The Prospect Overview: The Development of Tucker DeVries
Maxwell watched Tucker DeVries in person! He gives his thoughts on one of the most exciting mid-major prospects in the country! PLUS: Big Board Updates and Quick Hits across basketball!
It’s not lost on me that I’ve been very blessed since getting into this space. I started writing about basketball about a year and a half ago. I was late to the game, starting my Substack at 30 years old. In that time, I went from writing a blog, to being picked up by No Ceilings, to covering events in person with a credential, to interviewing up-and-coming prospects as well as their coaches. It has been a whirlwind. I went into this expecting nothing—it was going to be a fun little side project that gave me something to look forward to and would serve as a creative outlet. But in that time, the scouting process and basketball in general have consumed a much bigger piece of my life than I anticipated. On a recent road trip to visit my wife’s family, she asked me a question. “Do you ever wish you started writing about basketball sooner?”
The answer was an unequivocal “no.”
If I’d started earlier, it would’ve been a disaster. I was astoundingly immature. I loved running my mouth. I was stubborn. My mindset wasn’t the right one for much of anything, but especially for a technical process that requires patience, understanding, and empathy. I had no problem alienating people, something that would have limited the number of chances I would have received. Even if I did get an opportunity to run with something, my then-temperamental attitude and fiery demeanor likely would have led to me squandering it. I needed to grow up, and I needed to develop.
Timing is everything, and it’s also tricky. You never know exactly how the future will unfold. There are too many variables, too many potential points of intersection. While many of the prospects I write about are far more mature than I was at their same age, they still need to develop, just in different ways. It’s usually a question about how well they can make jump shots, how athletic they can become, or how they can survey the court at warp speed. And still, they’re tasked with making difficult decisions with little certainty. Which school should they play for? What if they commit to a school, but a coach recruits over them via the transfer portal? Should they go pro? What if they do, and they don’t hear their name called on draft night, setting them on a course with far less developmental attention and organizational investment than their peers? The possibilities are endless, in ways good and bad.
Drake’s Tucker DeVries, a 6’7”, sweet-shooting sophomore with athletic concerns, is in a position where he may be forced to make tough decisions as it pertains to his professional development. But before we get into that, let’s talk about last Tuesday night.
On January 10th, I made my way to the Credit Union 1 Arena in Chicago for a match-up between the University of Illinois-Chicago and Drake. Over the summer, I wrote about Tucker DeVries during my No Stone Unturned series and noted that I had a Top 45 grade on him going into the year. Since that time, his name has started to pop up more consistently on mainstream draft boards. Given that he came out of the gate meeting my expectations, it immediately became a priority of mine to see him in person.
During warmups, DeVries’s shooting touch was already on display. He was draining threes from deep off movement. DeVries also put in some work with his offhand around the basket. At one point, he took a single left-handed three and swished it. It’s truly remarkable how good every single prospect is at basketball. Let’s get into the actual game!
Athleticism Concerns and Defense
The first knock on Tucker DeVries is almost always his athleticism. He has a mundane build and doesn’t jump off the page from a physical standpoint. While he isn’t completely ground-bound or a total sloth, it’s fair to worry about what he might look like at the NBA level. Dunks and blocks are two easy shorthand tools to gauge athleticism. On the year, DeVries has a 0.9 BLK% and has only dunked twice. To be fair, DeVries had a 3.4 BLK% last season, and one of his dunks this year came in the halfcourt in Drake’s first match-up with UIC back in December. But still, those aren’t ideal numbers. If you sort recent forward prospects who have found NBA success over the last decade, his current block rate is toward the bottom.
Changes in direction can give him some trouble at the point of attack, and he doesn’t always have the burst or leaping ability to recover. He jumps best off two feet, limiting his ability to meaningfully contest at the basket without time to load up. Offensively, he’s struggled when teams put quicker defenders on him. Richmond held him to nine points, largely by going small against DeVries and forcing him to separate. UIC employed a similar strategy to great success. Junior wing Toby Okani (who will get some love in the Quick Hits section later) is a high-level athlete with size. Because Okani had a massive speed advantage over DeVries, the Drake prospect had a difficult time getting himself open off the ball and gaining distance on it.
Still, I feel that there is room for optimism when it comes to DeVries’s defense and athleticism. Take a look at the play below:
While DeVries struggled initially, he didn’t totally get burned. He did a solid job of keeping his arms up while sliding to wall off easier opportunities, he used his chest well, and he got off the floor enough to garner a block. It’s not a remarkable highlight, but it shows that he has enough to not be food for opponents if he loses a step, at least at the college level.
