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The Rise of Kobe Bufkin
After an impressive 2022-23 season, Michigan Wolverines sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin is surging up boards for the 2023 NBA Draft
Confidence is a beautiful thing. Especially when it comes to the basketball court. A surge of confidence can ignite the development of a player. As evaluators and fans of basketball, there’s nothing as beautiful as watching things start to “click” for a player.
It’s something that is often difficult to describe. At the same time, it’s unique in its beauty when watching develop for an individual. The game starts to slow down and we witness the potential of a certain player start to rise to the surface.
That’s just what happened during the 2022-23 NCAA season for Michigan Wolverines sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin. Throughout the 2023 NBA Draft cycle, Bufkin has seen his stock undergo a magnificent surge up draft boards. It’s well deserved, as Bufkin has been one of the most impressive prospects to evaluate throughout the 2023 landscape.
Bufkin wasn’t a player that was expected to cement himself as one of the top guard prospects in the country. During his freshman year, the crafty combo guard averaged 3.0 points per game in just 10.6 minutes. But it just goes to show what an offseason of work, combined with a resurgence of confidence, can do for a young talent.
Coming into the 2022-23 NCAA season, Bufkin was listed at 6’4” and 195 pounds. When you throw on the tape, you’ll notice that Kobe plays even bigger than that reported weight. Things got even more interesting for Bukin with his measurements at the 2023 NBA Draft combine. Bufkin measured in at 6’4.25” WITHOUT shoes, as well as a 6’7’.75” wingspan.
The rise of Kobe Bufkin throughout the 2023 NBA Draft cycle attacked like an unstoppable force. At one point in the season, the confidence started to flourish. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at the splits throughout the year when it came to his game log. In his first eight games, Kobe was still trying to cement himself when it came to his role for the Wolverines. He averaged 9.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting just 37.0% from the field in 31 minutes.
But it wasn’t until a game at Minnesota on December 18th that the pieces would start to come together. Bufkin finished with a respectable 15 points, two rebounds, four assists, and three steals in a road win against Minnesota. But he would also finish the game shooting 7-of-11 from the field. It would be the spark that ignited an impressive development.
First 8 Games:
9.6 PTS | 3.9 REB | 2.9 AST | 1.4 STL | 1.1 BLK
37.0 FG% | 20.7 3P% | 89.5 FT%
Next 9 Games:
15.3 PTS | 3.4 REB | 3.0 AST | 1.4 STL | 0.4 BLK
55.9 FG% | 43.3 3P% | 77.8 FT%
Next 9 Games:
12.7 PTS | 5.0 REB | 2.8 AST | 1.0 STL | 0.7 BLK
47.1 FG% | 34.6 3P% | 81.8 FT%
Last 7 Games:
19.0 PTS | 6.0 REB | 3.0 AST | 1.4 STL | 0.6 BLK
50.5 FG% | 41.7 3P% | 89.7 FT%
Throughout the year, the confidence started to pour in for the sophomore guard. One of the first things many will point out is the fact that Bufkin was a sophomore. But something to take into consideration was his age.
Despite being a sophomore, Bufkin won’t turn 20 years old until September. There’s plenty of potential that just started to rise to the surface, making him one of the most desired guards in the 2023 draft class when it comes to NBA organizations.
The surge of confidence couldn’t be overlooked, as Bufkin has now cemented himself as an intriguing two-way talent in the backcourt. While the rapid growth in production throughout the year was impressive, the film proved to be just as special.
FEEL FOR THE GAME
The number one thing that jumps on tape when watching Kobe Bufkin is his impressive feel for the game. Bufkin showcases tremendous patience, using hesitations and body fakes to create any sort of window to attack. His change of gears is fantastic, as he understands the brilliance of using a slight pause to get a defender to show his cards.
After using a ball screen here from Hunter Dickinson, Bufkin analyzes the play and understands that he’s got a mountain of a last line of defense to get around when it comes to Purdue big man Zach Edey. Once Bufkin notices the slight hesitation from Edey, he throws it into another gear to attack and finish with finesse.
