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  1. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty ImagesThe Atlanta Hawks announced a few coaching hires and staff adjustments Friday afternoon as we quickly head into the offseason. The recent reports were confirmed that Jamelle McMillan, former New Orleans Pelicans assistant and Nate McMillan’s son, along with Joe Prunty, a long time NBA assistant coach with lengthy stops with the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks, would be joining McMillan’s staff as assistant coaches. Prunty has been in the NBA as an assistant coach for 23 years, and spent three of those years under Nate McMillan when the latter was the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers (2008-10). Chris Jent, Marlon Garnett and Matt Hill all return as assistant coaches. Other moves announced by the team include: Promotion of Dipesh Mistry from video coordinator to coaching assistant and Paul Jesperson from assistant video coordinator to player development coach. Tim Dather hired as head video coordinator/player development. Dather served as video coordinator for the Indiana Pacers from 2016-2019. Marty Lauzon joins the Hawks as the team’s director of athletic performance and sports medicine, following an 11-year stint with the Atlanta Falcons. This follows the recent departure of Chelsea Lane. Takahiro Uchida joins the Athletic Performance Team as assistant athletic trainer following seasonal work with the team during the 2020-21 season Dotun Akinwale Jr. was promoted to senior director of player personnel Kira Tillinghast has been hired full-time as the player engagement coordinator after she worked as a seasonal front office assistant from 2019 to 2021 The Hawks can now fully turn their focus to the basketball roster, with the NBA Draft just days away and free agency officially opening Aug. 2. Stay tuned. View the full article
  2. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty ImagesAhead of the 2021 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops continues it’s prospect scouting report series with an eye on what the Atlanta Hawks may do come draft night. For this edition, we peak at Keon Johnson, an athletic wing out of Tennessee. Some NBA prospects have high floors, some have high ceilings. Few have the range of outcomes that someone like Keon Johnson has. His combination of burst, size and speed give him tremendous upside considering he’s only 19. Standing at 6’4 with a 6’7 wingspan, Johnson posted the highest standing and max vertical at the NBA Draft combine. His max vert was the highest ever recorded at the combine. Strengths tough, fast, physical — these sound like cliches from a football movie but in Johnson’s case he is all of these things and it’s what helps him be so effective on the ball and at the point of attack again, the effort and engagement is always there, and with his physical gifts, his motor, focus and intensity goes a long way towards making him a quality wing defender good team defender, active and talking, rotates and switches effectively Johnson should be more than fine on defense. By all accounts, he has a great motor and work ethic to go with his truly rare physical tools. The 6’7 wingspan helps too, and should be a big aid for Johnson when wreaking havoc on the wing. Fit with Hawks Johnson would be a great get at No. 20 for the Hawks, if he slips that far. There may be a real chance that he does, not a great chance but a chance nonetheless. In the short-term he could play a little bit on the second unit and at least guard someone while he works behind the scenes to get up to speed on offense. The fit on the second unit with Onyeka Okongwu (when he returns) and Cam Reddish may lack shooting, but that’s not something to worry about in the draft process. It’s very likely that if Johnson slips to No. 20 that he’s the best/highest upside talent left of the board, and best player available has always been the go to ethos for Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. Given that he also seems to be a prospect with great work ethic and character, it would be difficult to envision a better prospect being on the board at that spot. View the full article
  3. Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY SportsPeachtree Hoops’ staff continues the NBA Draft scouting report series as we’re now less than a week from the draft. This installment breaks down Day’Ron Sharpe out of North Carolina. In today’s NBA, rostering a big center who is going to dominate in the low post is not as common as it was even just 10 years ago. The Joel Embiids of the world come along seldomly in modern basketball. Day’Ron Sharpe is not Embiid, but he is a talented young center who has potential on both ends of the floor. Sharpe, another one-and-done player, spent his lone year against NCAA competition at the University of North Carolina. Getting coached up by the legendary Roy Williams is an instant boost to a player’s profile. At 6’11 and 265 lbs., Sharpe is a bruiser and a better playmaker than his assist numbers suggest. He also played basketball at an extremely high level before college. At one of the best high school basketball programs in the country, Shape’s teammates at Montverde Academy included Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham and Moses Moody- all projected first round picks in this year’s draft. Point being, he may be a young player, but Sharpe does not lack serious basketball experience and coaching. Sharpe is projected to go in the late first round or early second round in the coming draft and is ranked 31st overall on ESPN’s best available. He sits at 30th overall on The Athletic’s Sam Venecie’s big board. Offense Strengths Low Post Scoring Sharpe’s biggest strength on offense is getting buckets in the paint. He scores well on the low block and uses his size to overpower smaller defenders for easy layups and powerful dunks. He is more nimble than his size may suggest and has the bounce to rise above for open looks. Granted most of his scoring came in the paint, his 51.9% rate from the field is solid but not great. He only averaged 9.5 points per contest, yet that was in just 19.2 minutes per game. His per 40 minute metric has him racking up 19.8 PPG. Rebounding You will find later on in this profile that rebounding is truly more of an overall strength for Sharpe, but his offensive rebounding shall not go without props. Sharpe is active on the offensive boards. He plays with a lot of energy and has awareness and feel for the direction a missed shot is going. That knowledge and instinct allows Sharpe to soar over defenders for putback slams and easy second-chance buckets. Sharpe snags 3.3 rebounds per game and had an offensive rebounding percentage of 18.1% according to Sports Reference. Weaknesses Outside Scoring Sharpe only attempted two 3-point shots over the course of 29 collegiate games and he missed both of them. Shooting is something he will have to improve on to be more than just solid within the league’s modern playstyle. Almost all of his shot attempts and makes came within the paint. Even just a serviceable midrange jumper would elevate him as a prospect. We just did not see much of that at Chapel Hill. Defense Strengths Rebounding There is no point in diving deep into it once again. Sharpe averaged 7.8 RPG at North Carolina, and this was in less than 20 MPG. The NBA will be together and more physical, but he should step into the league and immediately be an above-average rebounding center if he carries his production to the next level. Shot Blocking This is a projected strength. Sharpe has the potential to be a really good shot blocker and rim protector, and he showed flashes of that at UNC, but he is not quite there yet. When his motor is going, he has sneaky athleticism to fly to the ball and get a hand on it as an opponent gets a shot off. His feel for the game should improve with coaching,and he will get more of that in the NBA. Weaknesses On-ball Defending He may be nimble for his size, but he is not a super agile player. Sharpe struggles when he is switched onto opposing guards, as most bigs do. Lateral quickness will need to be improved if he is to be an elite defender one day, which his ceiling could allow him to be. Fit on the Atlanta Hawks Sharpe is a player that may be a little bit of a reach at 20th overall, where the Hawks select in the first round. However, he will likely be off the board when Atlanta is on the clock again at pick 48. So, unless the Hawks management is in love with his game, it does not seem likely that Sharpe will find a home in Georgia’s capital. On another note, the Hawks do not have any glaring needs on the roster. That is what happens when a team makes it all the way to the conference finals. The recent news of Onyeka Okongwu’s injury possibly increases the odds that the Hawks will go with a center in the first round, but that is not something to bank on. The Hawks’ center rotation of Clint Capela and Okongwu is strong, and the latter is only projected to miss the first couple of months of the season. Atlanta going out and finding a cheap backup option in free agency for the time that Okongwu is out is more likely to happen then the Hawks taking a true center at pick 20. If the Hawks do decide to go with Sharpe, he may push Okongwu to more of a power forward type of role and truly bolster their frontcourt. While that is not the direction that Travis Schlenk and company are predicted to go, nothing is out of the question in a draft where the Hawks are not desperate for any certain position. View the full article
  4. Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty ImagesKevin Chouinard of Hawks.com talks with Glen Willis of Peachtree Hoops about some trends from the NBA Finals, the overall state of the game, and how Onyeka Okongwu’s surgery and rehab timeline will impact what the Atlanta Hawks do in the offseason. ‘ATL and 29: A Peachtree Hoops Podcast’ is hosted on Megaphone and you can subscribe via a number of platforms. Please do us a solid and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, PlayerFM, or Stitcher, as well as any podcast player you might prefer. Tell your friends about the show and be sure to bookmark our dedicated section. View the full article
