The NBA Draft is on Thursday, so we (me) here at New Blog Flow are going to break down everything you need to know about the important prospects, by their position groups. Today, we focus on the guards.
The 2018 NBA Draft is probably going to be defined by the big men, as DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., and Jaren Jackson Jr. all figure to be lottery picks, and are all very intriguing prospects, but the guards in the draft are not to be forgotten, especially at the top level, as the premier guards in the draft are so radically different from each other.
Now, let’s explore these prospects (featuring highlight videos!). There are three guards that I think are the cream of the crop that is this year’s draft, so we’ll explore those three in-depth. After that, I’ll list some other names and a little blurb about each player. I’m going to put this in some kind of order, and I’ll try to go from my favorite prospect to my least favorite, but I get kind of wishy-washy at a few spots, so don’t take the order as canon.
Prospect #1: Luka Doncic, PG, Real Madrid (Spanish team, he’s from Serbia)
EuroLeague stats: 16.0 PPG/4.3 AST/4.8 REB/45% FG/32% 3PT/81% FT
If you haven’t heard of Luke Doncic by now, reading this article is probably your first foray into NBA Draft coverage this year. Doncic is one of the most polarizing players in this year’s draft. He’s just 19 years old, and has already been playing professional basketball for a few years, in the EuroLeague. He recently took home MVP honors of the EuroLeague, and his Real Madrid team won the league title as well, beating Turkish powerhouse Fenerbache. He’s super young, and already at the top of the second best league in the world, in terms of both individual and team success. But, he’s not projected to be the first overall selection (that honor belongs to DeAndre Ayton). Why is that? Let’s explore his strengths and weaknesses a bit.
Feel for the game: Put simply, Doncic is just a smart basketball player. He can make reads two steps before they happen, and deliver the ball right where it needs to be. He can break down a defense with his eyes and process everything, much like a good quarterback would. And, as previously stated, he’s been playing professional basketball for 3 years now, so even though he’s still a teenager, he’s already a seasoned veteran who’s played point guard for a very successful team in a tough league.
Ballhandling and height: I combined these two, because Doncic is a 6’8 point guard. Not a point forward, not a playmaking shooting guard, a true point guard. In the modern NBA, in which length and versatility are traits every player must possess, Doncic’s height and ability to handle the rock are valuable to no end.
Playmaking: This relates to the other two strengths, but Doncic is a great passer, dribbler, and scorer. This allows him to score and run an offense through a variety of ways. He is really set up well to be able to step into any offense in the NBA and succeed (especially the offenses of those at the top of the draft, who are more likely to hand the keys over to Doncic and let him do his thing).
Scoring versatility: Doncic can score in a lot of different ways. He can finish in the lane, hit a midrange shot, or even step back beyond the arc and nail a three. With his height and size, he’s able to shoot over smaller guards, or bully them in the paint, and he can also get around bigger guys defending him thanks to his ballhandling ability and the ways he attacks angles (similar to Harden in this way, where he can really break a defender down with the dribble, and not necessarily through pure speed/athleticism).
Athletic ability: If you watch his highlights, the first thing that stands out is probably the fact that Doncic never really bursts by anyone or rises up for a thunderous dunk. He lacks elite explosiveness, something that teams will definitely take into consideration when giving him point guard responsibilities.
Defense: He is more than capable of playing good defense, and was a plus defender for Real Madrid, but the EuroLeague simply lacks the speed and athleticism of the NBA. So, the question for Doncic is what position will he guard? He’s probably too slow to defend other point guards (there’s not too many people who are 6’8 that can hang with Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving), and it remains to be seen if he has the athletic ability to defend wings, who are some of the fastest and most explosive players in the league. Guards are shiftier than him, and wings are faster than him.
Shooting: Doncic has never shot the ball extremely well. He shot 32% from three this past season, which definitely is a concern for teams in this three-happy NBA. The space for point guards who can’t shoot from deep is limited. Doncic’s form really isn’t an issue, however (he’s no Lonzo Ball), so that is definitely something that could improve.
I’m extremely high on Luka Doncic. I simply can’t get over the fact that he has been so successful at such a young age, in the 2nd toughest league in the world. Luka has been playing against grown men since he was 16/17, so he is more than ready for the physical nature of the NBA, and he is far more ready to adapt to the intricacies of the NBA than any of the guys coming out of college, as European sets and reads are far more complex than anything you see in the NCAA. Simply put, he’s been able to climb to the top at an extremely young age in a league far tougher than what the college guys have faced, and he has the tools that teams desire in the modern NBA. While his upside and potential may be a little lower than some of the guys with outrageous athleticism, I don’t think you can ignore how NBA-ready he is. He could step into the league from day 1 and contribute at a high level.