Bufkin understands that while he might not have elite open floor speed, he’s the most dangerous when it comes to using his burst in tight windows. His recognition and ability to put defenders in positions to struggle are special. Despite being listed at around 6’4”, Bufkin plays like a giant. He showcases an understanding of how he can use his frame to create ideal positioning.
This is a transition opportunity here for Bukfin, who continues to survey the floor and analyze the defense. Once he throws it into a higher gear, Bufkin works to get his defender to bite, carrying his momentum across the lane. That’s when Kobe gathers himself for an impressive spin and finish.
The rapid improvement in Kobe Bufkin’s outside shooting was a delightful development throughout the year. Bufkin shot just 31.1% from three during his first 18 games of the 2022-23 season. In his last 15 games, that number improved to 40.0% from three on 4.0 attempts per game.
If it can become a consistent development moving forward, it’s only going to make Bufkin that much more of a headache with his offensive versatility. Bufkin’s confidence started to develop when it came to his ability to score at multiple levels. Soon, he started to seek out opportunities to punish the defense as a scoring threat. His footwork and desire to create windows made him a difficult assignment for defenders.
CREATING A WINDOW
Another great example of just how smooth Kobe Bufkin can be when he sees daylight. Bufkin might not have elite “sports car-like” speed, when it comes to NBA floor generals such as De’Aaron Fox or Ja Morant, but he has just enough wiggle to put you in his rearview mirror. Once the defense gives him an opportunity to attack, Bufkin understands a simple hesitation can be just enough to get downhill and finish with touch.
While Bufkin has shown that he can finish with finesse around the basket, he’s also not afraid to get up and finish with some nastiness. Bufkin gets an on-ball screen here from Hunter Dickinson before he attacks the lane. Once he realizes that the secondary defender is out of position, Bufkin clears the runway for takeoff with an emphatic slam.
There are so many times on tape where Bufkin continues to impress with his playmaking and general feel. Sometimes, it’s not the flashiest of plays. It’s the simple reads that Bufkin makes that can really get a scout or evaluator in their feelings. Bufkin is a chess player, consistently looking one move ahead to exploit a defense. His maturity as a playmaker cannot be overstated. Bufkin will work to get the opposition to collapse before throwing a last-second dime to his teammate. He’s constantly looking to make the right read, surveying the floor like a robot who is calculating angles.
SHOOTERS BEWARE (3 Clips)
These are probably some of my favorite reads from Bukin in this three-clip sequence above. As stated previously, Kobe is constantly going to calculate the opportunities on the floor for a high-quality shot. That goes especially when it comes to his ability to create for others. He will analyze rapidly and demonstrate the recognition that a collapsing defense means that a teammate has a wide-open opportunity.
Here we get three different examples of Bufkin creating sensational catch-and-shoot opportunities for sharpshooting teammate Jett Howard. The first involves a simply drive and kick, in which Kobe feels out the defense and reacts to an open Howard in the corner. The second clip is Bufkin simply just reading the help defenders. Once he realizes that the weakside defender is anxious, Kobe throws a skip pass on the dime for an easy look.
Finally, we get Kobe coming off an on-ball action and doing something that he does best. Live-dribble passes. He has all of the tools to be an “underappreciated” playmaker at the next level, especially with his willingness to be a poised floor general.
The defense is just the absolute cherry on top when it comes to Kobe Bufkin. I’ve talked about it before on my “Basketball Bandits” segment on YouTube. Bufkin and Kentucky guard Cason Wallace have some of the most violent hands you’ll see in the 2023 NBA Draft class.
But another area that has me foaming at the mouth for Bufkin on defense is his desire to be a rim protector. He will meet you at the mountain top with aggressive intentions. Kobe is an intelligent player on both sides of the floor, but his defensive awareness is going to have NBA organizations in their feelings. A number of great examples here of Bufkin analyzing the play and working to protect the basket.
Kobe Bufkin has the tools to be a “highway robbery” regardless of where he’s selected on draft night. There’s versatility on both sides of the ball that is just begging to be unlocked. With the confidence starting to come alive, it won’t be a surprise if Bufkin is a popular name in NBA front offices. The rise of Kobe Bufkin has been sensational to watch throughout the 2022-23 season. Time will tell just how high Bufkin can go on draft night.