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The Prospect Chemistry of Marcus Sasser
Marcus Sasser is one of the deadliest scorers in the 2023 NBA Draft. The NBA Draft Dude examines which NBA pros the Cougars’ guard most closely compare to.
Most people in the draft community hate NBA player comps when evaluating NBA prospects. I’m not one of them.
One of the most important—and seriously underrated—aspects of scouting for the NBA Draft is watching a lot of NBA basketball. The NBA is always evolving and new trends are constantly emerging, so if you as an evaluator aren’t up on this ever-changing landscape, then you're behind.
Having a deep grasp of a scout on NBA players is crucial to what we do. Understanding player tendencies and movements and skill sets at a micro level can help identify qualities that work for players of a certain archetype at a macro level.
That is why I have personally found value in using the dreaded “C” word in my evaluations. If I can see certain elements or patterns of a college or international player’s game in a pro that is either having success or struggles in the majors, it helps me see more clearly if there may be a path or not for the player that I’m scouting.
Does that mean I just take a look at a player’s measurables or stats and throw shit at the wall? Of course not. If you get lazy or even a little too ambitious with your comps you can get yourself in trouble. You don’t want to always jump to the best-case scenario. Just because a guard can shoot with some range doesn’t mean that you have to jump to All-NBA guys like Steph, Trae, or Dame.
I’m also not arguing that you should rely solely on comparing prospects to formulate your full scouting opinion. Every player is unique and no comp is going to be perfect. This is just a tool for your arsenal that can be used to identify markers and give some context to whether or not there may be a realistic pathway to success for a prospect at the NBA level.
That’s why at No Ceilings we call this exercise “Prospect Chemistry.” You mix a little bit of this player with a little bit of that player into your graduated cylinder, heat up your Bunsen burner, and watch your mad scientist experiment come to life.
The first player that I wanted to get in the lab with for this series was Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser.
Sasser is bound to be a somewhat divisive prospect this cycle because he is a 6’3” senior guard. Age scares people in the draft space. It IS an important element to consider when looking at a prospect, but it can be a little overrated when you get to a certain part of the draft. The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the deepest teams in the league by surrounding their star with prospects that were undervalued in part because they were “old.”
Sasser is a guy that I had a first round grade on last draft cycle and had he not suffered a season-ending foot injury would have most likely had his name called last June. Sasser staying in college for his senior year is not a talent issue but one of circumstance.
If you can shoot the rock at a high level both on and off the ball while being able to defend, there is a spot for you in the league. Sasser is quite good at both.
For this piece I’m going to be focusing on Sasser’s offensive scoring package, some NBA players that I see consistent flashes of in Sasser, and why that gives me optimism for his NBA translation.
One of Marcus Sasser’s best offensive skills is his ability to knock down self-generated three-point shots. And oh man does my dude get them up. Over the last two seasons, Sasser has averaged over eight 3PA per game.
The ability to get shots off at volume is a valuable NBA skill. Sasser has a tight handle and a deep bag of combo moves that he uses to create space and knock down tough shots in your eye.
The first skill we’re adding to our beaker is the step-back jumper. The step-back has been a go-to staple that the modern NBA guard absolutely needs in their arsenal and there are a variety of ways that NBA guards utilize it.
When I saw the footwork and suddenness of Sasser’s bag work here I immediately thought of Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey.
Maxey and Sasser share a lot of the same measurables as 6’3” guards with a 6’7” wingspan and the kind of quick-twitch athleticism that makes them hard to guard, as you don’t know if they’re going to use their burst to get in the paint or if they’re going to stop on a dime and get up a shot.
Sasser had his defender on an island at the top of the key and immediately went to work. Sasser uses a hang dribble hesi into a quick cross and transitions into an effortless between-the-legs step-back to create space and bury the jumper. Through the advanced footwork and lightning-quick release to get into his shot, it’s easy to draw parallels with the Sixers’ guard.
The way Maxey gets into his shot in the clip below is eerily reminiscent of the above Sasser sequence. Maxey similarly has his defender isolated at the top of the key with a bit more cushion than Sasser had, but Maxey uses a similar combo move to generate the look he wants by getting the defender off balance with the push cross right into the between-the-legs step-back three.
The step-back has been one of the most deadly space creators in basketball and the best creators don’t need many dribbles to make use of it.
Sasser is quick and shifty, plays at different speeds, and can stop on a dime at any time to let it fly. Defenders are going to commit to a hard plant so that they can anticipate a shot attempt and get a hand up. This allows Sasser to create the space he needs to get off a clean look on the stepback. All it takes is one dribble to freeze the defense and get the look he needs.
Maxey uses the same quick, efficient one-dribble step-back here to bury the shot over Fournier. Fournier closes short so Maxey knows that he doesn’t have to be fancy here. Just a slight bit of forward momentum with the one dribble off the catch to keep Fournier on his heels followed by the stepback to create the space to avoid a clean contest.
