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Uncommon Sensabaugh | The Prospect Overview
Brice Sensabaugh's scoring proficiency at Ohio State was near-unprecedented. But will the rest of his game hold him back?
When I first got into the NBA Draft scouting space, I knew that one of my weaknesses would be just that—the fact that I was just getting into it. I’d always watched loads of basketball, both at the college and NBA level. But I wasn’t taking diligent notes, I was just taking in games as a highly engaged spectator. I wouldn’t have the same rolodex of knowledge that more established evaluators had at their disposal. So, I tried my best to compensate for that in as time-efficient a way as possible—by making spreadsheets. I started to compile the data on successful prospects. Basic, baseline statistical numbers. It would be a helpful tool for comparing players. If I think a player reminds me of say, Trae Young, I can quickly look up Trae Young’s college metrics and see how close or far away I am in that assessment.
There were two areas where this helped me the most—finding red flags and identifying truly special, outlier skills. For example, if a player projects to play primarily as a 3/4 forward, but they have an assist rate below 6 or a defensive rebounding percentage below 10, the odds are working strongly against them. That doesn’t mean they won’t stick in the NBA, but it would be relatively unprecedented.
Brice Sensabaugh, however, pops up on the other side of the spectrum in a few regards. As a 6’6” forward for Ohio State, his output as a scorer was uncommon, especially for a freshman playing at a high-major level. While there are concerns with his game, I see him as a player who warrants serious, legitimate lottery consideration based on what he’s brought to the table.
To put it plainly, Brice gets buckets. He scored 40.3 Points per 100 Possessions. Going back to 2016, I only have two other drafted players who met that mark—Trae Young and Zion Williamson. It’s not normal for a guy to score at that clip. I’m not saying Brice is either of those guys; let’s get that straight. Trae was a much more advanced passer, and Zion Williamson had an obscene 70.8 eFG% during that season. Still, Brice Sensabaugh was wonderfully efficient while pouring it in at that clip. He finished the season with scoring splits of 48.0/40.5/83.0. Running a BartTorvik query on high-major freshman with a usage over 30 who shot 50% on twos and 40% on threes, only one other name came up: former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz.
Lowering the usage requirement to 20 but adding in a free-throw percentage over 80% still puts Brice in stellar company. Lauri Markkanen, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Malaki Branham, and Devin Booker stand beside him.
While Malaki Branham had his ups and downs as a rookie in San Antonio, he showed encouraging flashes throughout the year. The other three have all utilized their offensive skills to make a substantial amount of money. They made several big improvements along the way, so this isn’t a free meal ticket for Sensabaugh, but it’s an encouraging marker for where he’s at now.
Where I feel that Sensabaugh is most often overlooked is as a three-point shooter. Despite connecting on 40.5% of his triples on over 11 attempts per 100 possessions, he’s not often mentioned with the likes of Brandon Miller, Gradey Dick, and Jett Howard as one of the better shooters in this draft class. I’ll get to why that is in a minute, but we’ll start here. One thing I’m confident in is that if you put Brice Sensabaugh on an NBA floor tomorrow, he would be able to space the floor as a spot-up shooter. He made 44.4% of his catch-and-shoot threes this season, per Synergy. If you give him an inch of space, he’s going to launch, and there’s a good chance he’ll convert. He does a great job of keeping the ball high off the catch, avoiding a dip in his mechanics. By doing this, he’s not only able to get his release off faster, but he puts less “noise” into his shooting motion. With a more concise form, there’s less room for things to go wrong. The end result is a jumper that he can get off quickly and repeatably.
In Ohio State’s offense, he was often tasked with either creating his own shots or simply acting as a spot-up, standstill target. His flashes as a movement shooter were impressive, though. He’ll utilize misdirection and shoulder fakes before coming off screens, enabling him to create extra space. When he catches the ball, he gets his feet under him well, establishing balance in a timely manner so that the defender won’t have time to recover. From there, he transitions seamlessly into his shooting motion. Though only 17 of his threes came moving off-ball into his shot off a screen or handoff, Sensabaugh made eight of them. It’s hard to extrapolate much from such a small sample, but it’s fair to wonder if this could be a real upside area given how comfortable he looks on these possessions.
The reason I feel Sensabaugh’s three-point shooting is overlooked is that the focus of his game is often his mid-range scoring prowess. He took 128 shots off the dribble as opposed to 120 off the catch during his freshman year at Ohio State. While his shot diet was a tough one, it was efficient for him. Sensabaugh made an astounding 52.6% of his pull-up twos. He was a real-deal shot-maker at the college level. Even when the court was cramped and tall, long players had their arms outstretched, Sensabaugh could still knock down a shot at the elbow, as Corey wrote about earlier this season.