  5. Photo by Joe Robbins/NCAA Photos via Getty ImagesIn this installment of Peachtree Hoops’ NBA Draft scouting report series, we take a look at Joe Wieskamp, a sharpshooter out of Iowa. Every team in the NBA needs three-point shooting now more than ever in today’s game. Finding quality shooters who have the size to hold up on the defensive end is a challenge all 30 teams face themselves with, and the draft can obviously be a great place to dip in a find a future wing weapon. Joe Wieskamp, a 6’7 guard out of Iowa, has the potential to be a spot-up shooting weapon, and maybe a bit more than that. His 6’11 wingspan leaves optimism that he could be able to compete enough defensively, and he posted a 42 inch vertical at the combine. He also flashed some agility/speed, ranking in the top six in both lane agility and the three-quarter court sprint. Some of these numbers come as a surprise, and we’ll get into that later. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic ranks Wieskamp as his No. 35 prospect on his final big board, while ESPN currently ranks him as the No. 52 player in the 2021 class. Offense Shooting Wieskamp was one of the best three-point shooters in the NCAA over the past three seasons, hitting 41.2% of his threes for his career at Iowa and 46.2% on career-high volume this past season. The junior shot 50.7% on no-dribble spot-ups, a number that ranked him in the 97th percentile among guards in 2020-21 per Synergy. Wieskamp excelled shooting off of movement, flying around screens in an effort to release free on the perimeter for an open look from three. Creation Wieskamp was just an average pick-and-roll ballhandler in his junior season, generating just 25 points on 37 shooting possessions per Synergy. He has a decent feel for hitting his roll man, but doesn’t quite have the off-the-dribble game to create open shots for others. As a secondary creator, teams in the Big 10 were fine to let him play 1-on-1 on the ball. Wieskamp somewhat has the strength to get downhill and attack closeouts, and makes solid decisions when he can create those advantages. But in terms of just one 1-on-1 taking his man to the rim, he isn’t a great finisher in traffic, and had just a .293 free-throw rate in his junior season. Wieskamp’s best area for self-creation is at the three-point line. He may not quite have the size of Duncan Robinson, the Miami Heat sniper that went undrafted out of Michigan, but he has a bit more wiggle with the ball in his hands on the perimeter. Wieskamp won’t be a primary guard at the next level, but he still has guard skills that enable him to create space that allows him to get off his jumper. He has a bit of JJ Redick to his game in this area, bouncing around screens and stepping back for smooth nothing but net triples. Room for improvement Wieskamp tested as a great athlete in Chicago, but you wouldn’t exactly come away from his Iowa tape thinking he had the fifth highest max vertical at the combine. He struggles to finish in traffic at the rim, though maybe that improves some with more spacing at the next level. He had Luka Garza, one of the best big men in college basketball, clogging up the lane a decent chunk of the time for the past three seasons, so maybe there will be a bit of natural improvement in this area moving to the NBA game. Defense Wieskamp does have 6’11 wingspan going for him on this end, but he won’t be someone that should be asked to lock down an opponent’s primary option. He’ll best be utilized guarding the fourth or fifth options on opposing teams (whatever wing he can matchup with the best, preferably one that doesn’t like to dribble), and competing on the glass. Despite the speedy testing numbers, he doesn’t really pop on the defensive end on tape. He has mediocre steal and block rates, which is fine and not a surprise for his archetype, but based on the testing you’d like to see a bit more of that burst pop on film. Strengths Solid defensive rebounder at Iowa, averaging 5.5 boards per game on the defensive glass last season Decent feel for what’s going on as a team defender, effort is there Potential to improve if he can learn to better use his athleticism Weaknesses Struggles when mismatched against size inside Not a POA defender, better off hidden on a wing Doesn’t have great instincts, struggles to utilize his agility to stay in front of quick guards Fit with Hawks Wieskamp honestly fits anywhere. He’s going to be a second-rounder or Two Way guy most likely, and any team can talk themselves into adding a talented 6’7 movement shooter when that’s all it is going to cost. As someone who won’t need to be on ball much, he’s easy to plug in to a ton of lineups if he’s able to hold his own defensively. At No. 48, the Hawks’ only second-round pick in 2021 as of now, Wieskamp would be a more than fine selection. View the full article
  6. Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty ImagesThe 2021 NBA Draft is rapidly approaching, taking place just one week from today. SB Nation’s team sites participated in a ‘Blogger Mock Draft’, and naturally, Peachtree Hoops selected for the Atlanta Hawks at No. 20. There were no trades allowed in this production, so we were tasked with making the right choice for the Hawks at No. 20, for better or worse. The Atlanta Hawks can seemingly go any direction they like at No. 20 on draft night. Coming off on an impressive season that led them all the way to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, they don’t have a glaring need on the roster. Perhaps the biggest hole on the team to date is the backup point guard position, but the potential return of Lou Williams could go a long way towards shoring that up. Even if the Hawks don’t bring back Williams, it’s very far from a lock that GM Travis Schlenk would entrust the backup point guard role on a team with postseason expectations to a rookie whom he selected at No. 20. Schlenk has long best a “best player available” advocate, and there’s no reason to see why he would change things up now. Sure, Atlanta is in win now mode, but the draft is still an opportunity to add a franchise changing player, even at No. 20. While the chances you hit on a Giannis Antetokounmpo outside of the lottery, or a Nikola Jokic in the second round are mostly slim to none, Schlenk has already shown the ability to get quality talent around this area of the draft in the past. John Collins (2017) and Kevin Huerter (2018) were brought to Atlanta by Schlenk with the No. 19 pick in their respective classes. Both of these players obviously started in the Eastern Conference Finals, and while you can argue Huerter was only starting due to the De’Andre Hunter injury, his performance validated the minutes he received, including a clutch Game 7 performance in the second round vs. the Philadelphia 76ers. Schlenk will again be tasked with finding the right talent in this area of the board. At No. 20, the Hawks are close enough to the lottery that someone in their top-15, potentially even top-10, could slip down the board. In the SB Nation mock, that player for us was Kai Jones, a versatile, athletic big man out of Texas. Turn on Jones’ tape for just a moment and you’ll see what has NBA front offices intrigued. He moves really well for someone who stands 6’11, and has flashed potential on both ends of the floor. Jones, like Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, is from the Bahamas and a bit late to the game of basketball. As a sophomore, Jones shot 38% from 3. He’s a menace in transition, and flies all over the place with energy on both ends of the floor. At 20 years old, there’s still plenty of reason to believe Jones can make big jumps in terms of his all-around touch and feel on offense, and more cerebral in all areas of his game. In the coming days, Peachtree Hoops will have a full scouting report up on Jones, so be on the lookout for that for a deeper dive on the prospect. Jones is a player that may very well not be on the board at No. 20 next week when the actual NBA Draft takes place, but in this spot, we were happy to mock him to Atlanta. Other players considered (among those who were remaining the board at No. 20 during this exercise) include guard Jaden Springer out of Tennessee and wing Ziaire Williams from Stanford. View the full article
  7. Photo by Sonia Canada/Getty ImagesA contributor for one of Europe’s most prolific teams... Today in continuing our 2021 NBA Draft scouting report series, we examine a promising young forward out of Spain, Usman Garuba. Defense-first players are commodities that aren’t quite as common in today’s NBA landscape and that can extend to the NBA Draft as well — though not always as exclusively. The issue that can tend to rise when it comes to defense-first players is that they can struggle on offense, meaning that when it comes to the playoffs, teams can load up elsewhere. For the Hawks themselves in their second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben Simmons’ struggles offensively became a key point in the series as the Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Offense-first players tend to get the nod ahead in the playoffs of defensive players who can’t contribute offensively — so long as said offensive player isn’t a complete turnstile on defense. For the Hawks, Lou Williams vs. Kris Dunn was a good example when it comes to this topic, and there are other examples around the league too. This leads us to today’s prospect: 19-year old Spanish forward Usman Garuba. At 6’8 with a 7’3 wingspan, Garuba plies his trade with one of Europe’s top teams in the form of Real Madrid, averaging 4.7 points per game on 47% shooting from the field on 3.8 field goal attempts, 31% from three on 1.5 attempts, 65% from the free throw line on 0.9 attempts per game, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 offensive rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks in an average of 17 minutes per game in 86 games played and 42 starts, per RealGM. You’d look at those stats and not have an especially high opinion of Garuba — his stats don’t pop like Alperen Sengun, for example. In fact, what probably stands out the most are Garuba’s average of 3.8 shots a game and the fact Garuba totaled an astonishing 86 games on the season for Real Madrid which arguably isn’t the greatest of leading points when it comes to breaking down Garuba as a prospect. That said, there’s more to Garuba than the stats would outline. So let’s take a look at the film and see what separates Garuba from the competition (Garuba wears the number 16). Defense Defense is Garuba’s greatest strength as a prospect heading into this draft. Garuba’s intensity on defense is clear from the get-go. On this defensive possession — Garuba’s first after checking into the game for the first time — he immediately shadows Nick Calathes on the full-court press, briefly displaying his comfort to switch as Calathes passes elsewhere: Again, Garuba picks up deep in the opposing half, shadows the ball-handler to the sideline, gets a hand in to knock the ball away, dives to the floor, manages to claim the ball and gets the ball to a teammate to complete the steal: One of Garuba’s most impressive physical traits is his speed/movement. Garuba is able to switch on almost any position and compete defensively. Let’s look at some of Garuba’s pace in action defensively before looking at his ability to switch. After missing the three-pointer, Garuba turbos back in transition and is able to prevent any notion of a transition basket before the turnover is committed: On a switch off of the screen, Garuba sticks with the drive and the pass has to be made: On the pick-and-roll switch, Garuba is able to get tight to the offensive player in the lane, perhaps deterring from making the lob-pass to the open Bryant Dunston. In the end, the floater goes up but is missed: This time, the switch from Garuba prevents the penetration and when the ball is returned to the perimeter for the offensive player to try again Garuba sticks with the dribble and the help defense slides over to draw the offensive foul: Here, Garuba lumbers into the switch on the perimeter before Rodrigue Beaubois tries to shake him off of the dribble and his moves and hesitations are not fallen for by Garuba, who sticks with Beaubois and contests the shot at the rim which is missed: Against Norris Cole on the switch, Garuba is