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The Resurgence of Zaccharie Risacher
Zaccharie Risacher had a disastrous summer of play, but he has rebounded to looking like the lottery talent we had hoped to see.
Expectations are a hell of a thing. Set them too high, and a player can be made to look like a fraud. Set them too low, and they quickly turn into everyone’s favorite sleeper. Most of the time, these two performances can be nearly identical, but the incoming expectations have significantly skewed how each player is perceived. It’s very early, but not many players in the 2024 NBA Draft will likely be as polarizing due to preseason expectations as Zaccharie Risacher.
Risacher has been a popular nomination for the Top 5 in the “way too early” mock drafts over the last couple of years. Risacher had shown tremendous defensive versatility and intriguing offensive flashes on big international stages, so the excitement over a fluid 6’8” 16-year-old wing is understandable. However, when players like that start getting placed in the Top 5 conversation, the expectation immediately leaps to him being a primary creator. Unfortunately, not all growth is linear.
Last year, Risacher really broke onto the scene with a superb showing in the FIBA U17 World Cup with France. The defense was exceptional, and there were enough offensive flashes to warrant the Top 5 buzz. Unfortunately, Risacher followed that up with a rather putrid showing in the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer. His defense was still fine, but his offense seemingly regressed as he had numerous games where he was a complete non-factor. As someone who had really high expectations for him, it was beyond disappointing.
The vast disparity between his expectations and performance made some even question if he’s a first-round talent, myself included. Now that we’re 11 games into his season as of writing this, Risacher is still appearing in vastly different realms on boards due to failing to live up to the cliché and often misapplied “primary creator” tag.
If the view or expectation of Risacher continues to be that of an on-ball creator, then he will likely never live up to it. Instead, let’s shift the expectations because we now have years of samples that are telling us that that just simply isn’t who Risacher is. And that’s OK. When we look at him instead as a connecting 3-and-D wing, the view of him quickly pivots from “he just doesn’t have it” to “he can do a lot of fun stuff.”
This season, Risacher has played really well. He has struggled to create on-ball, but his connective passing and off-ball scoring has been really good. On top of that, his defense is some of the most versatile and consistent that we’ll see from any prospect this year.
Risacher has some fascinating defensive potential due to his on-ball versatility. One of the more interesting aspects of Risacher’s defense is that he frequently picks up the opposing point guard or primary creator, as we’ve seen from lanky wings like Jaden McDaniels and Mikal Bridges. Risacher has shown some inconsistencies in these situations, but as we can see in some of the following clips, there are plenty of encouraging signs that he’s figuring it out.
Here, Risacher has a lapse where he allows the ball-handler to drive middle and is a step slow in recovering. Most players wouldn’t have the length or ability to recover, but Risacher sticks with it. Risacher is now behind the ball, but his teammate’s off-ball dig forces the ball-handler to snake back to the right side of the rim. Since Risacher continued his pursuit and has tremendous length, he’s able to pin the layup on the glass.
Risacher’s physical tools ensure he’s never truly out of a play, but getting these point-of-attack defensive reps now will only help him in the long run. Despite some of the lapses due to a disparity in foot speed, Risacher has still displayed tremendous point-of-attack defensive prowess. He moves his feet well, has good instincts, stays low in his stance, and has the length to constantly affect shots in any area of the floor.
While Risacher’s length and instincts make him a menace of an on-ball defender, he is equally, if not more, impressive as an off-ball defender. Risacher does a great job of maintaining quality position away from the ball so he can consistently see the entire floor. He communicates well on switches, rarely gets caught ball-watching, and has the length and timing to be a legitimate weak side rim protector.
Here, Risacher’s man relocates from one corner to the other, and it would be very easy for him to turn off and simply follow him the whole way. Instead, Risacher keeps his head on a swivel, recognizes that the opposition is clearing that side for an empty side pick-and-roll, and sees that he is the last line of defense at the rim. As the roller receives the pass, Risacher is already making his rotation. This timeliness allows him to elevate at the same time, stay vertical, and force the miss.
