. He’s bigger than virtually any other backcourt player who tries to guard him, and he can see and shoot over a ton of defenders in the NBA.
Always go with your gut, and try to limit any noise that tries to sway you one way or the other. Take other viewpoints and opinions into account, but NEVER let someone else’s argument put doubt in your head until you’ve done the research and thought it through. At the end of the day, you can always see something that someone else can’t. It’s up to you to trust your scouting instincts and not put too much blind faith in another evaluation.
9. Jared Butler, Utah Jazz
2021 NBA Draft, Pick 40
Admittedly, I may have been irrationally high on Jared Butler coming out of Baylor.
While I wasn’t preparing “rankings” for the 2021 draft, I was assigning players by the tier system anyone would be familiar with if they’ve listened to the Draft Deeper podcast.
Butler earned a Tier 3 grade from me, which I would classify as a bonafide starter in the league at some point in their career.
That may not sound like a bold claim for a player who helped guide their team to a national championship and looked excellent in doing so.
What WAS bold about where I stood on Butler was the fact I would’ve been comfortable taking him as high as #7 (!!) if I were the Golden State Warriors during that draft.
Now I wasn’t trying to play too much into any potential health concerns that were on the table at the time, more so placing him there in my final mock draft for the podcast based on the talent.
Butler was a 6’3” guard who had the best handle in the class, was crafty getting to his spots, an underrated finisher through contact, and a deadly shooter both on and off the ball. Oh, and he developed great pick-and-roll chemistry with multiple teammates in college.
Butler’s defense, competitiveness, and willingness to fit into any situation, evidenced by his success next to another ball-dominant guard in Davion Mitchell, all drove me to envision similar or greater outcomes at the next level.
Similar to my overconfidence in how Cole Anthony’s game has translated up to this point, Butler doesn’t possess any of the outlier physical traits I’d be looking for in a guard to fit in today’s game.
Butler isn’t a jumbo-sized playmaker, doesn’t possess top-end speed or quickness, isn’t overly long, and is, for the most part, a below-the-rim athlete.
Sure his skill level rivaled that of any other guard in his draft class based on both the tape and statistical output. But the NBA is about more than just skill and determination to separate oneself.
The NBA is one of the most physically gifted sports leagues in the WORLD. Skill, work ethic, attitude, and character can all help close the gaps between players, but a certain baseline as far as measurements and athleticism are concerned needs to be met to live up to a starter/star billing. Otherwise, it becomes exponentially harder for anyone who doesn’t meet those thresholds.
I’m still in on Butler as an NBA player. As long as he’s healthy, I still think there is a starting point guard in there waiting to be unleashed. This past Summer League run has me less excited about where I stand though.
While the Utah Jazz squad he captained wasn’t the most talented group in the field, Butler looked multiple steps slower against his competition. He wasn’t able to get by guys and create separation inside the arc to take advantage of any potential passing windows or scoring opportunities around the basket.
Butler was left having to live as a three-point gunner, and when that shot isn’t falling for him on top of not being able to make much of anything else happen, it’s hard to still make a definitive starter’s case for him in the league.
I’m hoping that my eyes deceived me last month and that the Butler I evaluated at Baylor can work just as well, if not better, in the NBA. But given what I just outlined, I shouldn’t have mocked him over players with more size and athletic ability like Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody.
10. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls
2021 NBA Draft, Pick 38
Even though it’s likely too early to definitively say my evaluations and projections regarding Jared Butler as well as Ayo Dosunmu and the player following, there are still lessons to be taken away.
And the one regarding Dosunmu is an important one echoed throughout this piece: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!
What’s funny about my projection of Dosunmu is that it was spot-on according to how his rookie season went.
I projected Dosunmu as a second-round talent not because I couldn’t envision him as a starter down the road but because I thought he needed the right fit to bring out the best of his skill set.
Dosunmu, at least to this point in his career, isn’t a high-volume playmaker for others. He’s not the traditional “table setter” that some other point guards are, but he’s a scoring combo who can quickly put pressure on the defense in a hurry.
At 6’5” with good length and speed as well as burst, Dosunmu fits well into the NBA game because he can play at pace as well as pick and choose his spots in halfcourt situations.
