Unleashing the Upside of Bennedict Mathurin
Bennedict Mathurin's sweet shooting and potent athleticism make him a safe pick, but he has loads of potential within reach.
“Is this guy going to embarrass himself?”
I ask that question about every single prospect on my draft board. It may seem silly, but it’s a simple way of determining initial readiness at the next level. If a prospect were thrown into an NBA game tomorrow, is there a scenario where they would get humiliated and be unable to stay on the floor? If so, how long will it likely take them to remedy this issue? Do they have a signature skill that can offset it and buy them a longer leash? These are important questions to consider because NBA teams, by and large, aren’t patient. It’s easy for us to sit at our keyboard and preach “draft and develop,” but roster spots are precious, and there is always a new batch of prospects coming up in the next year’s draft. If a prospect fails to make an impression early, their trajectory becomes murkier and more difficult. It’s not a death sentence by any means, and it’s becoming more common for first round picks to spend time in the G League, lightening the level of immediate expectations. But if you’re coming into year two and you haven’t cleaned up your flaws, things can get ugly in a hurry.
One of the biggest things Bennedict Mathurin has working in his favor is that it is exceedingly difficult to imagine him getting embarrassed on an NBA floor. He stands 6’6” with a 6’9” wingspan, he’s a prolific shooter who nailed 38.3% of his 316 attempts during his college career, he’s a potent athlete with blazing north-south speed, and he has vertical explosiveness to spare. Coming into the league as a complementary player initially, teams won’t be able to ignore him on the perimeter, and he’ll be able to hold his own on the defensive side of the floor. He doesn’t appear to be missing anything that will prevent him from sticking around the league.
But that’s boring! What’s exciting is that within inches of his fingertips is the opposite outcome: that there is a world where Bennedict Mathurin is the one doing the embarrassing to others. Having just turned 20 on Sunday, he was young for a sophomore. His freshman season saw him get few on-ball opportunities, and he did well with increased reps as a sophomore. Paired with his physical tools, he has massive room for growth, and he’s shown enough improvement to inspire belief that he’ll keep taking big strides. If he can tidy up certain elements of his game, you’re potentially looking at a wing who spaces the floor, can act as a lob threat, can run the offense as a secondary initiator, guard multiple positions, and provide some weakside rim protection. That is an All-Star level player, and it’s an outcome I believe to be within Mathurin’s grasp. Because we’re starting with a safe baseline package, it makes the upside even more tantalizing. He potentially offers a big reward with little risk involved. Today, I’ll be taking you through what Mathurin does well and covering what he can do to unleash his upside.
Bennedict Mathurin’s shooting is his bread-and-butter. His 36.9% on 6.1/game as his team’s top scoring option (17.7 PPG) this year was something of a letdown, which lets you know how good he truly is from deep. This percentage drop likely comes down to unfortunate variance, as he graded out in the 50th percentile on catch-and-shooters per Synergy a year after ranking in the 92nd percentile. He saw a decrease in his percentage of unguarded looks, and those ones simply didn’t fall at the same clip this year. Conversely, he took a massive step forward shooting off the dribble, going from the 45th percentile for all dribbles off the jumper to the 72nd percentile. Mechanically, the shot is mostly clean. He’s prone to dipping the ball down to his hip off the catch, but he’s quick enough with the motion that it hasn’t caused him issues up to this point. When shooting off the dribble from three, he’s fluid into his motion and boasts a high release that is difficult for defenders to meaningfully contest. Mathurin can also convert off movement, as he scored 1.064 Points Per Possession on shots coming off screens. Pairing this production with his speed, he should give defenders fits when he’s running around the floor. Most impressively, Mathurin better utilized his gravity as a shooter and used it to get to the rim more often, cooking defenders who sold out for his fakes. He took 30.6% of his halfcourt shots at the rim this year as opposed to 22.8% as a freshman. For Mathurin to perform as well as he did as an offensive engine after being almost an entirely off-ball player as a freshman speaks to his propensity to improve. He’s a well-rounded shooter who can score in a variety of ways and make defenses pay when he’s chased off the line. This is going to be what gets him on the floor early in the NBA.
I previously mentioned Mathurin’s ability to utilize his gravity in the face of closeouts, but he also possesses this skill without the ball in his hands. Mathurin’s cutting prowess saw him convert 60.5% of his attempts at the rim in the halfcourt per Synergy, an outstanding number for a wing. Because of his shooting acumen, defenders feel the need to play tight on him. If his defender gets caught ball-watching for even a moment, Mathurin will use his potent first step to leave them in the dust. This ability is accentuated by his activity level, as he’s willing to move around the court rather than stand in one place. As a result, his opponents are constantly on their toes, and it complicates their responsibilities. Mathurin’s vertical pop allows him to act as a lob threat. Per BartTorvik, Mathurin dunked an obscene 38 times this season. The only other player in college basketball who took over 200 threes, made over 35% of them, and dunked more than 30 times was Ochai Agbaji—a fellow projected first round pick. In the last ten years, only one other high major prospect met this threshold: Mikal Bridges. If you lower the threshold to 170 threes attempted, you can add Lonzo Ball, Miles Bridges, and Ben McLemore to the mix; they are certainly good company to keep. It’s one thing to be a prolific shooter, and it’s another thing to be able to dunk in the halfcourt, but it’s hard to find players who can do both at such a high level.
