Andrew Nembhard is Basketball's Macaroni and Cheese | The Prospect Overview
Gonzaga’s reliable senior point guard gets his flowers. Plus, the BaumBoard Top 30, Zack Austin is the Draft Sicko Deep Cut Prospect of the Week, and more!
Over the last few weeks, Gonzaga’s senior point guard Andrew Nembhard has been on an absolute tear.
Sure, Nembhard’s statistical profile over the past few weeks is outrageous, but the overall numbers are pretty nice, too. He’s averaging 11.7 PPG on 46.1/36.5/87.0 splits, 5.7 APG to 1.8 TOV, 3.2 RPG, and 1.6 SPG, and he’s doing it on the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Despite being an older prospect, Nembhard isn’t showing any signs of slowing down in terms of improvement; each of those counting numbers, except for turnovers, is an improvement from the prior season. Even the turnover numbers are excusable, though, as his usage rate has increased and his assist-to-turnover ratio remains sublime. Despite posting strong numbers and demonstrating tangible steps forward across the statistical spectrum, Andrew Nembhard is rarely the subject of NBA Draft discussions. There are a few understandable reasons for it. He’s not the best NBA prospect on his own team—that’s Chet Holmgren. He’s also not the biggest surprise prospect on his team—that’s Julian Strawther. But the biggest reason Nembhard doesn’t generate much talk is that at the end of the day, he’s the basketball equivalent of macaroni and cheese.
Let’s be clear: I’m talking about the stuff in the blue box. “Kraft Dinner,” as the Canadian subject of this article probably calls it. A few weeks back, on a Saturday morning, I was tired and burnt out. When I went grocery shopping, I knew I needed to buy something to make for dinner that night, and the last thing I wanted was anything that required the slightest bit of effort. Then, a lightbulb went off in my head: Kraft mac and cheese with popcorn chicken. It was fantastic; the type of dinner I wished I could have had every single night when I was seven years old. Kraft macaroni and cheese isn’t exciting. When you prepare a scrumptious box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, you don’t brag to your friends about it. Still, everyone understands that it’s good, it’s tasty, and it gets the job done. There are more nutritious, fancier, and sexier options out there, even within the mac and cheese realm! Everybody loves to go gimmick-heavy on macaroni and cheese now, adding bacon, lobster, and all sorts of other stuff. Often, those macaroni and cheese dishes suck and end up being less than the sum of their parts. Sometimes what you really need is that neon-orange, powdered cheese goodness.
Andrew Nembhard isn’t a “pre-draft” guy who you can brag to your friends that you discovered. He isn’t a high-ceiling upside swing who could become an All-Star. There are likely going to be a few guys taken after him who end up reaching a higher peak in the NBA. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth drafting.
The basics here are good: Nembhard is 6’5”, and as indicated by his previously mentioned assist-to-turnover ratio, he’s a trustworthy decision-maker. I’ve long felt that trustworthiness is one of the most undervalued traits when discussing prospects, especially older ones. As the NBA has evolved into a faster game that requires players to rapidly make correct decisions on a consistent basis, the barrier to entry for young players has gotten higher; this is why you see so many more first-round picks spending time in the G Leauge now. Players who make fewer mistakes and process the game at a high level are going to have an easier time adapting. Look at 2021 draft class members such as Ayo Dosunmu, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Trendon Watford. They weren’t the most electric athletes, but they were known for being unselfish, seeing the floor well, playing hard, and not making decisions that would make a coach rip their hair out. Those adages hold true for Andrew Nembhard.