Prospect #2: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
NCAA Stats: 27.4 PPG/8.7 AST/3.9 REB/42% FG/36% 3PT/86% FT
Trae Young had an insane freshman season at Oklahoma. He led the entire country in both points AND assists, and was the first person to ever do it. What makes that even more impressive is the fact that his team was just absolutely awful. Besides Young, no one on that Oklahoma roster really had much top-level talent, and so Young would not only routinely get double or triple-teams get sent at him, but his teammates would routinely miss open shots Young would create for them by passing out of the double team. So his assists numbers could be even higher. Sometimes hailed as the next Stephen Curry, because of his slight stature and crazy long range, Young is also just as often called the next Jimmer Ferdette. So, opinions are split on him to say the least.
Shooting ability: I mean, this is what Trae is known for. He would pull up from absolutely absurd distances and drain shots routinely. He is great off the dribble, and has a nice, albeit unorthodox, quick release (sound familiar?). His numbers weren’t great, and point to him being more of a volume shot-taker than an actual shooter, but I think that really can be attributed to the fact that he was the only guy on his team that opposing teams had to guard.
Navigating Pick and Rolls/Getting into the paint and finishing: Young showed an impressive ability to snake in between, and around, defenders this year, particularly in the pick and roll. He’s a nice ballhandler, and is plenty quick enough to take people off the dribble. Once getting into the lane, Trae is a skilled finisher, and has a bag full of floaters, reverses, and other tricky finishes to use around the rim. He will never jump over anyone to put the ball in, but he has plenty of weapons at his disposal in the lane to score the ball. Again, similar to Steph/Kyrie in this way.
Passing: With a nose for the highlight play, Trae often showed off his impressive passing ability this year. Beyond the flashy behind-the-back and no-look passes, however, he’s very solid fundamentally with his passing, and can find and hit the open man. Again, he had super high assist numbers this year, and probably deserved more of them, if his teammates could finish/score for him.
Frame: Take one look at him, and you notice his slight stature. He doesn’t have top-level wingspan or height that teams look for these days, and isn’t super muscle-bound either. He’s not Isiah Thomas or anything out there though, but he will definitely be on the smaller side every time he steps on an NBA court.
Defensive ability: He really was pretty poor on defense this year, and had to be hidden at times against other good point guards. This is where his size really comes into play. If he had trouble defending in college, it’s really probably going to be an issue in the NBA.
Shot selection/translation: Simply put, Young took some pretty crazy shots last year. To be fair, they did go in at a higher rate than anyone else would make them at, but that doesn’t really mean that they were smart shots. In the NBA, when he won’t be the sole scorer on his team (hopefully at least. Looking at you, Orlando), those kinds of shots will be seriously frowned upon. Also, will he be able to translate his offensive game to the NBA? Will he get flustered with a more physical game, as he will have a tougher time getting into the lane, thus allowing defenses to close out harder on his three point shot? It’s really yet to be seen if he can carry his same wild offensive style to the next level.
It’s really, really hard to not think of Stephen Curry when talking about Trae Young. I mean, the comparisons practically write themselves. Now, I don’t think that Trae will really ever reach the level that Steph has reached. It’s just unfair to hold Trae up to that standard. But, that isn’t to say I don’t think he will turn into a good NBA player. I think he’ll reign his offensive game in a little bit, and pick his spots better. As I said before, he was far and away the best player on his team, and was tasked with completely controlling the offense. Can you blame him for abusing that freedom a little bit? When in an actual NBA system, I think he’ll use his shooting and driving abilities when they’re needed, and will easily find success in the pick and roll, considering his ability to score at all three levels of the floor, and his impressive passing ability. Defense will be tough for him, but he won’t be the first rookie to come into the league and struggle on D.
Prospect #3: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Combo Guard, Kentucky
NCAA Stats: 14.4 PPG/5.1 AST/4.1 REB/48% FG/40% 3PT/81% FT
While the first two guys we talked about had some question marks in terms of their physical makeup, Shai has literally every physical tool you could want in a modern point guard. But, he didn’t really produce to the extent that those other two guys did. His lack of production caused him to mostly fly under the radar this season, but his physical tools have him soaring up draft boards right now, and recent reports are stating that the Raptors are willing to give up anyone on their roster to get into the top 10 spots in the draft to select Shai. So let’s explore why everyone is currently falling in love with this guy, and why we should maybe slow down a little bit.