easily able to prevent Cole from penetrating and instead the former Heat guard settles for a heavily contested and settled three-pointer which is missed: Garuba’s one-on-one defense is quite strong, and of course these don’t always lend themselves exclusive to switches. To begin this possession, Garuba quickly slides over to cover Dunston on the catch, preventing the opportunity at the rim on the move. Dunston then enters the post and Garuba absorbs the contact and does a good job contesting the jump-hook, which is missed: On the entry pass into the post, Garuba initially tries to go for the steal but does well to recover in both moving his feet and contesting the shot, producing a great block on the play as he protects the rim: Against one of the Euroleagues top players, Shane Larkin, Garuba pokes the ball away and comes up with the steal, turning it into two points on the other end: On the pick-and-roll, when the ball is passed to the screen on the perimeter and the drive is in full swing, Garuba is able to stick with the drive, tries to reach in but is able to contest well on the shot attempt near the rim: Garuba — as we’ve seen on a few possessions already — is able to create havoc defensively and create turnovers/steals. On the interior pass here, he extends and gets his hand to the ball first, poking it away and diving to the floor and helping create a turnover: In the post against a much larger offensive player, Garuba does well to force the offensive player to kill his dribble before the ball is fired back out to the perimeter. On the re-entry to the big, he is able to get in front enough to poke the ball away and helps create another turnover: All of this looks great from Garuba but there are issues that can crop up at times here and there. His full/mid-court presses can occasionally backfire, as he loses ground here but does at least recover to contest the shot inside, a bit of a wild shot from Nikola Mirotic: Again picking up Calathes on the press, Garuba this time commits the foul on the bump, leading to free throws with Barcelona in the bonus: On this play, Garuba bites on the fake which leads to the basket plus the foul, committed by his teammate (who also bites on the fake): Garuba can tend to go for reaches and while some of these do result in steals, it can also end up in committed fouls: I really don’t have a ton of negatives when it comes to Garuba’s defense: he can switch through multiple positions, he’s quick and agile, he’s strong and Real Madrid, at times, relied on him to be able to defend out front on his own and set their defense behind him to account for Garuba’s ability to guard one-on-one. Offense/scoring A little less to detail here, considering that Garuba averaged 4.7 points per game on an average of 3.8 attempts a game but some to detail nevertheless... Garuba’s role and minutes were a bit all over the place this season. There’d be games where he’d play 30+ minutes (out of 40 regulation minutes) and other times where he’d play less than 10. It was a similar situation with his shots/scoring. The most shot attempts Garuba put up in a game this season was 15 in Game 4 of Real Madrid’s Euroleague matchup with Anadolu Efes — the same game where he scored his season-high of 24 points (a big increase from his previous best of 16 points). That game against Efes will serve as a reference for the things Garuba might be able to accomplish offensively, so some of the clips we show here will be from that game (as well as others). Garuba’s offensive work right now is primarily done around the rim. Off of a missed shot, Garuba turbos in transition before receiving the ball and dunking in transition: That is quick. Garuba showcases some of his athleticism again as he punches home the putback dunk on the offensive rebound: This next clip was a nice play that Real Madrid would run a few times for Garuba but it basically starts with him setting an off-ball screen for another off-ball player and when the defense uses the second defender to cover for Garuba’s screen, Garuba cuts to the rim and the path is open for him to receive the ball and finish with the dunk: Again, a similar play where Garuba seems as though he’s going to set the off-ball screen and then cuts to the rim. On the catch, his path is cut off by Larkin but Garuba works to his left instead and finishes off of the glass: Here, after the runner is missed from Sergio Llull, Garuba is able to collect the loose ball — after Edy Tavares is unable to gather the offensive rebound himself — and scores at the rim: Blink and you might miss it but, here, Garuba shows a bit of finesse at the rim as he finishes with the reverse layup: On the pick-and-roll this time, Garuba slips to the rim, receives on the catch before bouncing back up to finish at the rim: Garuba did try expand his range and out of his 3.8 shot attempts per game, 1.5 of those were three-pointers. However, Garuba shot 31% on his threes and has some work to do on his shot. Many of Garuba’s threes were short as Garuba himself doesn’t elevate very high on his jumpshots. Here’s an example on the catch-and-shoot three: Another look at a three which is short from Garuba: Garuba is mostly a catch-and-shoot three-point shooter but will continue to need development on this shot: Right now, it’s all just about showing flashes offensively for Garuba. His place in the rotation was a bit messy and — this isn’t exclusive to Garuba — on a Euroleague powerhouse like Real Madrid, it can be difficult to get consistent playing time so young. Passing/playmaking To cap off, let’s look a little bit of Garuba’s passing/vision plays. On the pick-and-roll, Garuba receives the ball in the paint and makes a nice quick read and pass to his teammate near the rim, who draws the foul and free throws: Again, a nice quick touch-pass from Garuba opens an opportunity and an easy assist for Tavares at the rim: Off of a three-point miss, Garuba battles underneath the rim and wins the offensive rebound before kicking it out to a teammate for the assist on the three-pointer: On an out-of-bounds play, Garuba is inbounded the ball and makes a nice, quick read to deliver the bounce-pass back to the inbounder on the cut: Not a ton to show but there’s enough here to see that Garuba is capable of making some solid, quick reads and can make those passes — enough to warrant taking a liking to. In closing... Garuba is a defense-first prospect. I think guarding 5’s might be problematic but if the 5 is a small-ball 5, I really believe Garuba could have the ability to guard 4.5 positions. He’s agile, he moves his feet well...he’s just bloody quick, and as soon as he eliminates some of his errors with experience he’s going to be a mega defender in the NBA. Already for Madrid, Garuba is a focal point defensively when he’s on the floor. They could just allow him to switch out front and build their zone behind him, should the offensive player even get by one-on-one. His ability to guard one-on-one, grab steals, block shots is hugely impressive and there’s a chance Garuba could immediately be a solid defender in the NBA in his rookie season — not a very common thing among rookies. This is a player that, during the series against Efes, and single-handedly swung Game 4 with his 24 point and 12 rebound performance and a PIR of 30 and a game where Madrid’s season was on the line. The main worry when it comes to Garuba is his offense/scoring. With Madrid, he basically had zero role offensively. Garuba may become a fantastic defender in the NBA but come playoff time he might be sidelined due to a lack of offense. In general, there seems to be a lot of untapped potential with Garuba’s offense but what that offensive ceiling is is unclear. ESPN have Garuba listed 15th in their ‘Best Available’ rankings, with ESPN’s Jonathan Givony adding this with regards Garuba: Strengths - Rock solid resume’ competing at the highest levels of basketball outside the NBA. Played nearly 90 professional games this past season for Real Madrid, the top team in Spain. Won the Rising Star trophy, given to the Euroleague’s best player under the age of 22, as well as the “Best Young Player” of the 2020-2021 ACB season. Won gold medals at the U16 and U18 European Championships and a U18 club championship at the ANGT. - Arguably the best defender in the 2021 draft. Not incredibly tall at 6-8, but has a 7-3 wingspan, as well as quick feet, excellent hands and outstanding intensity. Regularly tasked with guarding the Euroleague’s top point guards, but strong and long enough to bang with most big men. Should be able to slide and contain opposing team’s star playmakers with his versatility and smarts. - Has shown the ability to push the ball off the defensive glass and make plays for teammates with strong passing ability at the youth level. Showed progress with his perimeter shooting late in the season after getting off to a slow start. Has always displayed a willingness to embrace his role and do the little things to help his team win games. Beloved by teammates and coaches because of his approach to the game. Improvement areas - Not much of a scorer, averaging just 4.8 points in 17 minutes per game this season. Mostly stays out of the way for Real Madrid, being tasked with very little offensive responsibility as a screener and floor-spacer. - Career 26.5% 3-point shooter and 57% from the free throw line through 216 games. Mechanics and confidence waver from beyond the arc. Misses at times in concerning fashion. - Plays a somewhat mechanical style that may prevent him from ever emerging as more than a fifth option offensively. Isn’t blessed with elite explosiveness to compensate. Projected role: Versatile defender The three-point shooting and offensive ceiling are concerns for Garuba but the fact he has embraced his role so far says a lot about him, as does his fellow teammates and coaches respect for him and his approach to the game. Givony also highlights a concern about Garuba’s explosiveness...I’d describe Garuba as athletic but not explosive right now. He seems to lack an elite leap. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic lists Garuba at 11th overall on his big board and mocks him 19th in his latest mock draft to the Knicks, one pick ahead of the Hawks. The player: Defense, defense, defense. Garuba is already one of the best defenders in Europe as a teenager and profiles as a potential All-Defense Team guy in the NBA by the time he’s 25. He can defend on the interior, with terrific fundamentals for verticality and weakside shot blocking. His ability to slide his feet and drop his hips laterally is ridiculous, and his instincts as a pick-and-roll defender are terrific. The problems come on offense. He’s still not a particularly effective player on that end, but there have been signs of progress. He has been making more 3s recently, but it’s going to take some time. He can also pass the ball out of short rolls a bit, and he’s not totally afraid to put the ball on the deck. The fit: Tom Thibodeau’s favorite player is Taj Gibson. There are a lot of similarities between Garuba and Gibson, as both are absolutely elite defenders positionally. The difference is that Garuba has a bit more athleticism and pop than Gibson ever did, and thus has a real chance to be the kind of impact defender it’s worth consistently keeping on the court. Also, the Knicks will be very familiar with Garuba, as he’s repped by CAA. While I do think that connection to the current front office has been slightly overblown, I also believe it’ll help in regard to familiarity with a player they might not have gotten a chance to see overseas this year. A similar trend emerging among draft experts is the offense, which is no surprise. Vecenie seems optimistic that there is progress offensively and I think there’s good reason for optimism on that front given how much of a lack of role he had at Madrid — I think whoever selects Garuba will have a more clear role for him than Madrid did. Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo mocks Garuba 18th overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder with this to add: Garuba is exceptionally well-tested for his age, having cut his teeth in Real Madrid’s senior team and the Spanish national team and boasting strong physical tools and a defensive mindset. He should have utility as a legitimately switchable ball screen defender, and while he’s not big enough to moonlight at center in more than a situational capacity, he’s physically ready for the NBA and appears to have a good understanding of what his role is. However, Garuba’s pathway to becoming a legitimate starter requires a real evolution on offense, where he’s unlikely to be featured, but is a quality cutter and could add value as a passer and shooter with continued development. He’s got a chance to be more than a specialist, and would add a different dimension to Oklahoma City’s young roster. Woo references the potential value of Garuba as a passer, which I think there is some potential in too. He makes good reads and can make solid passes on those reads. The more I’ve looked at Garuba and thought about it, the more I wonder... A very common practice in drafts gone by is for analysts and the such to label players from different regions as ‘The (insert word/nationality here) Michael Jordan.’ I see a lot of shades of Draymond Green-potential in Garuba. I don’t mean to say Garuba would be better than Green but perhaps the Spanish Draymond Green? An excellent defender who can guard almost every position, potential in passing and perhaps somewhat limited offense/shooter, which we know Green to be at times. It’s a reach, I know full well, but that’s the kind of potential I could see in Garuba if things work out. Defensively, I think it’s very possible but the offense is where things are obviously less clear. The Warriors themselves have the 14th selection and I think it’s a perfect fit. Should Garuba fall to the Hawks at 20, I think he’d be the best player available at 20 and think the Hawks should absolutely select him. Is he likely to be available at 20? I’d lean towards no, but we shall see... View the full article
  8. Set Number: X163677 TK1Very unfortunate news. Just before midnight Wednesday evening, word broke from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Atlanta Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu has underwent surgery to repair a torn right shoulder labrum, with appropriately six months recovery time. The injury comes as a rather big surprise, as at exit interviews a couple of weeks ago both Hawks GM Travis Schlenk and Okongwu himself said the plan was for him to go to Las Vegas and compete at Summer League in August. Wojnarowski reports “a lingering injury beginning in May resulted in the need for the procedure.” Okongwu battled a foot injury heading into his rookie season, and will now obviously again not get a Summer League experience and miss the beginning of the regular season in 2020-21. The rookie flashed signs of defensive brilliance and a soft touch offensively in limited postseason minutes for the Hawks, going toe to toe with the likes of NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for stretches. The Hawks now head into free agency potentially looking at depth at the center position, with Okongwu likely having been set to be Clint Capela’s primary backup. Obviously if Atlanta retains John Collins it won’t be near as difficult to fill out those center minutes, though it remains to be seen what happens on that front. Six months from now puts around late January as the initial expected return date, with the regular season slated to begin in late October. This is obviously an unfortunate setback for the 2020 No. 6 overall pick, but if rehab goes smoothly he should be able to salvage the majority of his sophomore season and most importantly be back for another potential postseason run. Stay tuned. View the full article
  9. Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty ImagesPeachtree Hoops continues it’s series of NBA Draft scouting reports, with this edition profiling Kessler Edwards out of Pepperdine. Currently ranked No. 45 on ESPN’s big board at the time of writing, Pepperdine’s Kessler Edwards represents one of the best values in the draft, to my eyes, with his 3&D skill set and positional versatility at forward. A recent trend in the NBA has been to downsize at the power forward position with 6’8-6’9 shooters who can hold their own defensively, with Jae Crowder, Cam Johnson, and Dorian Finney-Smith serving as good examples. Indeed, much of the small ball revolution in the NBA has been about reforming this traditionally paint-bound position in the aim of creating better spacing. Players who can knock down an open three while also having the mobility to chase around perimeter players have long careers. They serve as nice compliments to anchor bigs like Clint Capela, providing more space for them to roll and cut to the rim, as well as generally fitting within the broad picture of a spread pick-and-roll attack, with three perimeter players providing shooting around the central action. Edwards, who stands at 6’8 in shoes and boasts a career 39% mark from deep over three NCAA seasons, fits the profile of the archetype described above. A 3&D forward with the ability to play both forward positions, Edwards has the look of a player who can have a long career, as teams are always looking for versatile forwards who can shoot and defend. With only 15 roster spots available to teams, players like Edwards are attractive options for filling out a roster because they fit everywhere. Offensive Analysis Edwards’ likely primary offensive role in the NBA is that of a floor spacer. For his career, he shot just under 40% from beyond the arc on 380 attempts; this is a generally reliable shooting profile for a prospect, since often sample sizes are smaller than his. He’s a likely bet to shoot at the NBA level, albeit not an elite shooter. Despite having good numbers as a shooter, some scouts have concerns about his unconventional shot mechanics. Edwards has a lot of “lean” on his shot and his lower body mechanics are awkward, often landing with one leg well ahead of the other. This atypical shot form plays a big role in why Edwards is not seen as a consensus first round prospect. Although it’s not likely he will be featured in the post often in the pros, Edwards is a pretty good post scorer, having scored 1.16 points per possession (95th percentile) there in his final season at Pepperdine, per Synergy. Having the ability to post a small when needed is a valuable supplementary skill. Defensive Analysis Has the size to be able to defend forwards of all types. With a 6’11 wingspan, Edwards posted a career block rate of just under 5% - a great mark for a forward - giving him some secondary rim protection utility. Although I’m confident in him being a successful team defender at the next level, I have some concerns about his foot speed when defending in space that could restrict his assignments to a degree. But this is nitpicking - he’s a strong defender. Fit with Hawks Edwards fits on any team for the simple reason that every team is looking for this sort of player to fill out roster spots. Consider the role that Solomon Hill played last season for Atlanta - although injuries were the biggest factor in why he got so much playing time, his smart team defense and ability to play both forward spots made him a regular feature in Atlanta’s rotation because these players are harder to find than you might think. However, the drawback in his play was his inability to reliably convert threes; this is the area where Edwards offers improvement. Take a player with Hill’s ability to put in a shift on D and add more shooting and you have a real rotation player. This is the upside Edwards offers and it’s why I would give him a late first round grade and it’s why I think he could be a steal for the Hawks should he drop to them in the second round. View the full article
  10. Photo by Joe Robbins/NCAA Photos via Getty ImagesWednesday morning, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic released his latest and potentially final mock draft of the 2021 cycle. In this edition, he pegged Keon Johnson, the high-flying wing out of Tennessee, as the Atlanta Hawks selection at No. 20. Here’s Vecenie’s reasoning and summary of the mock selection: The player: An elite athlete, Johnson has the kind of twitch and explosion most players only dream of possessing. At 6-foot-5, he can jump out of the gym and has burst as a driver. He’s also an elite defender on the ball already, where he uses that length and quickness to cause issues for players at the one through three spots. He’s just very raw on offense. The jumper needs work, as he’s essentially a non-shooter right now — at least efficiently. He also needs to work on his handle and driving ability. But once Tennessee let him loose late in the season, Johnson was pretty good. He averaged 14.4 points, four rebounds and three assists over his final 12 games, including a bevy of impressive highlights that showcase what his upside is if he can keep rounding out his game. The fit: Another wild card. Johnson is an extremely polarizing player for front offices. Some love his athletic upside and see him as a real potential offensive playmaker. Others just strongly believe that he’s not going to shoot it, and that he’s a bit too loose with the ball. I’ve heard anywhere from top 10 to mid-20s for Johnson from teams. But unfortunately, someone just kind of has to fall on draft night. In this iteration of the mock, Johnson is one of those fallers. It wouldn’t surprise me if I get intel later in the week that says to move him up. No one I’ve spoken with has a great feel for the Hawks right now after their deep run in the playoffs. They’re pretty set across the board positionally, with the only true need being a backup point guard for Trae Young if Lou Williams was to depart. Johnson isn’t really that, but he’s a great on-ball defender that would complement Young in the backcourt. Perhaps the most notable piece of this section is the “No one I’ve spoken with has a great feel for the Hawks right now after their deep run in the playoffs,” part. It’s something that has kind of been out there when talking about the draft relating to the Hawks, the fact that they don’t really have a true need, and probably wouldn’t address that need at No. 20 even if they did have one. GM Travis Schlenk has been stubborn with his “best player available” strategy, and with the way the majority of his picks with the Hawks have turned out, why would he change his strategy now? Addressing the backup point guard spot may be something Atlanta does with the No. 20 pick, but based on Schlenk’s history, it’s something he would only do if he also thought the player was either the best player remaining on the board, or on the same level with other prospects he may like at that spot. Both John Collins (2017) and Kevin Huerter (2018) were selected with the No. 19 pick, so Schlenk is probably the last guy that is going to take some point guard he doesn’t love at No. 20 based on “need”. He will have some guys he sees as high-upside identified, and hope one of them makes it that far down the board on draft night. Vecenie pegged Greg Brown to the Hawks at the No. 48 pick. Brown is a high upside/low floor type of talent, someone that Atlanta may be attracted to that late in the draft. Again, with no true needs on the roster, it wouldn’t seem like the worst idea to take a big swing on someone like Brown who has flashed a great deal of potential throughout his amateur career, put didn’t quite put all of it together on the court at Texas. The rumors are only beginning, and will certainly keep coming ahead of next week’s draft. If you want to stay locked in on all of our draft coverage, bookmark this link that has all of our scouting profiles for the 2021 class in one place. View the full article