There are two other things that are working in DeVries’s favor. The first is that he is actually in much better shape than he was a year ago. During the previously linked No Stone Unturned piece, I had the pleasure of speaking with Drake’s Head Coach, and Tucker’s father, Darian DeVries. Coach DeVries noted at the time that “the biggest thing we worked on is changing his body. I think he’s completely changed the way he’s moved, the way his body looks. He’s taken a lot of pride in his nutrition. It feels like the way he’s worked out, he’s made huge jumps in a lot of phases of his game. He’s going to have a completely different look than he did a year ago.” This is true! Tucker is noticeably leaner and lighter. His arms have more definition, he’s thinner in his midsection, and he’s showing more wiggle when getting downhill. And now that he has that weight off him, he’s going to be in a better position to grow athletically going forward.
The second thing DeVries has going for him is his defensive maturity. Throughout the game, he was constantly talking and communicating with his teammates. What also struck me was that despite being slower-footed, he is so good at monitoring his man and the ball that he’s nearly impervious to back cuts. He has a great map of the floor at all times, preventing his man from getting to his spots and being ready to rotate or help when needed. Many young players struggle to keep up their levels of communication, lose sight of their man, or find gambling opportunities too tempting, but not DeVries. He knows who he is, and he knows how to play within himself in a way that benefits the team construct.
Let’s talk about how the actual game went as a whole. UIC did a phenomenal job of limiting DeVries’s opportunities with the ball. This threw a wrench into their offensive flow, leading to clunky ball movement. UIC led 35-30 at the half. Drake got it going enough in the second half to force overtime, but DeVries was still held to eight points, far below his season average of 17.8 PPG going into the night. Still, one of his early buckets drew my attention and showed off his offensive versatility.
On a simple inbounds play, DeVries set a screen before popping out to the perimeter for a beautiful three-point jumper. While the action wasn’t a complex one, and the concept of screening on an inbounds play to cause confusion for defenders is nearly as old as basketball itself, it worked. DeVries is going to excel in any setting on these plays. His passing chops make him a reliable inbounder, a player that defenses notoriously worry about losing as they re-enter the play. From there, his functionality as a movement shooter can cause headaches. If someone else is inbounding, his knack for hitting off screens and handoffs will still require defensive attention. He’s a Swiss army knife on these possessions.
DeVries got cooking in overtime, though, tallying seven of his 15 points during those five minutes. They came at a crucial time, too—starting with under 1:15 to play in a game Drake led by two.
Here, DeVries used a screen to get Toby Okani off him and Jace Carter on him. DeVries had a wildly successful outing against UIC back in December where he was often matched up with Carter, scoring 25 points on the night. DeVries gallops to gain a head of steam, then slows to freeze the defense a little. In doing so, he gets Carter on his hip. From there, it’s a rudimentary scoop finish on the other side of the basket to keep Carter out of the play en route to an easy two points. DeVries’s ability to leverage deceleration while keeping his dribble low makes him a dynamite pick-and-roll scorer. DeVries ranks in Synergy’s 97th percentile for scoring on pick-and-roll plays. Because of his shooting gravity, you can’t go under a ball screen; he’ll just pull up. He’s made 7-of-13 threes on pick-and-roll possessions as the ballhandler this season. So, defenders play him tight. Then, his knack for playing at different speeds, paired with his size and power, allows him to get where he wants inside the arc. While he prefers to attack going left, he’s not bad going right either, so there isn’t an easy place to funnel him.
Moments later, with Drake only up one point, this happened.
NBA range, the ability to pull off the dribble, and a willingness to step up in big moments. Check, check, check. Later, he would secure a defensive rebound, draw a foul, and sink both free throws.
Playmaking for Others
An understated area of DeVries’s game is his ability to set up his teammates. DeVries ended the night with three assists, and the two clipped above are the type of thing he’s capable of doing on a routine basis. In the first, he uses a fake to get his defender off balance before heading downhill. The opposing defender comes to help off the strongside corner, a tactic that many coaches refer to as “a big no-no.” DeVries immediately kicks it to his open teammate for an open corner three. In the second clip, DeVries shows expert timing and needle-threading ability during a pick-and-roll. The moment Garrett Sturtz begins to roll, a small window is open. Jace Carter is ready to switch, but Toby Okani is firmly behind Sturtz. DeVries not only recognizes this but throws the perfect pass for the occasion, a bounce pass that fits between the defenders while enabling Sturtz to continue his momentum toward the basket. The end result—an and-1 bucket at a critical juncture in overtime.
In overtime on Tuesday night, it was The Tucker DeVries show. Everything was on display—clutch scoring off the dribble, pick-and-roll scoring, and nasty passing. If you watched those five minutes, it would be easy to look at DeVries and go, “yup, that’s a This Year prospect.”