One of the big adjustments that college stars have to often make when they get to the NBA is relinquishing number one option responsibilities and showing that they can play off of other stars. Tyrese Maxey shares the court with one of the league's most dominant stars in Joel Embiid and much of his early career success has been because of how seamlessly he fits with him.
This ain’t your mama’s NBA where point guards have to initiate every set. Bigs are way more skilled and much of the NBA sets we see initiated today are run through the high post. Quick pitches or handoffs allow guards to come off movement and get into quasi-ball screen scenarios with defenders that are chasing.
With a quick guard like Maxey that can get to the hoop in a flash, a defender may try to cheat under and meet him at the spot, which is exactly what known lockdown defensive stalwart Buddy Hield (kidding!) does here. This is a no-win scenario for Hield because Maxey is also a knockdown shooter and in this case, he punishes Hield for going under the screen.
Marcus Sasser showed off that same ability to play off his big and punish unders off the pitch at the NBA Combine scrimmage last May. If you can’t fight over that screen, that's going to be easy money for a shot maker like Sasser.
What I love about this particular play type from Sasser is the recognition he showed in making different reads for the different ways that the defense guarded the action throughout the game. The more ways that you can counter how the defense guards you, the more valuable you become on the floor.
This clip below shows the same action as the two above but this time Sasser shows his ability to leverage the threat of his shot to make plays for his teammates.
This time as the guard goes over the screen and the big shows, Sasser calmly hits the roll man with the space that he creates due to the threat of his shot.
That’s NBA-level stuff.
While Maxey and Sasser get into their shots in similar ways, they are also alike in how they leverage their shots to get downhill and get to the basket.
NBA spacing is a game-changer for guards that can attack the hoop and Tyrese Maxey has mastered the art of pressuring the rim. Maxey is strong, bursty, and coordinated; if he gets you on your heels you’re in a world of hurt.
In this clip, the Sixers start with a decoy screen from Harris into the high ball screen from Drummond. Poeltl is left on an island in drop and Maxey effortlessly makes his way to the rim.
Houston runs a similar set here with the decoy into the high ball screen to allow Sasser to attack the big in drop. As soon as Sasser sees that he can attack the big’s top foot he turns on the jets and gets downhill for the tough lefty finish in traffic.
One of the most integral aspects of at-rim finishing for NBA guards is touch. NBA big men are large, long, and mobile, so guards need to be able to use different techniques to avoid getting their shit sent.
In this clip, we see Maxey beat the first level of defense with his quick burst and the recognition that in order to get the layup off cleanly over the rotating defender, he’ll need to smoothly place the ball high off the glass over Reaves’ outstretched arms.
Sasser shows off that same soft touch in the clip below. What makes the finish even more impressive is that Sasser finishes high off the glass with his offhand.
Soft finishing touch is important for small guards to use at the rim but it’s also an important aspect of having a strong float game. The floater is integral for smallish guards in today’s NBA and there’s nothing prettier than that high-arching floater softly dropping through the net. Not only does it give you another option to attack the big when you operate out of the second level, but it also has been weaponized by guards like Trae Young and Immanuel Quickley as a way to create oops for their bigs. But neither Trae nor Quick are the next element in our prospect science experiment.
Instead, we’re going to head to Silicon Valley and examine some of the skills that Marcus Sasser shares with Golden State’s Jordan Poole.
Poole has earned a reputation as one of the league’s premier heat check guys and his touch from everywhere on the court earned him a major bag this offseason. Teams are so afraid of Poole’s outside shooting that it opens up opportunities for him to attack a shifting defense from different areas of the floor. Teams are forced to chase and when they go over screens Poole can bust out his floater with range out to the free throw line.
Sasser doesn’t constantly run off movement in Houston’s system like Poole does in Golden State, but Sasser still uses the threat of his shot to get into his float game in the mid-range. Similarly to the Poole clip above, Sasser gets downhill going off the big’s left shoulder and drops in a smooth free throw line floater off one foot to punish the big for not meeting him at the level.
Golden State’s system has helped Poole diversify how he gets into his shots in the league, but he always had a bag of isolation moves. In the clip below Poole recognizes the mismatch with the 6’11” Jock Landale guarding him and immediately goes to work. Poole doesn’t have to dribble the air out of the ball. As soon as Wiseman clears, Poole hits him with a between-the-legs hang dribble hesi step-back. That hesi is key because it drops Landale back slightly to play the drive and gives Poole enough breathing room to hit the stepback to get the shot off cleanly.
Sasser has that in his bag too. Texas State switches the guard-to-big ball screen creating an iso for Sasser in that same spot. Same combo and same result. Jumper in the eye.