  11. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SportsPeachtree Hoops’ NBA Draft scouting report series rolls on with a dive on Isaiah Jackson, a promising prospect out of Kentucky. Isaiah Jackson checks a lot of the boxes the modern NBA looks for in its college prospects. He’s a fluid and long forward with a good motor. He’s young — he doesn’t turn 20 until next January — and is a product of the biggest blue blood program imaginable, the University of Kentucky. And he has a lot of projectable skills and a frame that can add strength without losing shiftiness or leaping ability. In his freshman one-and-done season, he posted a line of 14.6 points per 36 minutes on 58.7 TS% (true shooting percentage), with 11.4 rebounds per 36 and a stellar 4.5 blocks per 36 to boot. But at 6’10” and 206-pounds, he may be a bit too wiry and positionless offensively — as well as have too many immediately raw areas — for a team to wait too long for eventual development. The truth lies, as it usually does, in the middle for Jackson. Strengths The first thing you notice when you put on tape of Isaiah Jackson is his unending hustle at all times. He gives full effort for every minute he’s on the floor, even when he isn’t receiving touches on the offensive end. Jackson’s runs the full 94 feet and finishes at the rim well with excellent bounce and explosiveness. He has a refined enough face up game, however, to contribute to his team when plays are run for him. He can use a couple of dribbles to free himself to pull up from mid-range or dart to the rim with a few power dribbles. And finishing in the restricted area is of no concern to the Wildcat, clearly. He’s has enough of a handle to free himself for looks from inside the arc. Jackson has a smooth high shot form, which allow him to hit mid-range shots at a decent clip. While shooting 70% from free throw line is merely passable, the smoothness in his motion suggests that could climb in time. Jackson fights tirelessly on the offensive glass, with a quick second jump to beat opponents for the loose board and put back bucket. He’s equally good a defensive rebounder as well, never failing to put his body on someone when the shot goes up. As a result, he gets a lot of free throws opportunities from his activity near the basket — a very good .657 FT rate or foul shots per field goal. It thus isn’t surprising to witness him blocking strings of shots, as his 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes rate suggests, but he’s particularly proficient among his peers in that area. His quick hands and awareness of situations aid in his hand to deflect and frustrate his matchups, especially near the rim. Most intriguing toward his prospect going forward is that he has a good amount of switch-ability on any defensive set. He can step out on perimeter players off screen actions and hold is own against even the craftiest and speedy point guard, like on Sharife Cooper below. Even if Isaiah Jackson does not broaden his offensive arsenal much at the next level, he should be an above average to great defender at the next level barring any unforeseen issue. With elite lateral agility and ability to contest any shot or pass in his area, he can slot into any defensive scheme, and his hard work on the end will curry favor with any coaching staff. Weaknesses and areas for improvement The Hawks had a lot of success hunting mismatches with John Collins and Danilo Gallinari in the mid post this past season, but Jackson doesn’t offer that same ability. He can’t operate with his back to the basket from any range, and is always looking to get into the high post where he can face up and take players off the dribble. At present moment, he will get pushed around in the paint due to lack of strength. He certainly has the frame to put muscle on and throw his weight around in the near future, but for now he offers up a lot of attempts like the wild one shown below. Jackson is sometimes very awkward with the ball in his hands. Put plainly, he is just not a playmaker for others, with just 18 assists in 519 minutes of college ball. This, compared to his 38 turnovers in that time frame, doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Jackson hasn’t shown the ability to step out and hit threes. He attempted just two all season, hitting neither, and needs to at least unlock a trail catch-and-shoot three as a mobile big man. Otherwise, this will render him mostly just clean up guy near the rim off shots or a lob threat on offense. Despite his blocking prowess, he might not be able to play a true center at the next level. He has a tendency to chase blocks and leave his feet on pump fakes, and his frailty means he can be backed down in the post with ease. Possible fit with the Atlanta Hawks Isaiah Jackson doesn’t project as a star, but rather a hardworking role player who immediately makes your defense better. If he can continue to be a force on the glass and add a long range shot, he can be a great glue guy off the bench immediately, with room to grow into even more. For Atlanta, they could use long term depth just about anywhere, although they do have two quality shot blockers locked in for at least the next two years contractually. In my estimation taking Jackson at 20th overall would represent bad value for a guy who I think slots in at the end of the first round or early in the second round. But the activity he brings to lineups who need defensive game changers in the near future could quickly prove me wrong. View the full article
  12. Patrick Breen via Imagn Content Services, LLCMeet Jaygup, the short shorts-wearing bucket-getter out of Arizona State Josh Christopher, a 6’4 shooting guard with a 6’9 wingspan, was the No. 10 overall recruit coming out of high school in 2020, but a leg injury ended his up-and-down freshman year at Arizona State after just 15 games. His peaks proved he could score — including a 28-point outing versus Villanova on just 17 shots — but he wasn’t always the most efficient (he shot just 43% from the field and 31% from 3 on 59 attempts), and some scouts are skeptical that he can do much else at an NBA level. In a preseason aggregate of six mock drafts, he was projected to be selected 14th in the upcoming draft, but questions about his shooting mechanics, shot selection, and basketball feel have dropped him to 29th on Rookie Scale’s most recent Consensus Big Board. On the other hand, some scouts see Christopher as the late-first-round steal of this draft, a certified bucket-getter and tenacious defender whose stock has fallen simply because of an awkward lineup fit: After scoring 2,700 points in high school, he played small forward for the Sun Devils next to Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge, two ball-dominant senior guards who are “allergic to passing,” according to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. Far too often, Christopher got the ball and tried to force a shot up, as if making up for lost time. Christopher, who’s been known by the nickname “Jaygup” since childhood, is an eye-of-the-beholder prospect. He’s been compared favorably to UConn’s James Bouknight, a fellow shooting guard ranked No. 7 on Rookie Scale’s Consensus Big Board. But others see a befuddling mix of bad decision-making, surprisingly average athleticism, and inefficient scoring — yet another gifted high school player whose warts started to show against tougher competition. Generally speaking, history has not been kind to stud recruits who fell past the lottery after one season of college or international ball, such as James Young, Henry Ellenson, Stephen Zimmerman, Terrance Ferguson, Nassir Little, Skal Labissiere, and Chieck Diallo. At the same time, that list also includes such recent successes as Keldon Johnson and Tyrese Maxey. For a team like the Atlanta Hawks, which have so much depth that their draft selection is highly unlikely to crack the rotation as a rookie, Christopher is an enticing, high-upside flier who can be brought along at his own pace. If he hits, he’s a dynamic scoring guard and strong defender who can apply rim pressure in lineups next to Trae Young and Kevin Huerter or Bogdan Bogdanovic (as the series against the Milwaukee Bucks revealed was a need), or he can function as a second-unit bucket-getter à la Lou Williams. Although Atlanta has a plethora of young wings, none of their skill sets overlap with that of Christopher, a bruising slasher whose mixture of strength and craft make him elite at both getting to and finishing at the hoop. Christopher made an amazing 73% of the 2.9 at-rim attempts he took as a freshman. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that just 37% of his at-rim baskets were assisted. Only one high-major player in college basketball (Oklahoma’s De’Vion Harmon) was more proficient and efficient than Christopher at finishing at the rim on his own. Move a few feet away from the rim, however, and things do not look so kindly for Christopher. He made just 33% of all other field goals, including 36% of his 2s and 31% of his 3s. He struggled shooting both off the dribble and off the catch. For someone whose main selling point is scoring, both on and off the ball, Christopher’s shooting is the first thing he’ll need to fix. OFFENSE Shooting: The good news is that Christopher’s shot looks more bad than broken — in need of tweaking, not a raze-and-rebuild. A big problem is that Christopher likes to shoot from his left hip, even if he receives the ball on the right side of his body. As a result, his shooting motion is circular from his catch to his release, instead of straight up and down: Even when he receives the ball on his left side, there’s still an exaggerated, Ferris Wheel-type motion of extending outward (farther to the left) and then upward: One reason to be optimistic about his shooting potential is the fact that he made 80% of his free throws, but even there that leftward swooping motion of his shot persists: As someone who shoots off his left hip, Christopher is hamstrung by his shot mechanics when driving to his right: This is particularly a problem because he’s better when driving to his right. To properly use him, the team that drafts Christopher will call a lot of downhill, jet sweep-type plays like Chicago and Miami to get him going with a head of steam to his right. But that means his defender is chasing from his left side, taking away his ability to bring the ball over to his left hip to shoot. If the defense can stop him from getting to the rim, he has to bring the ball over to his left side before shooting, which slows down his shot process and forces a lot of unnecessary side-to-side movement with his form. Getting downhill will be especially tougher against the drop coverage he’ll see in the NBA instead of the weak or hard hedges he predominately saw in college, as more teams (especially USC) proved later on in the season against him: For a bucket-getter, the scouting report for stopping Christopher is rather simple: As the season progressed, defenders sat on his left hip to take away his pull-up jumper. While it’s common for right-handed players to prefer driving to their right and pulling to their left (Jayson Tatum and Lou Williams are two examples), cross-body shooters like Lonzo Ball have an inherent difficulty shooting off the bounce, as PD Web mentions in the Let’s Watch Film episode of Christopher. Christopher, who was not known for passing up shots, was reluctant to shoot if he couldn’t bring the ball back over to his left side. He’s better, however, when he can pump fake to his right and then lean back to his left before shooting: Or after a right-to-left crossover: Or after a right-footed jab step so that the momentum back to his left syncs with his shooting motion: Or while leaning/falling to his left: When he does pull-up while going to his right, his shooting form necessitates an impressive amount of contortion to square up with the rim: For all my harping, Christopher is not a “just needs to add a shot” prospect. He made 74% of the 799 free throws and 31% of the 744 (!) 3-pointers he took in four years of high school. He’s never been shy about shooting (which suggests his 3PT % isn’t inflated by taking only the easiest looks), while he’s never been a great shooter, he’s never been awful, making 31 to 33% over his 3s over his last three years of high school. The sample sizes are ineluctably small, but for what little it’s worth, his shot seemed to progress as the season wore on. After making just 19% of his 3s through the first eight games (when he looked overly excited and his outward shooting motion was more pronounced), he made 44% of the 27 3-pointers he took over his final seven games of the season. It’s likely that his catch-and-shoot percentages at least surpass the Mendoza line, but his lasting utility, the reason he’ll stick around, is his ability to score off the dribble, both at getting to the rim and at pulling up. The good news is that his deficiencies are interrelated: Cleaning up his gather will improve both his assisted and his unassisted shooting. Apparently, he’s already working on shooting from his right hip instead of his left, and although locking his new form into his muscle memory will take time, it will give him a better chance to do what he does best — get to the rim — and expand what he can and might do with his dribble. Handle Although his handle can be somewhat loose at times, Christopher has a dynamic and fairly complex dribbling package (albeit one that’s currently limited by his need to pull-up from his left hip). He has the potential to be his team’s go-to shot creator as the shot clock winds down, but more than likely, at least for the near future, he projects to be an off-ball scorer in the mold of Bradley Beal or Anthony Edwards — somebody you run plays for, not somebody who’s the main driver of your offense, especially because he hasn’t shown the vision and playmaking ability for such a role. He’s good, however, at using his handle and threat as a slasher to gain separation for his pull-up game: ...or to get to the rack: He’s particularly fond of the left-handed in-and-out dribble, especially in transition: But he’ll also use that in-and-out to set up a crossover to his right: Watching these clips, you might notice a theme: Christopher’s handle helps him get to the rim in transition, but in half court, it’s more likely to set up a pull-up jumper. (When he did get to the rack in the half court, it was usually because he was attacking a tilted defense, but more on that below.) Unsurprisingly, Christopher is elite in transition, scoring 81 points in 59 possessions (1.37 PPP, 91st percentile). In just 15 games, Christopher shot 30/44 (68.2%) in transition, where the open space let him show off his athleticism in ways the often crowded half-court did not. He excelled both with and without the ball: 1.55 PPP as the transition ballhandler (99th percentile) vs 1.20 ppp on all other transition possessions. When he’s given an advantage — which typically happened in fast breaks because of deficiencies related both to his personal areas for improvement and to his team’s offensive system — his handle combined with his superb finishing ability shows the potential of what he might be as a pro: Finishing Mentioned earlier was the comparison between Christopher and Bouknight, and although they’re both shot-creating slashers, there’s a sizable difference in the way they score at the rim. Like Christopher, Bouknight is elite at getting to and scoring at the rim on his own, albeit on even higher volume: He made 66% of his 5.27 at-rim attempts per game, and just 35% of those field goals were assisted. (Bouknight, a sophomore, made 49% of his 4.5 rim attempts per game as a freshman, and 46% of those field goals were assisted.) But while Bouknight uses craft and deception to finish over taller defenders, Christopher uses strength. Bouknight and Christopher have almost identical heights, body fat percentages, and wingspans, but Christopher, who’s 15 months younger than Bouknight, is 25 pounds heavier. And that’s not to say Bouknight is slight; Christopher is simply that big. Of the 116 players who have measured plus or minus one inch of Christopher at the NBA Draft Combine from 2010 to 2019, only 17 of them weighed more than Christopher, and only four of those 17 had lower body fat percentages than his (Lu Dort and Malcolm Brogdon are two of the four). Christopher’s lane-agility and vertical-jump numbers at the Combine didn’t impress, but that doesn’t mean he lacks athleticism. For one, he’s more of a lateral leaper like Bradley Beal than a straight-up-and-down vertical jumper, and he has a rare combination of speed and strength, one much more common to football than basketball. He unleashes it against centers much heavier and older than himself, such as Rhode Island’s 6-10, 245 center Makhel Mitchell, whom he bounced off to score his first collegiate bucket: And here he converts despite the contact from the 7-1 Christian Koloko: He’ll also mix in finishing moves like the Euro step: And he’s terrific at using his body and strength to draw contact and maybe get to the FT line: Passing The section on Christopher’s passing will be short for a reason: The sample of his collegiate passing is short. Through 15 games, during which he accumulated 21 assists, Christopher gave credence to some of his critics, missing reads and forcing this turnover: And forgoing the easy pass to his open teammate cutting to the basket for the sake of feeding his center at the FT line with 2.5 defenders between him and the basket: At the same time, he also made some impressive decisions with the ball: (My favorite part of that last clip is the not-totally-legal brush screen he sets on Evan Mobley to give his teammate a lane to the hoop.) Whether Christopher was unable or unwilling to make certain passes is up for debate. Although he looked excitable early on, the game seemed to slow down for him as the season progressed, and while he may never be a Luka Doncic, a better offensive system and a clearer role could help considerably with his ability and likelihood to be a playmaker. His passing is a synecdoche of a larger issue with scouting players in general, but with him in particular: What’s the root cause of mental mistakes? Mental Mistakes: Fixable or not? Don’t be surprised if Josh Christopher’s coach and his team’s fan base disagree about him next year. Christopher has an amazing highlight reel of fastbreak dunks and weakside blocks — and an even bigger lowlight reel of undisciplined plays such as leaving his man to gamble for a steal, forcing (and missing) tough shots in traffic, missed reads (both offensively and defensively), and careless turnovers. Watch as he attempts to thread a behind-the-back bounce pass through four defenders instead of making the easy pass to his wide-open teammate in the far corner: While researching this piece, I shared a lot of these clips with some of my basketball friends, who responded very differently if they were scouts or coaches. On the whole, the scouts shrugged off the mental mistakes, waving them away as nothing more than youthful errors that he will grow (or be coached) out of. The coaches wanted to send him on the next ship to Siberia (full disclaimer: I coach high school basketball). One coach even called him fool’s gold, someone who didn’t need to make the right read because he’d always been bigger, stronger, and better than everyone else he played with, but whose athletic gifts and scoring craft won’t overcome his apparent lack of feel at the next level. Your opinion of him is likely influenced by whether you think his mental mistakes are a result of nature or nurture — in other words, whether they’re indicative of low basketball feel or merely bad habits. In addition to losing part of the last two years (and off-seasons) to the pandemic, Christopher didn’t go to an elite basketball prep school with a famous coach and a reputation for producing top-5 draft picks. He went to Mayfair High School, a public school in Lakewood, California, that the Atlanta Hawks legend Josh Childress and the rapper Vince Staples also attended. Christopher, who measured 6’3.25” without shoes at the NBA Draft Combine, was both his team’s best ball handler and its tallest player (he jumped for the opening tip). As a result, he has certain habits that make sense given his tutelage (he tends to get bored away from the ball, both offensively and defensively) but work against his projected role in the NBA as a dynamic off-ball scorer. He’s been compared to Norman Powell and Anthony Edwards, and like Edwards, Christopher was a 5-star recruit who forced too many low-percentage pull-up jumpers. But whereas Edwards was praised for his cutting (which some scouts interpreted as a sign of his basketball feel) and scored 46 points off cuts as a freshman, Christopher scored 6 — 4 of which came at the FT line. In 15 games, he scored exactly one field goal off a cut, although it was a good one: When he didn’t have the ball, he spent a lot of his time on offense not looking for scoring opportunities, but to simply get the ball in his hands, even if that meant bringing his defender close enough to stunt at the ball handler: His preoccupation with the ball also hindered his defense, especially his team defense. He was especially susceptible