When he tested the draft waters in 2021, Mathurin was frequently tagged with the 3-and-D label. While I wouldn’t call him a high-end defensive prospect, Mathurin is certainly a steady player on that side of the ball. He’s generally tuned in, he knows where to be, and he’s not going to have brutal, frustrating lapses in key moments. Players who get hunted on defense tend to fall into at least one of the following categories: too stubby, too thin, too inattentive, or too slow. Mathurin has positive length at 6’9”, his frame is well put together, he doesn’t fall asleep off the ball, and he’s quick laterally. It’s hard to see Mathurin embarrassing himself on this side of the floor, and the immediate competence, size, speed, and leaping ability he’ll bring to the table will be a positive for a rookie. Projecting forward, they also give him mammoth room for growth.
UNLEASHABLE UPSIDE AREAS
Let’s stick with the defense for a minute here. Mathurin certainly isn’t bad defending the pick-and-roll; it’s more that he’s inconsistent in his output. He graded out in the 70th percentile per Synergy when guarding the pick-and-roll. When he’s fully engaged, Mathurin has the hip mobility to slink around screens and the quickness to recover if he gets clipped. His foot speed helps him get back into position, and his ability to slide while keeping his arms up high is fantastic. In situations where he gets around the screen and stays long, offensive players find themselves stranded and often force bad shots over his outstretched arms. Switches are another area where he excels, as he isn’t the easiest to bully and has no issue sticking with smaller players. The biggest improvement areas for him will be consistently avoiding contact and working to recover. Occasionally, he’ll be too content to die on a screen, and he won’t try to spring back into the play. By limiting these instances (which should be easier with lower offensive usage), he can go from a good on-ball defender to a great one.
To me, this is where Bennedict Mathurin can make the biggest leap on defense. His 1.6 STL % and 0.8 BLK % this past season were far below what you would expect from an athlete of his caliber. Mathurin is a solid help defender, but he’s not a playmaker. He makes the right rotation and slips into position when his teammates get beat. Frustratingly, he plays with a real lack of aggression in these scenarios. Rarely will you see Mathurin try to surprise a player by digging into their handle, and he’s far too content to merely be in the way as opposed to going for a block. Sure, it’s obnoxious when players are constantly gambling and getting burned because of it, but Mathurin’s overly conservative nature holds back both himself and his team. With his feet and quick load time, he should be darting into passing lanes and springing up for weakside help blocks. Using his length and staying within himself has its place, but he needs to remove the instances where he slides into position only to seemingly regret being there.
When covering Bennedict Mathurin’s pick-and-roll offense and his future potential, it’s important to remember one thing: he is already monumentally better at it than he was a year ago. As a freshman at Arizona, Mathurin ran 33 pick-and-rolls and graded out in the 14th percentile on them per Synergy. The biggest issue was his passing, or rather the lack of it; Mathurin was primarily wired to score in these instances and wouldn’t play with his head up. He’d miss easy opportunities to kick it out or dump the ball to the roll man and end up forcing a tough look. During the FIBA U19 tournament, Mathurin was entrusted with more on-ball opportunities for team Canada, and his improved ball-handling and passing were immediately noticeable. This season, he ran 202 pick-and-rolls and ranked in the 70th percentile on them. It’s not a blow-your-socks-off number, but it’s remarkable compared to where he was. His issue is still largely the same as last year’s, which is that he’s still primarily focused on scoring during these possessions to a detriment at times. Still, he’s gotten way better at it. He’s forcing fewer contested looks. Mathurin has figured out how to utilize his tools, such as hesitation and rejecting the screen to throw defenders off-balance. An underrated aspect of his game is that he’s equally likely to drive left as he is right, so defenders don’t have an uncomfortable avenue they can force him down. He will get himself in trouble with his dribbling at times, though. The biggest issue isn’t his general command of the ball; it’s that he’ll go way too fast and find himself in trouble. The more he leans into pace and hesitation, the better off he’ll be. In terms of his passing, it’s far sleeker. Mathurin can deliver quick whips to his screener, and he’s also done a great job of keeping his eyes out for open teammates on the perimeter. His assist percentage jumped, and his turnover percentage fell this past season, a testament to his improved floor vision. If he can continue to work on this aspect of his game, it will elevate where he can be in the offensive pecking order on a great team. The size of his improvement from year one to year two of college makes me believe that he’ll unquestionably be able to hold his own here. Should he continue to improve at the same rate, there’s a chance he could wind up as a non-primary option that a playoff team runs offense through.