When evaluating NBA point guards, how they manage pick-and-roll situations is of great importance. Thankfully, Nembhard is exceptional in this area. He currently grades out in the 88th percentile on Synergy for overall pick-and-roll derived offense. One part of it is Nembhard’s scoring package. He grades out in the 92nd percentile in “All jump shots off the dribble in the halfcourt,” and he grades out as “Very Good” on both runners and shots around the basket, per Synergy. If you sag back, he can pull up and drain a jumper in your face. If you play him tight, he can take you to the rim and use his length to finish at the cup. The second part of his pick-and-roll brilliance is his ability to see everything on the court paired with his gorgeous passing arsenal. Nembhard can hit the roll man, spot-up shooters, or cutters, and he’ll always deliver the most efficient pass to get them the best look possible. He can dish out lobs, sneaky bounce passes that he looks off with grace, or even rapid-fire skips. Nembhard has a supreme sense of where everyone on the court is at all times, and he also has the ability to pass his teammates open. Nothing is off the table when Nembhard is operating a pick-and-roll.
Defensively, Nembhard is solid. His feet aren’t the quickest, but he knows what he’s doing, and his length comes in handy as far as keeping him in the play. The effort is always there on this side as well, and Nembhard will fight over screens to stay with his man. He does a great job of contesting jumpers, and his balance prevents him from getting blown by on closeouts. Nembhard knows when to be aggressive with his hands for swipes without fouling. I have a few concerns about how well he’ll do when chasing around players who are more movement-heavy, but I don’t think he’ll be dead in the water or anything like that.
Coming into the year, the biggest concern about Nembhard was his outside shooting. The reservations were reasonable; he’d been a career 32.6% shooter from distance headed into this season. Early on in the year, the concerns appeared to be validated on the surface. Through ten games, his three-point percentage was an atrocious 26.5%. If you dug deeper, though, the signs were encouraging:
Now, Nembhard is shooting a career-high 36.5% on three-pointers for the year, and he’s doing it on four attempts per game, which is also a career-high. Since that increased volume has been paired with his tantalizing uptick in shot variety and difficulty, I’m buying the jumper. Nembhard can hit triples after flying off screens, pulling up off the dribble, or off a nifty stepback. He went from a questionable shooter to a man with a full bag from long range.
I understand why people don’t want to talk about Andrew Nembhard. It’s more intriguing to wonder what could become of Peyton Watson, UCLA’s toolsy mystery man who sporadically turns up and makes mind-bending defensive plays but also goes several games in a row without scoring. The conversation around a player like Jaden Hardy is more heated, as folks can bicker about how much value flashes in the G League have when paired with disappointing production. JD Davison is far less reliable than Nembhard, but there are holdouts on him due to his livewire athleticism. But sometimes, when people try to do too much with the macaroni and cheese, it ends up being a flop. People don’t like to talk about Kraft macaroni and cheese, but it’s reliable, and it’s damn good.
Throughout the season, I’ve run an Expanding Big Board, adding one prospect each week. With the arrival of the NCAA Tournament, I figured I would reveal my Top 30 as of right now. I will then hold off on sharing the board for a while as the tournament plays out. This week, I’ll touch on the new additions to my board.
The First Round BaumBoard as of 3/16/2022:
1. Jabari Smith Jr.
2. Chet Holmgren
3. Jaden Ivey
4. Paolo Banchero
5. AJ Griffin
6. Johnny Davis
7. Keegan Murry
8. Jalen Duren
9. Bennedict Mathurin
10. Jeremy Sochan
11. Dyson Daniels
12. TyTy Washington
13. Tari Eason
14. Ochai Agbaji
15. Jaden Hardy
16. Kendall Brown
17. Walker Kessler: Kessler has emerged as the premier shot-blocker in college basketball. Additionally, flashes of three-point shooting give me hope that he can become average from long distance at the NBA level. I’ve long remained agnostic on the shot, as his free throw percentage has never been anything to write home about (58.1% across two seasons), and he’s prone to occasional bad misses on his jumpers. Still, even if he can’t consistently hit from the outside, there’s an NBA center here. He’s a good screener, he has great hands, and he’s automatic around the basket—the hallmarks of the solid NBA big man. The chance he could shoot it makes him my favorite big man prospect right now outside of the Chet/Duren grouping, but I do have real concerns about his ability to guard on the perimeter with NBA spacing. His tournament performances could hurt his stock if he looks out of place against good athletes.