to backdoor cuts: And like a linebacker deciding to blitz even though the play calls for him to drop back in pass coverage, he often left his man on a whim to double the ball handler — sometimes resulting in highlight-caliber dunks in transition, but usually costing his team a bucket: His off-ball defense, then, is a mixed bag. All gamblers look brilliant if you notice only their successes. In fact, some of his highlight-caliber dunks happened because of laxed defense: Optimists see the athleticism, the gather step before his two-footed power jump. Cynics, meanwhile, might tend to notice the beginning of that clip: As you can see, Christopher has a head start because he started walking away from his man in the low post before his team had the ball. If Stanford hadn’t thrown the ball away, the possession probably would have ended with Christopher’s man making a layup, as is what happens on this baseline out-of-bounds play against Villanova when Christopher leaves the in-bounder to chase the pass: Watch on this play as he completely forgets about his man in order to watch the ball in the low post — not double, not dig down, merely watch — for 4 to 5 seconds: The ball’s gravitational pull on Christopher’s attention does lead to some passing-lane steals and deflections, but like a cornerback selling out for the interception, his gambles hurt his team more often than they help. Even worse, though, is when he loses track of his man simply because he’s watching the ball, in a no-reward, all-risk scenario like in this next clip. On the college level, he wasn’t punished for his ball-watching as often as he could have been. In this play, his man relocates for a would-be uncontested corner 3, but the ballhandler doesn’t spot his wide-open teammate: And again because of ball-watching, he loses his man, who relocates to the corner for a would-be open 3: Because he frequently loses track of his man, his closeouts (which are not great to begin with; more on them below) are made worse by not always knowing where to go. This is a habit of his: being slowed down by mental mistakes. Luckily, his athleticism is often enough to compensate. Here’s a similar example from one of the NBA Combine scrimmages, which by all accounts helped his draft stock: Because of ball-watching, he loses his man twice on the same play. When the ball is passed out to his man, he takes a bad angle for the closeout and gets blown by, forcing a defensive rotation that ends up costing his team a bucket. Over the course of the season, when it was time to close out on the open man, Christopher still needed to determine where he needed to go before he could start getting there. There’s a saying, coined by Ethan Strauss, that “fat is potential in disguise.” Christopher is a modified version of that maxim: “Undisciplined is potential in disguise.” Whether he’s worth a late-first-round flier is largely dependent upon the franchise’s confidence to coach him out of his worst habits. One of those habits is not anticipating screens, both for his man and set by his man. On this play, he not only lets his man get behind him, but also focuses so intently on the ball that he doesn’t notice his man is about to set a rip screen for Mobley, let alone alert his teammate that the screen is coming. Even worse is the fact the Christopher is so attached to his man that his teammate, guarding Evan Mobley, has to go around both the screener and Christopher. In other words, Christopher doesn’t “let him through,” which is a bench-able offense for some high school coaches. And then Christopher reaches in and fouls Mobley, sending him to the line: He also fails to anticipate when his own man is about to receive an off-ball screen. In this next play, USC runs rather standard flex action (initiated by a pretty clever UCLA screen for the point): After the ball has been entered to Mobley in the High Post, the play looks something like this: USC’s point guard (1) comes to set a cross screen on Christopher (x3) and then receives a down screen from 4 before curling to get the handoff at the top of the key from Mobley (5). Christopher has two options: fight over the cross screen and stay with his man (red) or switch and take the PG (yellow). Because of, once again, ball-watching, Christopher does neither. First, he’s ball-watching when Mobley gets the pass at the high post: As a result, he has to then turn his back on the play (and the ensuing cross screen) to find his man. Thanks to the absence of fans in the audience, you can actually hear the screener’s defender tell Christopher that the screen is coming. Despite that warning, however, Christopher is caught flat footed by the screen: At first, Christopher tries to stay with his man, but he is so thoroughly screened that his teammate is forced to switch. Nevertheless, Christopher takes another step or two toward middle, letting his new man run free off the down screen: Christopher is thus several feet away when the handoff occurs: After that point, however, he actually does a great job using his physical gifts to cancel out the advantage (his teammate’s hedge on the DHO certainly doesn’t hurt). Christopher’s solid tag on Mobley buys just enough time for his teammates to cover the roller, and then his quickness on the ball handler makes him pick up his dribble, forcing USC to throw up a contested 3-pointer as the shot clock dwindles down. Although he looks much better when he starts in a defensive stance, Christopher seems to have tight hips that force him upright when he’s trying to close out. NBA teams have done a terrific job recently of increasing flexibility to draft picks who looked tight in college (such as Pat Williams, Tyrese Haliburton, and Devin Vassell from last year’s class), but if that success can’t be replicated for Christopher, his closeouts could be a big reason he spends time on the bench: But as Herc says in The Wire, “Whatever else I ever did to piss you off, remember I also did this,” No matter how many benchable offenses Christopher might have committed as a freshman, he also did this: On-Ball Defense: To get it out of the way, Christopher’s mental mistakes do carry over to his on-ball defense from time to time. In this clip below, Christopher’s full-court pressure does the hard part of forcing the ballhandler to pick up the dribble — and then Christopher just leaves the ball, giving enough space for his man to pass out of a would-be trap: More often, though, Christopher’s on-ball defense is an asset, or at least potentially one. He has the length and the lateral quickness to stay with his man, especially when he’s engaged in one-on-one situations: He does need to get much better at fighting through screens, but Christopher shows the ability to move well enough laterally to defend the point of attack, and his quick hands and penchant for playmaking pay off with deflections and steals: His strengths and weaknesses often present themselves side by side. Getting back-doored forces Christopher to switch onto Oscar da Silva, a 6’9 senior power forward who scored 18.5 ppg last season, but despite the mismatch in the low post, his quick hands force the turnover and save a bucket: If he can put it all together — if he can fight over screens, play both his man and the ball, and close out consistently — his playmaking and ball-hawk tendencies give him the chance to do what he does best: dunk in transition. Fit With Hawks: Barring major trades, the Atlanta Hawks enter the 2021 offseason with no major holes on their roster, except for backup PG. Some front offices are reluctant to spend a first-round draft pick on a position that has a ceiling of about 10 minutes per game. Unless that player can also play alongside Trae Young as a shooting guard, Atlanta might prefer signing a veteran floor general instead of drafting a pure point guard with the No. 20 pick. Whatever the Hawks decide to do for their backup PG (that is, even if Kris Dunn fills the role admirably), the arrival of Williams and the playoffs in general revealed a missing element of Atlanta’s offense: somebody besides Young who can apply pressure on the rim. Young and Williams played just 89 minutes together during the regular season, posting a plus/minus of -16 thanks to a 130.5 defensive rating. But then in the second round of the playoffs, the Sixers did their best to take Young out of the game, and the need for a second on-ball creator forced the Hawks to play both Young and Williams. Luckily, Philadelphia didn’t have the guards to punish that lineup on the defensive side, scoring just 105 points per 100 possessions despite shooting 48% from 3 during that time. The series against Milwaukee was another story — a story made worse when Young sat out with an injury. Both Huerter and Bogdanovic are excellent secondary playmakers and terrific off-ball movers, but neither is necessarily elite at gaining separation on his own, without a ball screen. Without Young on the floor, Milwaukee was comfortable switching ball screens and daring Huerter and Bogdanovic to attack Lopez off the bounce: It just so happens that attacking off the bounce is perhaps Christopher’s greatest strength. With his rim pressure and athleticism, he could seamlessly fit in lineups between Young and Bogdanovic/Huerter, especially if he fulfills his potential as a point-of-attack defender. At the same time, his shot creation and skill with the ball in his hands make him a possible successor to Williams as a second-unit bucket-getter. Christopher is an intriguing prospect because his potential to be both an on-ball and an off-ball scorer, his strength and size, and his defensive ability let him fit in any number of lineup configurations. In the short term, however, Christopher needs seasoning, especially in terms of operating without the ball, and much like Kevin Porter Jr with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Christopher could benefit from some time in the G-League to get much-needed reps. Luckily, the Hawks could afford to bring him along slowly, which is especially valuable now that Atlanta probably won’t have the cap room in the near future to sign a free agent with his possible scoring dynamism. Christopher might not hit (most picks in the 20s do not become long-term NBA contributors), but like the Philadelphia 76ers drafting Tyrese Maxey last year instead of older, “contribute now” guards like Payton Pritchard and Malachi Flynn, Atlanta has a chance to go big with Christopher. *To be fair, Bogi had an excellent game scoring via off-ball screens and stepbacks, but made just 1 of 3 field goals when taking Lopez to the rim. View the full article
  13. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Atlanta Hawks will reportedly add two new assistant coaches to Nate McMillan’s staff, per Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. McMillan adds two familiar faces, one being one of his former assistants with the Portland Trail Blazers, Joe Prunty, and the other being his son, Jamelle McMillan. Prunty was with McMillan from 2008 to 2010 in Portland, and spent the bulk of his time since then between stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-2013) and Milwaukee Bucks (2014-2018). He served as interim head coach of the Bucks in 2018 after the firing of Jason Kidd. Jamelle McMillan started his career as assistant coach in 2013 with the New Orleans Pelicans under Monty Williams. He was an assistant in New Orleans for seven seasons, but was not on Stan Van Gundy’s staff this past season. This would appear to fill the vacant void’s left on the Hawks’ bench, as they obviously were already down one coach when they let Lloyd Pierce go in March. The recent departure of Melvin Hunt left an additional spot open. Prunty and J. McMillan join Chris Jent, Marlon Garnett and Matt Hill to round out Atlanta’s coaching staff heading into next season. McMillan was named the team’s head coach officially earlier this month after leading the Hawks on an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals. View the full article