Most of the NBA’s best players are able to convert in the mid-range. It’s the area of the floor defenses are designed to force you to shoot from most of the time. Even the most skilled ball handlers and physically dominant forces in the league end up needing to take shots there. Being able to hit these difficult ones is a big differentiator that separates stars from role players. To convert in this area, you need to have command of the ball, footwork to create separation, the coordination to compose your body in a tight space, and the ability to get your shot up over outstretched arms. Right now, Bennedict Mathurin doesn’t have a high-level mid-range game for the NBA or anything close to it. He ranked in the 29th percentile on runners per Synergy and in the 3rd percentile on shots from 17 feet to the three-point line (though he only took 13 such shots). Mathurin’s struggles boil down to body control and mechanical consistencies. There are two types of shots Mathurin tends to take when he’s not at the rim or shooting a three. The first is a more traditional-looking pull-up jumper. On these attempts, his shooting motion is filled with noise. He’s leaning all over the place, his legs are swaying around, and he’s falling in a different direction. If he could stop on a dime and launch a more straight-up shot, he would find more reliable outcomes. He already does this on his pull-up threes, but he hasn’t put it together off of movement in compact spaces. The second type of shot is sort of a floater/push shot hybrid. While his body is under a much greater level of control on these shots, his touch is hit or miss. The misses usually see him shoot the ball a little too flat and a little too short. While his floater game isn’t there yet, the fact that he is missing them in the same way feels like it can be cleaned up relatively easily. His pull-up in the mid-range will require more work.
This is where Bennedict Mathurin has the furthest to go. Though he only had 25 isolation possessions this past season, he scored an abysmal 15 total points on them. While that may be tough to stomach, I think there’s a world where he ends up as a respectable isolation player. So many of his struggles on these possessions were identical to his pick-and-roll issues last year. While most critics of Mathurin will point to his poor handle, I don’t actually think his dribbling is the biggest issue. He generally doesn’t let the ball get too far away from him while attacking. The real concern to me is that he plays at an erratic pace with his head down in this setting, just like he did with pick-and-roll possessions in the past. When he loses the ball, it isn’t because he’s too wide with it and players get into him; it’s because he’s going way too fast for his own good. Mathurin needs to apply the same tactics that elevated his pick-and-roll playmaking: misdirection and pace. Rarely does Mathurin look to counter. Instead, he is intent on going where he originally desired, regardless of whether or not it’s feasible. He also tends to burst and burst alone, lacking the necessary hesitation to lull the defender to a momentary standstill. You won’t see Mathurin utilize something like a step back into a forward drive to get a defender off-balance. Utilizing footwork tactics and pace would better accentuate his tools and give defenders more to juggle. Lastly, the inconsistent mechanics of his mid-range jumpers turn up here too. His dangerous first step, willingness to embrace contact, shooting touch, and vertical pop should allow him to excel while attacking out of isolation; he just needs to polish up his feet and his processing first.
Yes, Bennedict Mathurin is a safe prospect. However, he is dangerously close to being much more than a role player. I also firmly believe in Bennedict Mathurin as a human being. It’s important to remember that player development isn’t a video game; it’s real life, and Bennedict Mathurin has already shown that adversity won’t fold him. In an article by Seth Davis, Mathurin detailed his upbringing in a rough part of Quebec. When Mathurin was 11 years old, his older brother died after getting hit by a car while riding his bike. In the aftermath of this event, he rebelled. Needing structure in his life, he took the opportunity to go to the NBA Academy in Mexico City at age 16 despite not speaking any Spanish. He then signed up for another round of culture shock in yet another country, attending the University of Arizona. He survived the death of a family member as a child and moved to three different countries, with a different primary language in each location.
Even beyond believing in Mathurin off the court, there is plenty of reason to buy into his future growth on the floor. His ball-handling has been the biggest critique when it comes to evaluating his higher-end outcomes. It is notoriously a difficult skill to develop, but after diving deeper than ever into his film, it’s more his footwork and pace of play than his command of the ball. Given that we’ve seen him drastically improve those areas as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, I see no reason he can’t develop them in isolation settings. Defensively, a reduced role out of the gate should allow him to hone in on his inconsistencies. A coaching staff should be able to instill confidence in him and lend him understanding as to when it’s time to take chances on that end. Plus, after what he’s faced in his life, do you really think “you need to polish up your offensive footwork” and “we’d like you to play defense more aggressively” are going to be insurmountable tasks for Bennedict Mathurin?