This time, Risacher again shows his weak side rim protection capabilities. As the opposing guard drives, Risacher is defending on the opposite block. Risacher can’t rotate too early, or else he’d give up an easy drive-and-dump opportunity. Risacher times the rotation to perfection and uses his length to swat away the shot. From there, Risacher shows off some of his offensive intrigue by staying in the play, attacking the closeout in transition, and finishing with a Euro-step finger roll.
The unique defensive abilities of Risacher make him a fascinating prospect on their own. He can defend on or off-ball at a reliable level. His lack of bulk will make him vulnerable in certain matchups, but he is far from weak. Defense has never been a concern for Risacher, and it continues to get more refined by the week. Certain things need to go right for him on offense to earn the appropriate role, but if they do, Risacher could grow into a perimeter defender that NBA teams dream about.
Being a reliable shooter is one of the most crucial things a role player can do to earn minutes. It provides an outlet on offense, improves the team’s spacing, and is an easy way to get in a rhythm. Unfortunately, this is still the biggest question mark in Risacher’s game.
The sample size is still very small, just 40 total jumpers, but Risacher’s numbers still aren’t ideal. According to Synergy, Risacher ranks in the 1st percentile shooting off the dribble with 0.18 points per shot (PPS), shooting just 1/11. Risacher is much more effective at shooting off the catch, but the numbers still aren’t great. Risacher is scoring 0.89 PPS off the catch, ranking in the 32nd percentile, and shooting 32% (8/25) from three.
The numbers on their own are concerning, but there are also some signs that warrant optimism. For starters, Risacher looks significantly more confident than he did over the summer. He’s passing up fewer shots and is much more decisive in his decision-making. Also, Risacher has cut a lot of fat from his mechanics. They are much more compact and significantly quicker off the catch. It would be surprising if Risacher grows into an elite shooter, but it wouldn’t be outlandish for him to be league-average.
What gives Risacher more room for error as an off-ball scorer, though, is how good of an off-ball mover he is. Risacher is rarely stagnant and has shown an encouraging ability to fill his lanes in transition, cut off-ball, and run off screens. Oddly enough, Risacher is 3/3 from three after running off screens. His truncated mechanics and good shot preparation have made him an effective option. Obviously, three attempts aren’t a sample size to get over the moon about or make declarations over, but Risacher does look comfortable and confident in these attempts.
Risacher isn’t limited to just outside shooting when running off screens. He is showing that he can be relied upon to make the proper decision to attack the rim or find a teammate after coming off a screen. Risacher’s size allows him to pressure the rim, and his improved connective passing allows him to more consistently counter defensive rotations.
The reason that it’s so crucial for off-ball scores to develop at least a respectable shot is that it forces the defense to respect them. Without it, defenders can simply go under every screen to eliminate driving lanes and not worry about closing out. Risacher’s improved processing speed and decision-making are evident in his shot selection and passing, but it shines when looking at his willingness to attack closeouts. When the ball has swung to him, Risacher has rarely hesitated to attack the lane to create his own shot or one for a teammate.
Even here, Risacher doesn’t make the shot, but the process is perfect. As the ball skips to Risacher, the defender has to close out after having both feet in the lane. Risacher uses a firm jab step to send the defender reeling one way before crossing back in the other direction.
Risacher could’ve driven here and potentially dumped off to his teammate or drawn contact at the rim. Instead, he creates acres of space by stepping back to the corner. The shot is a little long and rims out, but the promptness of his decision-making, as well as his confidence, is exactly what you want to see from a young off-ball scorer.
As the season progresses, take a long look at the player Risacher actually is. We obviously never want to rule out anything for a player, but we also must be realistic about who they are. If we’re not, then they’ll only be set up for failure. It would be wonderful if Risacher eventually grew into an on-ball creator, but that feels unlikely. Instead of holding onto those expectations, try pivoting to view him solely as a 3-and-D wing. In that light, he’s still an incredibly appealing prospect who can defend a myriad of situations and provide a lot of off-ball offensive versatility. The timid, soft, and insecure version of Risacher we saw over the summer seems to be a deviation from the timeline, as he’s now playing with meaningful confidence and versatility. If you’re willing to pivot your mindset on Risacher, he’s more than willing to show you that he’s still a lottery talent.