18. E.J. Liddell
19. Mark Williams
20. Patrick Baldwin Jr.
21. Malaki Branham: I was earlier on the Branham train than others, but I’m still not entirely convinced of his NBA fit. I love his poise with the ball, and his outside stroke is pretty. While I don’t think he’s the 42.5% three-point shooter his percentage suggests, I think he’s going to be respectable from long range. Paired with his passing vision, ability to get to the free-throw line, and strong frame, the NBA tools are there. Defensively, I’m a bit less convinced. His steal and block percentages aren’t great, and his feet look iffy chasing players around on the perimeter. That said, he’s carrying a heavy creation burden on offense, and I think he may be better than he’s shown. Outside of the Top 20, his savvy and creation paired with an NBA body make him worth a swing.
22. MarJon Beauchamp: I think Beauchamp is going to be a good role player for a long time, but I don’t think his ceiling is much higher than that. Still, he’s an awesome passer for a forward with excellent feel for the game, he competes on defense, and I’m a believer that he’ll be a respectable three-point shooter in time. Though his G League percentage from deep is far below average, he converted nearly 40% of his threes on high volume when he played in community college. I love his defensive versatility; his athleticism and footwork allow him to cover guards, and his power prevents big men from punishing him down low. The motor never stops with Beauchamp, and it’s most evident in his rebounding, where he’ll soar in and get his team a few extra possessions each game.
23. Wendell Moore: I’ve beaten this drum for some time now. I get it; he’s inconsistent and is prone to making frustrating decisions. Still, he’s only going to be 20-years-old come draft night, and he’s averaging 13.5 PPG on 50.5/40.2/78.8 splits, accompanied by 5.4 RPG and 4.6 APG. He’s 6’5”, he’s a good athlete, and he’s got long arms. Defensively, he’ll come and go a bit, and his discipline isn’t always consistent. Still, when the game gets tough, he’ll lock in. His production on a good team in a good conference, paired with his tools and explosiveness, make him a first-rounder for me.
24. Bryce McGowens: I’ll be frank: there is a chance he doesn’t work out at all in the NBA. He’s been a subpar three-point shooter, he hasn’t shown much juice as a passer, and he’s been responsible for some of the worst defensive plays I’ve seen from a draft prospect this season. Still, guys who are 6’7” and have his knack for scoring don’t grow on trees. He gets to the line like a madman, and his mid-range touch, paired with his free throw numbers, gives me cause to believe in his three-point shooting long-term.
25. Nikola Jovic
26. Ismael Kamagate
27. Christian Braun: Braun profiles as a potential dribble-pass-shoot wing. He’s a good athlete, and he’ll compete on defense. He has drastically improved his finish ability, which has taken his passing game on drives to a different level. My biggest concern with Braun is his assertiveness combined with his iffy first step, as he’ll occasionally pass up open jumpers only to take two tentative dribbles toward the lane before passing it off. His decision-making will need to be more crisp in those spot-up settings at the next level.
28. Keon Ellis: Ellis is a fantastic vertical athlete who can finish above the rim and can shoot threes at a respectable clip (35.6% on 5.5/game this year). Defensively, he’s a terror at the point of attack, he offers awesome shot blocking for a wing as a help defender, and his technique makes up for his slender frame when bigs try to post him. Ellis is a late-bloomer, and it shows in his recent passing improvements. I still don’t fully trust his decision-making and passing as much as others in this tier, such as Beauchamp, Moore, and Braun, which is why he slots below them for now.
29. Gabriele Procida: Much like Keon Ellis, Procida is a bouncy wing who has grown right before our eyes. He’s a great athlete, fearless shooter, and eye-popping finisher. Defensively, his tools are there, but he’s undisciplined at times. His handle isn’t consistent yet, but it has improved, and he’s exhibited interesting craft as a driver and passer. Still, his game is raw, and he’s very thin. Procida will need a team who can be patient with him, but if he finds that, I love his trajectory as an eventual “3-and-D” wing.