  14. Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty ImagesIn this edition of our NBA Draft scouting profile series, we look at JT Thor, a versatile forward out of Auburn. There might be more diverse opinions about JT Thor than any other prospect in the 2021 NBA draft class. He is one of the youngest players in the class, he doesn’t turn 19 until late August. And in his one season at Auburn he flashed a pretty tantalizing combination of raw skills. For Thor it probably starts with the physical profile. At the NBA draft combine he measured in at 6’8.5 (no shoes) with a 7’3.25 wingspan. And considering his age, he might grow a bit more... a bit of an overwhelming thing to mentally process. In several phases of the game he already looks like a pretty functional basketball player. The hand-eye coordination seems more than solid and, as a result, a decent baseline set of ball handling and shooting skills look promising. Thor’s decision making and feel for the game are nowhere near where an evaluator would want them to be right now but, if they were, he might be vying to be taken in the top half of the lottery. One must also be aware of the development track he has taken thus far. He played at three different high schools in three very different parts of the country (including his final two seasons at Norcross High School) and still managed to emerge as a top-50 collegiate recruit. In his single NCAA season he managed an impressive ratio of blocks (37) and offensive rebounds (44) to personal fouls (55). Uber young athletic types that chase blocks and offensive boards typically amass a million fouls. A look here at him working as a rim protector: His ability to function as a disruptor, particularly as a weak side rim protector and jumping passing lines, while keeping himself under control is encouraging in how he may one day be able to apply his physical tools such that he maximizes their impact. What he offers, at the moment, as an athlete needs to be made clear considering he is sometimes talked about as elite, which he is not. Earlier this week I wrote about Trey Murphy III, who is also misunderstood as an athlete to a decent degree. Murphy has excellent lateral athleticism but not much in the form of first-step explosiveness and straight line speed. Thor is the inverse of Murphy in that his first step is fairly bursty, in a sneaky sort of way because of how lanky he is, and that his ability to switch ends of the floor is quite good. Thor posted a 3.06 second three-quarter court sprint at the combine, which would have been third best, at worst, in each of the last ten (!!!) combines. But Thor’s lateral quickness is not (yet) what one might expect based upon his reputation. That’s not to say he is a negative in this department, just that he probably shouldn’t be automatically projected as a player that is going to be an eventual wing stopper at the next level. He had the fifth worst lane agility performance at the combine although he performed better in the shuttle drill. Young, rangy athletes that are likely still getting used to their length often struggle in these evaluation drills. I would expect him to be much better moving horizontally after a year or so in an NBA training environment but whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen. He’s an exceptionally fluid athlete, in the Cam Reddish mold, applying his traits with precise and measured methods. The constructive nuance of how he applies these traits can be seen in this example: He instinctively uses a safe dribble to navigate space and traffic for the easy bucket. Here he is with a grab-and-go opportunity: He smartly gives up the ball before he encountering tight space and then works to create a lay up for a teammate. The feel and decision making issues show up when he is trying to do more than he is capable of doing at this stage. When he keeps it simple he’s pretty solid. Considering that he will play his entire rookie season in the NBA at the age of 19, one has to allow for the possibility that he could progress quite a bit in the areas of his physical abilities and ball skills. I buy him as a shooter despite a sub-30% mark last season (74 attempts). In terms of his shooting form, his upper half is impressively quiet (no wasted motion) and efficient. It’s his footwork that leads to the inconsistency...one of the easier things to address in a professional development environment. Here you can see the simplicity of his motion and what the shot looks like when the feet are under control: Beautiful. The ball comes off the fingertips. You see the excellent rotation. Everything is wonderfully soft and easy. When a young big man naturally navigates the tight space in and near the corner to get behind the line without stepping out of bounds, it’s a reliable indication that he is putting in a ton of work as a shooter: Exquisite. But here you can see the result when he is kicking his feet forward and landing on one foot instead of two: As mentioned, that shouldn’t be tough to refine. Different outlets have him all over the place in terms of where they expect him to be drafted. He can be seen in the latter part of the first round, at different spots in the second round or at risk of being undrafted. It seems likely that Thor will be drafted at this point, and either way he will be in NBA camp and hopefully playing at Summer League next month. But what any team thinks a realistic outcome is for Thor will surely impact where they have him on their own board. If he doesn’t progress much in his ability to move laterally, Thor may need to be developed defensively as a center. This is a completely reasonable plan for him. If he could grow to function as a stretch five with rim protection equity, it would be a great outcome. If Thor can further develop athletically such that he can be a plus defender on the interior and the perimeter, and if the teenager can defend at both forward spots and at center, then you have a player that projects enough value to potentially sneak into the end of the lottery talent wise. View the full article
  15. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsPeachtree Hoops’ annual draft scouting report series is in full swing. With just 10 days to go until the draft, several prospects have already been profiled, and today, we take a dive on Quentin Grimes, a wing prospect out of Houston. For a look at the full list, click here. Quentin Grimes is an interesting wing prospect who began his career with the Kansas Jayhawks, but spent his final two collegiate seasons with the Houston Cougars. Grimes saw his production increase each season in college, becoming out of Houston’s featured players as a junior. Grimes posted career highs in points, rebounds, steals, three-point percentage and three-point attempts in his junior season. A potential 3-and-D wing at the next level, Grimes has quite a bit to offer standing at 6’5 with a 6’8 wingspan. It should be noted that Grimes is not new to the draft process. He was actually at the combine in 2019, and when he pulled out of the draft to return to school, Kansas had already given away his scholarship, which resulted in the transfer to Houston. ESPN currently ranks Grimes as their No. 29 overall prospect, while Sam Vecenie of The Athletic slots the wing a bit lower at No. 49. Offense Perhaps most notably, Grimes almost doubled his three-point volume as a junior. After taking around four three-pointers per game in his first two NCAA seasons, he attempted 8.3 three-pointers per game in 2020-21, making over 40% of those looks, which was by far a career high as well. Grimes put his improved shooting touch on display in last month’s NBA Draft Combine: He is, again, a bit reliant on that jumper, however. He didn’t generate a ton of shots at the rim for himself (and wasn’t efficient on the ones he did create) in the AAC, so, projecting towards the next level, he is likely best utilized as a spot-up shooter who can wiggle his way his spot when the defense rotates too aggressively. Passing is another area where Grimes has shown flashes. He’s a headsy passer, but not someone you want on the ball a ton of the time. He had low assist numbers in NCAA play, as he wasn’t often someone the coaching staff relied on to make plays for others. Grimes also averaged 1.6 offensive rebounds per game as a junior with Houston, a pretty high number for a wing. While wings are often tasked with getting back on defense in the NBA game as opposed to crashing the glass, it’s a skill he does have. His combination of length and strength make him a tough box-out for leaner guards and wings. Overall, Grimes is a bit limited in terms of upside on the offensive end. The shooting improvements he has made were essential to his draft stock, but outside of that, he doesn’t project as a big-time offensive weapon in the NBA. He shot just 41% on 2s as a junior, which was barely better than his 40.3% mark from three-point range. Defense The ‘D’ part of the 3-and-D equation is massive for Grimes. He was a big part of Houston’s daunting defensive attack, one that carried them all the way to the 2021 Final Four. Often tasked with the opposing team’s best wing, Grimes almost always held his own on the perimeter. He has the size, length and agility to stay in front of his man, and the athleticism to contest their shots. He does a nice job of defending and contesting shots without fouling, and also pitches in on the glass (4.1 defensive rebounds per game as a junior). His combination of size and quickness projects to be useful at the next level. He should be someone who can switch 1-3 on the wing, and perhaps even take on some smaller 4s in a pinch with his length and rebounding ability. This end of the floor is going to be so big for Grimes, as he’s likely going to be somewhat limited to spot-up shooting offensively. If he’s able to be of true impact defensively, that could swing him from a lower end rotation player to a highly coveted 3-and-D wing, a la Danny Green. Fit with Hawks Grimes is probably not someone worthy of being selected with the Hawks’ first-round selection (No. 20 overall) as better and higher upside options should and likely will be available, but if Atlanta sticks at No. 48 in the second round, or acquires another second-round pick somehow, there are certainly worse options than Grimes. Quality 3-and-D wings are hard to find, and while he’s not of tremendous size like De’Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish, scooping up a 6’5 3-and-D wing with a 6’8 wingspan like Grimes in the late second round or as a Two Way guy does not seem like a bad idea at all. View the full article