The first 40 minutes left room for doubt, though. When Toby Okani was putting the clamps on him, DeVries didn’t have an answer. Part of that was that Drake didn’t run much to open him up, but part of it is also that he just isn’t special from a speed standpoint. While he showed up big in overtime, he also froze toward the end of regulation when blitzed on an isolation possession, leading to a live ball turnover and a near three-point play on the other end, saved only by a missed free throw.
Tucker DeVries’s developmental trajectory is a fascinating one. I believe that with his combination of scoring and savvy, he can have a long NBA career. What I’m not sure of is his best path to make that happen. If he stays at Drake for another year, how much better is he going to get? Will he take a big enough leap from an athletic standpoint that it makes a difference, or would he simply just be entering the draft later down the road as an older prospect? Should he transfer up to a power program, stepping away from a team coached by his own father, so that he can have better facilities at his disposal? Or should he enter the draft, where he currently has a blend of believers and non-believers amongst the consensuses? Would DeVries be best working out in pro settings, learning on the job he wants with elite resources? But if he does that, what if he’s a mere late-round pick, two-way player, or undrafted signee with no guarantees? Will he still receive the level of attention and care that he needs to reach his zenith?
There are many paths before Tucker DeVries. If he wants to take his time and stay in school, I won’t begrudge him for it. Not every developmental trajectory is the same. I know mine, on a personal level, was a long, slow one. He doesn’t need to be a This Year guy, and I hope he doesn’t apply that pressure to himself. He took a step forward athletically at Drake this past off-season, and that’s on the table for him again if he goes back.
Still, it would be foolish to write him off for the 2023 Draft. While DeVries is only a 36.5% three-point shooter on the year, that number was above 38% prior to a cold outing against Murray State. His ability to hit shots off movement from far behind the NBA three-point line on high volume (11 3PA per 100 possessions) will always give him a serious gravity on the floor. His feel as a passer gives him an additional wrinkle offensively. Defensively, his knowledge, feel, and poise bolster his game in a way that can keep him above water. Players who are 6’7” (and he looks every bit of that up close), can truly shoot the ball, and know how to play the game are always in demand. In my opinion, he should test the draft waters and get feedback from NBA front offices before making a firm decision. That way, he can gather as much information as possible before deciding on the best developmental path for him. Regardless of what Tucker DeVries decides to do come June, I believe him playing in the NBA is a matter of “when,” not “if.”
The Expanding Big Board
Welcome to The Expanding Big Board! Every week, a new player is added to the board. Once a player is added, they cannot be removed. The current ranking is listed first, with last week’s ranking in parenthesis.
1. Victor Wembanyama (1)
2. Scoot Henderson (2)
3. Cam Whitmore (5)
Since my last column, Cam Whitmore has started to find his footing, at least as a scorer. He’s gone 60% on twos and 41.2% from three on a healthy 4.3 attempts per game during that two-week stretch. The shooting development that was on display toward the end of his high school career has been crystalizing. There have even been a few threes from deeper behind the line, which is great to see. He’s finishing at the basket. Whitmore has been more active and engaged as a cutter. Still, there is room for growth. I’d like to see him engage in drives quicker off the catch rather than trying to rely on his shaky handle to gain separation. He doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on his defender’s balance and momentum, occasionally attacking where the defender is sitting and getting nowhere as a result. As a passer, he hasn’t done much of anything. I’d like to see the interior dishing flashes he displayed in high school pop back up now that he’s got his feet back under him athletically. Defensively, he’s reacting better at the point of attack and sliding with more ease when guarding down. There are moments where he loses his footing, though, and his block numbers (one on the entire season) are pretty appalling, given his skill set.
4. Ausar Thompson (3)
5. Amen Thompson (4)
6. Brandon Miller (10)
Two things happened here. First, there was an overcorrection on my part. Even with the gathering/finishing/strength issues, Brandon Miller is still an enormous dude who can shoot the lights out, defend, and make plays. The second is that Miller has been adjusting and improving throughout the season. Since Alabama’s game against Houston back on December 10th, Miller has converted 60.9% of his twos. It hasn’t just been in transition, either—he’s doing it in the halfcourt. I still prefer the ceilings of the players listed above him, but Miller’s floor is stellar, and he has a real chance to climb.
7. Nick Smith Jr. (6)
8. Jett Howard (7)
9. GG Jackson (9)
10. Jarace Walker (11)
11. Anthony Black (7)
It’s been rough for Anthony Black since the spacing for Arkansas was decimated in the wake of injuries to Nick Smith Jr. and Trevon Brazile. While I expected a two-point percentage dip, his recent shooting struggles have been a bit concerning. The shot mechanics are a little further away than I anticipated, and his release speed can be slow. My confidence in his ability to at least keep defenses honest at the NBA level has dropped a bit, but I still love his upside and feel.