There’s some real craft, too, beyond simply lobbing up the ball in traffic. Sensabaugh has some tricks with his footwork and 235-pound body to generate extra space for himself. While his handle isn’t the flashiest, he maintains good control of the ball and has a sense of balance, enabling him to stop-start, change directions, sidestep, or go into a stepback to get himself room. He’s good with his shot-fakes in this part of the court, too. Whenever he’s left with any room to breathe, it feels like he’s going to score. His strength enables him to push guards around and get where he wants while his dribble moves help him gain separation against more plodding opponents.
Where things get a little dicey for Sensabaugh is at the rim. For someone with his usage rate, he doesn’t quite pressure the cup the way one might hope. Only 16.3% of his shots in the halfcourt came at the basket. While there, he’s a pretty mundane finisher, too, only making 51% of his attempts. There are two big things to unpack here—why doesn’t he get to the rim all the time, and why does he struggle when he’s there?
As basic as this explanation may sound, a big part of the reason Brice Sensabaugh doesn’t get all the way to the rim a lot is because he doesn’t look to get all the way to the rim a lot. He’s often content getting to his spots in the mid-range and shooting from there. While there was only a marginal difference in efficiency for him there at the college level, that may be tougher to maintain at the NBA level. He’ll be facing better athletes, longer defenders, and stronger opponents than he did in the Big Ten. Those tough shots will only get tougher as a scales up in competition. The other element, though, is that Sensabaugh doesn’t have a ton of straight-line burst or go deep into his counters. He’s not going to catch-and-go, then immediately get two feet in the paint the way a Tyrese Maxey can. Playing more assertively off the catch and attacking right away as opposed to surveying the floor could help combat that, though. The other answer would be to develop more polish with his dribbling. He has some moves right now, but when they don’t work, that’s generally the end of the line. He’ll pick up his dribble and either take a shot anyway or kick it back out. If he can string moves together and continue to react to what is in front of him, he’ll get to better spots. When he dribbles for longer periods of time, he’s looked good, it’s just a matter of continuing to look for the counter. If he can do that, he’ll better be able to leverage his strong frame to get inside positioning, too.
Then, there’s the actual “ball going in the basket” issue. Brice struggles at the basket for two reasons, and they’re both pretty scary. The first is that he gets tunnel vision. He’ll drive to the hoop, meet multiple lines of resistance, and still have made up his mind that he’s going to take the shot. As a result, many of the looks he does take at the rim are bad ones. His angle on the basket won’t be a good one, he’ll have all sorts of defenders hanging off him, and he’ll still shoot it. Frustratingly, this over-aggressive approach also doesn’t get him to the line much—he only took 3.0 free throw attempts per game. While he likely should have gotten more calls, throwing in the occasional fake closer to the basket to get defenders up in the air would have gone a long way. The second issue is that without a runway, he doesn’t get off the floor that well. This leads to below-the-rim attempts that are easy to knock away. Add that to his tendency to plow ahead no matter what, and help defenders have no issue finding their way to his shot for easy blocks.
This is the area of Sensabaugh’s offensive game that I feel needs the most growth. He’s not getting inside much, and a lot of the looks he does get there aren’t high-quality ones. Still, his handle isn’t terrible, his touch is good, he’s not a bad athlete, and he’s got loads of power. If he develops his footwork and dribbling moves and commits himself to using his body to get better angles at the basket, he could become respectable here in time.
Now this is the area of Sensabaugh’s offensive game that I tend to see people harp on when discussing his flaws. I actually think the finishing is a much bigger concern, and honestly, I think he showed some real chops as a distributor later in the season. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a point-forward or high-level creator for others at the NBA level, but I’ve seen enough that I believe he has a path to move the ball quickly, effectively, and intelligently in time.
When Brice keeps his head up and commits to penetrating, good things happen. While sometimes he plows full speed ahead and doesn’t account for rotations, there are times when he does, and they’re encouraging. He has a good understanding of where help is coming from and he’s capable of punishing it. Later in the season, he was able to get downhill, then spray the ball out to open three-point shooters. Is his assist rate (11%) a disaster when compared to his 34 USG%? It’s definitely not good! But scouting is about projecting forward. Sensabaugh’s flashes as a passer have shown that there are things to work with in this aspect of his game.
Alright, let’s all take a deep breath before we dive into this.
Okay. So, from a pure tools standpoint, there are some things to work with. One thing Brice has in his favor is that when he’s engaged, he can cover the ball well. He’s pretty light on his feet for someone who weighs 235 pounds, and at that size, he’s strong. Strength is one of the more underexamined elements of defense within the prospect scouting space, at least outside of professional circles. A player who can leverage their power is at a major advantage when it comes to stifling penetration. It’s hard to get good driving angles when you can’t force your way through the opposition. At his best, Sesnabaugh is able to throw his body on dudes to stop them from getting where they want on the floor. In space, he keeps his balance pretty well and doesn’t get totally spun around when countered. When he rotates to the rim, he doesn’t cave at his chest against contact and opponents bounce off him like a brick wall. He’s also shown some ability to stay connected to his man around screens. This keeps him in the play, allows him to regain positioning, and prevents the opponent from separating.