Poole’s hair-trigger may have been one of the reasons he dropped in the draft but it’s tailor-made for early NBA offense. The Phoenix Suns changed the game with the 7SOL offense as teams started to better understand the benefit of playing faster and faster to get shots with an unset defense. Covering shooters in transition scramble situations is a nightmare and Poole makes the Pelicans pay here as he runs right to the left wing and lets it fly off a quick pitch.
Give a shooter an inch of room in these scenarios and it’s curtains. Sasser’s release is too fast to not step up sooner and his ability to shoot in rhythm running out in transition is NBA-level shot-making.
When you’re describing Marcus Sasser as a player, you’d be remiss not to mention his two-way ability. Even at 6’3” in shoes, he’s a feisty point-of-attack defender with quick hands and is an absolute demon in the passing lanes. I’m not going to specifically dive into what makes him a great defensive prospect but that element of his game combined with his shot-making is bound to lead to comparisons to Kyle Lowry.
So let’s mix in a little bit of the former Villanova Wildcat into our Sasser concoction.
Sasser is an excellent shot-creator but he doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands to be a threat on the floor. Lowry turned himself into an excellent distributor of the basketball with the ball in his hands but his ability to mesh with other primary ball handlers on the wing has led to a prolonged professional career. In Toronto, he shared ball-handling duties with DeMar Derozan and Kawhi Leonard and in Miami, he currently shares those duties with Jimmy G. Buckets (the G stands for gets).
These wings take the pressure off of Lowry as a primary creator and allow him to generate easy looks from deep off spot-up attempts.
Sasser may play with the ball in his hands a fair amount at the next level but it won’t be in the same role he’s in now. NBA talent has never been deeper and even the worst teams in the league are flush with creators. Knockdown spot-up floor spacing is always going to bring value and Sasser’s clean quick release and deep NBA range should allow him to thrive playing off his teammates.
Lowry’s off-ball shot-making, defensive ability, and high feel have also allowed him to play next to other small guards like Fred VanVleet. Having multiple ball-handlers allows teams to play fast so as soon as the rebound comes off the rim and Lowry sees VanVleet push the ball up the floor he sprints to the corner leading to an easy transition pull.
During the Combine scrimmage Sasser shared the floor with Golden State’s Ryan Rollins, another shifty guard that likes to operate with the ball in his hands. Sasser is a sniper with or without the ball so as soon as Rollins recovers the loose ball, Sasser hauls ass and beats everyone up the floor for the easy hit-ahead corner three.
Sasser’s versatile shot profile from behind the arc bodes well for his NBA translation.
When you’re a more than capable shooter with a versatile shot profile, it demands respect from the defense. As you fly around the court or just wait patiently spotting up, alarm sirens will go off when the ball finally swings your way. This allows guys who can also put the ball on the floor to attack hard closeouts and get paint touches.
As a small guard Lowry is adept at getting into the paint and dropping in the floater off two feet over bigs trying to protect the rim.
We saw Sasser’s comfortability with the Poole-esque one-legged free throw line floater earlier, but he’s also got that first step burst to attack a close out, get deeper in the paint, and bring out the mini hop step two-foot float game we saw above from Lowry.
One of the shared experiences of all three of these NBA guards is that they fell into the 20s of their respective drafts. NBA teams over-thought each prospect for a myriad of reasons, but if you went back in your Delorean and redrafted them, they’d all end up in the Top 7. Marcus Sasser’s draft stock opened up at 21 in the No Ceilings $DRFT IPO. Evaluators will argue that Sasser is too old to take in the lottery and that due to his height and the upsizing of the guard position there will be question marks about his overall fit at the next level. This science experiment doesn’t guarantee NBA success for Sasser, but it does illustrate a bag of NBA skills that should translate to the next level.
I don’t envision Sasser to be a Day One starter at a deeply talented position, but I do believe that he plays a winning brand of basketball with clear NBA translation that will allow him to thrive in multiple schemes on both sides of the ball.
We’re still very early in the ever-evolving 2023 NBA Draft cycle; prospects will rise and fall and new prospects will emerge onto the scene, but as it stands now, Marcus Sasser is unabashedly in my lottery. Sasser doesn’t fit the mold of the prototypical modern NBA guard archetype, but his polished NBA-ready skills that we have broken down in this piece along with his solid base of complementary skills that can be developed under an NBA infrastructure, give him a higher ceiling as an NBA contributor than he’ll be given credit for being. Sasser will in all likelihood not be selected as high as I personally feel that he should, but as history always shows us, that doesn’t have any bearing on his NBA potential. It certainly didn’t stop Maxey, Poole, and Lowry from exceeding their pre-NBA expectations. If prospects weren’t slept on, we wouldn’t have fun draft steal stories. No player comp is going to be perfect and shining light on the similarities between those three players sets a high bar. There’s no guarantee Sasser joins that group but if he does we need not be surprised; all the elements of successful NBA guard play were there.