12. Brice Sensabaugh (unranked)
This may seem a little rich, and I get it. But Brice Sensabaugh is a force. He’s scoring an obscene 42.2 points per 100 possessions on 50.2/46.1/81.8 shooting splits. That combination of scoring volume and efficiency, for a freshman, is preposterous. For reference, Zion Williamson scored 41.2 points per 100 possessions. I’m not saying Brice is Zion—he’s not close. Zion was more athletic, had better feel, and was in a different galaxy than Brice as a defender. This is simply to point out how rare this type of scoring prowess is, and what a high-caliber scoring prospect Brice is. On top of that, he’s going to be NBA-ready from a strength and athleticism perspective. He will be impervious to bullying, and he gets up well off one foot.
There are still gripes to be had, of course. He doesn’t get all the way to the rim as much as I’d like, given his physical profile. Sensabaugh struggles to separate at times. He needs to develop his handle and footwork so he can get cleaner looks, as tough shot-making will only get tougher against better competition. While he’s starting to make plays more (0.6 APG through his first nine games, 1.8 APG through his last eight), he still falls victim to tunnel vision. On defense, he can be downright disastrous. He’ll totally lose his man watching the ball. While he has all the tools to be a good defender, he’s entirely too disengaged at the moment and has a lot of habits he needs to fix.
Still, I can’t bring myself to bet against Sensabaugh. He’s a rare scorer with fantastic physical tools. If a team can merely get him to pay attention on defense, he’s going to bring tremendous value in this range.
-I touched on Toby Okani above, and folks, he was A TREAT to watch in person!
He was the best run-and-jump athlete on the floor in that match-up by a mile. Still, to write off Okani as a mere toolsy player would be unfair. He is a technician on the defensive end who has mastered the art of “staying connected” around screens, preventing his man from gaining separation. Even when he does get a step behind, his speed and vertical explosiveness allow him to recover at a high level. The 6’8” junior is averaging 12.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.2 BPG, and 1.1 SPG on the year, with shooting splits of 51.5/41.4/67.9. Where it gets tricky with Okani is that his outside shot isn’t as reliable as the percentages may indicate. He’s a career 30.2% three-point shooter, and he’s only taking 1.6 3PA/game this year. While he’s listed at 210 pounds on UIC’s website, he still looks thin and can get bumped off his spot at times. Lastly, he can play too sped up at times, leading to turnovers. Still, Okani is an exciting, big-time athlete and tremendous defender. If he can find success as a shooter at higher volume, he could eventually work himself into the mix for NBA consideration.
-We’re no strangers to Brandin Podziemski here at No Ceilings, as our own Stephen Gillaspie wrote a phenomenal piece about him this past week. The 6’5” sophomore sniper has garnered traction due to his excellent outside shooting, converting 39.6% of his triples on 5.3 attempts per game this season. Where he’s really started to wow me, though, is with his growth as a passer throughout the season. He’s better at leveraging the attention he draws, playing with his eyes up, and hitting teammates with quick, sharp passes. Podziemski averaged 2.8 APG through his first ten games and is averaging 4.3 APG since then, with a meager 0.5 TOV increase during that same span. The playmaking leap is happening.
-UNC’s Jalen Washington may have had his breakout game against Virginia. After Tar Heels big man Armando Bacot went down with an injury, Washington was thrust into the spotlight and did an admirable job, scoring 13 points and securing six rebounds in 27 minutes of play. The 6’10” freshman with a 7’4” wingspan has baby-soft touch. Though he hasn’t hit a three yet on the season, he was lauded for his touch from the mid-range and beyond during his high school years. He’s still skinny, and he’s not a big leaper, but his size and skill make him worth monitoring as a multi-year stretch big.
-Kansas State’s Nae’Qwan Tomlin feels like a guy who is about to shoot up boards. The 6’10”, fourth-year player is averaging 10.9 PPG, 6.1 RBP, 1.2 APG, 1.2 BPG, and 1.2 SPG on 45.6/28.2/68.2 splits. I say “fourth-year player” in that he’s in his fourth year of playing college basketball, but also in terms of playing basketball in general. That’s right: he didn’t play ball prior to college. There are worlds of potential still yet to be had here, and Tomlin is already a critical piece for a 15-2 team in a power conference. He has potential to shoot, he moves well for his size, he can put it on the floor a little, and he has interesting flashes as a passer. Tomlin is big and nimble, sure, but his technique while guarding down and feel for the game both make him even more intriguing than his raw production for his experience level. Keep an eye on him.