The issue, though, is consistency. Despite his gaudy offensive production, Sensabaugh only played 24.5 minutes per game this past season, and his defensive woes are why. He’s often inattentive off the ball, so when his player goes into an action, he’s late on the draw. As a result, he’s far behind his man or a rotation, leading to easy looks at the basket. Sensabaugh had major lapses in crunch time during a few games late in the season because of this issue. His communication seems to be an issue, failing to recognize when he should switch or stick with his original man. While I commended Sensabaugh for his ability to stay connected on screens at times, there are other instances where he’s a disaster, running straight into screens rather than angling around them, and then failing to recover from there. On the ball, he has a tendency to cede way too much ground to shooters, giving them clean looks from long range when he should be playing them tighter. There’s a lot that needs to be cleaned up. While his offensive metrics indicate that he should be able to contribute at the NBA level, the fact that he was getting fileted on defense in the Big Ten to the point of getting benched at times is definitely scary.
There’s still a light at the end of the tunnel, though. On paper, his 1.7 BLK% and 1.3 STL% are subpar numbers for an NBA forward prospect. While Sensabaugh’s defense has terrifying components to it, given his usage, his statistical output on that end of the floor wasn’t terrible for a freshman.
Since 2014, there have been 27 freshmen in high-major conferences who played in more than ten games and had a usage percentage over 30. Only eight of them had both a BLK% and STL% over 1%, and Brice Sensabaugh is one of them.
Outside of Markelle Fultz and Jaylen Brown, it’s not exactly a murderer’s row of defenders. Fultz and Brown were both stellar athletes, vertically and laterally. I don’t believe there are outcomes where Brice Sensabaugh hits either of their outputs at the NBA level, as he’s just not in their same class from a tools standpoint. Given that, it’s hard to be like, “oh, this query definitely says he’s going to be fine on defense at the NBA level.” But I do think it indicates that he’s not a lost cause at the very least.
In the midst of the NBA’s offensive explosion, efficient scorers with size are always going to be intriguing. It feels more comfortable to swing and miss on someone like that than a diminutive prospect or someone who is way behind the curve as a jump shooter. At 6’6” with some length to him, a strong build, a gorgeous, quick jump shot from three, and the ability to convert at an uncanny clip in the mid-range, Brice Sensabaugh is hard to overlook. His scoring production during his freshman year at Ohio State wasn’t common or easily replicable. Still, there’s plenty of reason for pause. Rim finishing, an area where he struggled, doesn’t often improve at the NBA level for players who aren’t explosive leapers, and he was one of the more frustrating defenders to watch this past season. With so many talented wings and forwards in the league, Sensabaugh is going to have to take tough defensive assignments at times, and when he does, he’ll have to lock in like never before. If there had been more flashes on that side of the ball, he’d be a Top 8 lock for me. Instead, he’s someone I’d rather look at in the 10-15 range. But make no mistake—if Sensabaugh can curb those flaws, there are serious, high-end outcomes on the table for him.
-I recently interviewed Liam Robbins, and you can watch our whole thirty-minute discussion here. A 7’0” center out of Vanderbilt, Robbins quietly put together an unbelievable stretch during SEC play. In conference play, he averaged 18.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 3.5 BPG on 48.9/50.0/72.4 splits. While Robbins has the ability to stretch the floor (career 35% from three), he also embraces physicality to the fullest, and he got the free throw line 8.9 times per game in conference play. Defensively, he uses his length and mobility to limit rim attempts and turn away those who dare attack. On a basic level, a 7’0” with a 14.4 BLK% in conference play should generate NBA looks. But add in his outside shooting and strong understanding of the game of basketball (trust me, watch the interview), the interest will be there.
-Over the weekend, our Twitter account broke the news that Bobi Klintman has received an invite to the NBA Combine. While his overall production was quiet, scouting is about projecting forward, and there’s a lot to work with here. The 6’10” freshman from Wake Forest hit a late growth-spurt, has outstanding feel is a passer, and presents the mobility to guard up and down the line-up. From February onward, Klintman shot 38.1% from three on 4.2 attempts per game and blocked 1.4 shots per game. Three-and-D is always in, but when it’s a dude that big who can provide secondary rim protection and selflessly move the ball, it’s even more intriguing. I anticipate that he’ll be a late riser, particularly for teams willing to take on a longer-term project.