30. Ryan Rollins: Coming into the season, I liked Rollins as a scorer and thought he had some interesting passing craft, but that he was likely two years away. Instead, Rollins took a giant step forward in both of those areas, and he looks ready right now. He’s a fast bucket-getter who can make slick reads when the defense over-commits to him. My reservations with him come as a defender; he shows a real lack of fight on that end. I’ll chalk some of it up to his high usage role on offense, but it wasn’t a strength for him last year, either. I see him more as an eventual electric bench scorer than a starter for now.
-The Draft Sicko Deep Cut Prospect of the Week is High Point’s Zack Austin! Austin made the All-Big South Second Team and was named Big South Freshman of the Year. He has an uncommon skill set. At 6’4”, Austin scored 14.4 PPG on 41.4/32.2/72.4 splits. The three-point number is more palatable when you consider he takes over six per game. His shot variety is nice, too, as he doesn’t need to have his feet totally set to connect from long range. He’s also averaging 8.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 2.2 BPG. The production is equally stellar and bizarre. Austin is a big-time leaper, which is why his rebounding and block numbers are so high. He’s a true lob threat who tallied 27 dunks on the year, per BartTorvik. It gets messy when you ask me, “what position does he play?” Sure, versatility is all the rage these days, but there’s a difference between being versatile and not really being anything. I guess I would categorize his position this past season as a stretch four. Despite his shooting, Austin isn’t a guard. His handle is messy, and his hips are stiff, making his on-ball defense problematic when he tries to cover smaller, quicker players. I don’t know how scalable the “6’4” stretch 4” is to the NBA, let alone high major college basketball. He’s also old for his class and will turn 21 before the start of next season. If he can improve his hips, lateral footwork, and handle, there’s an intriguing prospect in here, but he doesn’t have as much time as most freshmen.
REVISION: Since this article was published, Zack Austin noted on twitter that he is 6’7”, not his listed 6’4”. In that case, he’s a far more intriguing prospect, both for high major colleges and the NBA.
-I was heartbroken when a Chattanooga buzzer-beater kept Furman’s Jalen Slawson out of the NCAA Tournament. Though the 6’7” forward has been a career 30% three-point shooter, he posted a tantalizing 3.3 STL % and 6.2 BLK % last season. The man flies off the floor for blocks and dunks. His reaction time is out of this world, and he has a strong body that allows him to bang down low. He’s got good feel, too, posting 3.7 APG. It’s borderline corny to do the “if he just figures out how to shoot!” shtick, but it’s true with Slawson. I’m hoping he gets an Exhibit-10 look from an NBA squad.
-Bryant’s Peter Kiss is the NCAA leader in points per game, but he’s probably not an NBA guy. His tough shot making and passing vision while driving the lane make him an entertaining play to watch, but his age combined with mediocre production when he played in a power conference make a big league career much less likely. The double redshirt senior is electric, though, and plays with more swagger than I’ve ever seen in a single human being. I need him on a Summer League roster more than I need to breathe. The idea of him chucking triples, taunting, and going wild in Vegas makes me giddy.
-Though it’s a bummer that we won’t get to see VCU’s Vince Williams Jr. in the NCAA Tournament, I love him as a “when the smoke clears” prospect. Younger players will get their feedback and head back to school due to the allure of NIL money and the chance to emerge as high-end prospects for next season—the way Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray, and Bennedict Mathurin did last year. As the draft field thins out and front offices spend more time on Vince Williams Jr., I’m confident his stock will rise. NBA teams can never have too many high-feel players with size and shooting, and that’s what Vince Williams Jr. is.
-Sticking with the Atlantic-10, I was impressed with Davidson star Hyunjung Lee’s defense against Richmond’s Tyler Burton in the closing moments of the conference championship game. I continue to think his feet are a bit better than they get credit for on the defensive end. I’m excited to see him match up against a Michigan State team with a bevy of strong, fast athletes to throw at him.