Length: Standing at 6’6 with a 7’0 wingspan, Shai is really the prototypical modern NBA guard. He has the height and length to defend three positions at the NBA level, which is absolutely invaluable to every team around the league. That wingspan especially stands out, as it obviously serves him well on defense, but his long arms give him the ability to stretch as he glides into the lane and lay the ball up just by simply extending his arms past the guards guarding him.
Athleticism on defense: This kind of bleeds into the blurb above, but Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to move his feet to hang with other guards is very impressive. He also has super quick hands, and absolutely hounds ball handlers with his ability to slide side-to-side to stay with them, and then stab at the ball with his hands. Again, due to his length, he should be able to use his defensive quickness on a variety of players, from point guards to wings.
Driving/Finishing: An elite athlete, Shai is great at getting into the lane. He can blow by defenders, and has a nice enough handle to use some nice dribble moves. He is particularly adept with his hesitation move, and he uses the threat his speed presents and combines it with his handle to make for a simply devastating move. Once at the rim, he is a pretty good finisher. Like I said earlier, his long arms really help in this department, as he can simply get the ball closer to the rim than other guys his height, but he also showed some nice touch around the basket.
Potential to be a good shooter: His shooting ability is more of a question mark, but I’m putting it in the strengths category due to what it could become. Shai shot 40% from three during his lone season at Kentucky, but that was only on 1.5 attempts per game. His motion is a little funky, but he shot 81% from the free-throw line, a figure which typically suggests a nice shooting ability at the next level. So, if he continues to do what he did at Kentucky, this will make him an excellent player. But, if it’s a mirage based on small sample size, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Playmaking: He has a tendency to just attack defenses with no real plan in mind, and will often get caught in that no-mans-land like 7-10 feet away from the basket, where he’ll be forced to pick up his dribble without any good course of action presenting itself to him. Choosing when and where to attack will be something he has to improve at the next level.
Protecting the ball: He had a pretty high turnover rate last year, turning the ball over on a little less than 20% of possessions where he was the primary ballhandler. His passing ability also leaves a little bit to be desired. He’s a competent passer, but questions remain about his passing at the NBA level.
Frame: While he has the height and the length that has front offices in the NBA drooling over him, he is quite wiry, and will need to pack a little more muscle and weight onto his frame. This is especially important on defense. As I said, he has the potential to guard around 3 positions, but he will get abused by bigger shooting guards and small forwards if he doesn’t get a little more muscle (I’m imagining the things that a Marcus Smart would do to him).
There’s good reason that the Raptors are so high on Shai. There have been plenty of prospects in recent years with his athleticism, or his length, or a combination of the two, and there are even a few more in this year’s draft. But there are very few players out there with Shai’s length, athleticism, defensive ability, and his offensive game. He’s very well-rounded, and will instantly contribute to any team that selects him. If his shooting ability does indeed pan out as well, then he really could be quite a special player. He has a crazy high upside, and a pretty nice base level as well. I’m excited about him.
Honorable Mention Players:
Colin Sexton — PG, Alabama
Sexton had a ton surrounding him all year, and rightfully so. He’s uber-quick, and can get into the paint at will. I don’t love him, though, mostly because I have concerns about his shooting ability, defense, and his height. You can survive without an outside jump shot in the NBA, but you have to be a good defender, or elite at something else on offense (think Ben Simmons, or even Shaun Livingston). Sexton can’t really shoot, defend, and his finishing isn’t amazing. That being said, he could turn into a very nice player just because of how quick and fast he is, and will definitely be taken in the lottery. He is absolutely unguardable in transition.
Gary Trent, Jr. — SG, Duke
Trent is a shooter through and through. He showed a nice ability to score around the rim, as well, but he will get his ticket to the NBA because of his jump shot. He’ll probably go mid to late first round, which should be perfect, as he’ll hopefully go to a competent team who can use him as a nice offensive weapon from deep, and not over-extend him too early in his career.
Aaron Holiday — PG, UCLA
Really nice defensively, with a really good jump shot. Is a little turnover prone, but that can be fixed. Not amazing upside, due to a lack of elite athleticism, but will definitely be a very solid player. Also, has two brothers in the NBA, which should help him adjust to the league quicker than others, which is definitely valuable.
Donte Divincenzo — PG, Villanova
Had an absolutely unreal game in the Championship game of the NCAA tournament. Great scorer, with a good jump shot and good finishing ability. Super athletic. If in the right situation, could really develop into a very nice player.
Jerome Robinson — SG, Boston College
Similar to Donte, Jerome is a really great scorer. Really good jump shot. Just kind of puts the ball in the basket. Just somehow finds a way to do it, and at an efficient rate. Probably a late first-round guy (maybe to the Warriors? Would be the player they need off the bench).