-Jon Chepkevich reported that Seth Lundy earned a combine invite. Lundy has been a favorite of mine for some time. The 6’6” forward’s measurements will be critical to his case, but at 220 pounds, he has a pro-ready body. He uses his body well on the ball defensively, cutting off drives and not letting anything come easy. Lundy also knocked down 40% of his threes and knows how to move himself open without the ball. He’s a tough, scrappy player who fights for loose balls and keeps plays alive on the glass. While his off-ball attentiveness on defense and passing, particularly while going downhill, need work, he’s one of the more intriguing margin bets in my book. He’s a winning player with a high motor and he has the frame for NBA physicality.
-Seth Lundy’s college teammate, Jalen Pickett, also received an NBA Combine invite over the weekend. I wrote about Jalen Pickett at length in February, and he had a strong finish to his season from there. While the 6’4” guard may not pack loads of speed or burst, he punishes opposing guards with his pace and unorthodox style of play. Last season, we often compared Chet Holmgren to a Venus flytrap with how he swallowed up shots at the rim. Pickett has that same type of feeling on the block. He’ll “Nash” dribble under the basket, then suddenly, he’ll have his small opponent on the block and score over them with a post move. It’s unconventional, but this method was highly productive for Pickett. He ended the year scoring 17.7 PPG on 50.8/38.1/76.3 splits, and his feel as a playmaker led to him averaging 6.6 APG to a measly 2.3 TOV. At the college level, Pickett got where he wanted and used his savvy to dominate. He’ll be one of the more interesting players to monitor at the combine, where the pace can be more frenetic, and the style of play is far less organized. On one end, the faster game and a floor packed with better, longer athletes may be harder for him, but on the other hand, his steadiness and intelligence may allow him to feast on every opening. He’ll also have to answer questions about his defense, as he struggled to provide resistance and contain quicker players at the point of attack.
-Brandon Simberg of Busting Brackets reported that Coleman Hawkins received an NBA Combine invitation. Hawkins has been a tough nut to crack all season for me. At 6’10”, he’s a fluid mover capable of slinging mesmerizing passes and picking apart defenses from the top of the key, nail, and elbow. He’s able to read the floor on defense, too, making rim rotations and using his length to get into passing lanes. His 1.9 STL% and 3.6 BLK% are both feathers in his cap. At his worst, though, he can be frustrating. Hawkins can become over-ambitious as a passer. Sometimes, he’ll pass up open looks, and other times, he’ll take needlessly difficult jumpers. He’s not quite quick enough to contain quicker players, and he’s a little to thin and not a good enough rebounder to hang full time at the 5 at the NBA level. He’s “almost there” in a lot of respects, offering tantalizing flashes contrasted with disappointing moments. A strong week in Chicago against high-level competition might be just what he needs to get himself over the hump and solidify himself as a draftable prospect worth investing in this year. Hawkins is testing the waters and does have the option to return to school.
-Bilal Coulibaly has been rocketing up boards as of late. Listed at 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan, the 18-year-old (who plays alongside Victor Wembanyama for Metropolitans92) has every physical tool you could ask for. He’s an excellent leaper off both one foot and two feet, he changes directions well, he has tremendous north-south burst, and he’s a fluid lateral mover on defense. He’s a true playmaker on D, darting into passing lanes and soaring for blocks. Still, he’s fundamentally sound, navigating screens well both on and off the ball. On offense, he’s an excellent downhill driver, taking long strides to the cup and finishing through contact. He’s made 61.5% of his shots at the rim in the halfcourt while playing in France’s best pro league, and his nose for the glass makes him a constant put-back threat. Coulibaly moves the ball quickly and has flashed impressive moments as a passer, but he’s more of a tertiary playmaker for now. My biggest concern is his shot. While he’s made 42.1% of his threes with the top Metropolitans team, when you include his numbers with their Espoirs (21-and-under) team, that mark falls to 34.1%. His release isn’t a mess mechanically, but he does dip the ball almost to knee-level off the catch, so he needs to reduce the range of motion and speed up his motion. He also brings little to nothing as an off-the-dribble scorer unless he gets to the rim. Coulibaly went 3-18 on pull-up twos in Espoirs play, and he’s 1-6 there with the top club. Still, Coulibaly has shown he’s capable off the catch, he’s straight-up violent as a driver and play finisher, and he’s going to make plays while guarding up and down the positional spectrum proficiently. At 18 years old, he’s carved out a starting spot in a professional league while growing immensely over the past several months. To me, a player like that warrants lottery consideration. If it all clicks (and really, we’re just talking about getting better at catch-and-shoots and pull-up 2s), he’s a 3-and-D, playoff-caliber starter with a 7’2” wingspan. That’s enticing.
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