His jump shooting was more of a question mark coming out of college than some would care to admit, so that, along with the fact he isn’t a high-level passer, gave sort of a false ceiling to my evaluation of Dosunmu.
What I said at the time of the draft, though, was that I believed in Ayo if he went to a team that brought him off the bench and worked him into the NBA game by letting him be him.
Taking the pressure of doing everything for everyone off of him and letting him thrive as a score-first guard could unlock the better parts of his offensive game. He’s a tough-nosed guard, a good rebounder for his position, and a willing defender. Should he get the ball in situations where he could make quick decisions, either applying pressure at the rim or catching and shooting, Dosunmu’s value as a player could rocket.
And boy did it.
Dosunmu stepped into the starting lineup for the Chicago Bulls throughout the year and, for my money, was one of the ten best rookies in the league. His major leap in his pull-up shooting ability inside the arc, as well as his efficient 2PT scoring and efficiency from deep, gave him an offensive floor that fit well with what the Bulls needed from him this year given the injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.
Posting a better than 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the year, good shooting splits, and 1.5 combined steals and blocks per 36 minutes, Dosunmu exceeded my expectations along with many others, given his draft slot.
What I missed was trusting my own scouting instincts. I saw this outcome for Dosunmu yet didn’t put enough faith in a guard who checked so many boxes but just didn’t fit in a prototypical, positional box. The NBA game is so open nowadays to the point where whether you believe in 12 positions or none, at the end of the day, if you can dribble, pass, shoot, and defend, you belong on the court.
So even if a player you evaluate doesn’t fit in a traditional box, don’t let that weigh too heavily on your scouting report if the positives play greater to the strengths of where the game is going.
BONUS: Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
2022 NBA Draft, Pick 17
Tari Eason deserves a shoutout in this column.
For the record, I never thought Eason was a bad prospect. Far from it.
Once I got enough LSU tape under my belt, he was a Top 20 guy for me for the remainder of the draft cycle. At 6’8” with long arms, massive hands, verticality, and excellent speed, it’s hard to write off any NBA case of his even before looking at the skill package.
And Eason jumped out for a variety of reasons on tape, but also in the box score.
Despite coming off the bench, Eason was the team’s leading scorer, as well as its best defensive playmaker. A tenacious rebounder on both ends and a sneaky decent passer, Eason put together quite the case to wind up as a lottery pick in the 2022 draft.
But I didn’t fully buy in.
While his shooting touch is still fairly questionable, along with his finishing over and through defenders, given his physical profile, I underestimated just how easily Eason could generate open looks at the rim.
Whether in transition, cutting along the baseline, or ripping through off the catch and getting to the basket at blinding speed in just two steps, Eason’s open attempts were how he racked up such an efficient shooting percentage inside the arc.
Even if he isn’t the knockdown shooter or scorer in traffic, Eason found ways to pile up points in bunches at LSU. An active defender on the other end, Eason was a gambler’s delight but still made good things happen more often than not.
At Summer League for the Houston Rockets, I saw far more than I was expecting.
Eason sat down and defended anyone who came his way. He gambled far less in those games and used his size and length to his advantage to swallow up opposing wings and forwards.
Offensively, he confidently took any open look from the corner he got to keep defenders honest so he could lure them out and blow by for the easy dunk or dump-off pass.
And in transition, forget about it. Eason picked the perfect spots to leak out and get a quick finish on the opposite end of the court.
Plus physical tools, a translatable role, and plenty of room to grow. I was so fixated on his fit in the halfcourt game of the NBA playoffs. And even if and when the Rockets get back to postseason contention, and he proves to be inefficient early on in his career, there’s so much to like to where I shouldn’t have nitpicked his evaluation to death.
THAT is the lesson that I’m already taking away from Eason. Sometimes, the simplest of scouting reports hold true over the deepest of dives and self-questioning. It’s almost comical to me that I didn’t have a lottery grade on him at this point.
Yes, what I’m talking about is Summer League, but it’s hard not to envision Eason taking advantage of the same opportunities once the regular season rolls around.
I should’ve done a better job fighting my early season bias and adjusted by ranking accordingly.
Never be afraid to change and adjust your evaluation as you dig further into the process. It’s OK to be wrong and admit you’re wrong as long as you learn from it!
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