Pure Passer, Shot Creator, Tall Passer

Luka Doncic Scouting Report

(First posted at Upside & Motor.)

CONTEXT

Probably no other underage player in the world has gotten as much high level experience as Luka Doncic last season.

The 17-year-old born in Slovenia didn’t immediately become a rotation player in his first full season as pro with Real Madrid but it’s not as if he was only carried on the senior squad to earn experience in practice either.

Head-coach Pablo Laso saw him as a legit viable option for certain situations and as the team dealt with some injuries midway through the year, Doncic logged 668 minutes, including 133 minutes against Euroleague competition.

PHYSICAL PROFILE

And with Sergio Rodriguez transferring to the NBA, there is a chance Doncic will earn more regular playing time next season, which he should be able to handle, even at such a young age, because of his size (six-foot-five, 218 pounds – according to Real Madrid’s website).

The biggest issue for teenagers at the pro level is dealing with the physical nature of the game but there is no such issue with Doncic, best reflected in his ability to maintain his balance through contact on drives, get dribble penetration deep into the lane and finish through contact. His large frame invites contact, awarding him 4.3 foul shots per 40 minutes last season.

More impressive, though, is the fact he can already put his strength to use in the post. In one of the games against Barcelona in the ACB Finals Doncic took 31-year-old, 230-pounder Stratos Perperoglou to the low block and backed him down into a short-range attempt that net him free throws.

Then when Perpeoglou tried taking it back to him on the very next possession (it was a matter of pride at that point given Doncic is a teenager), the Slovenian proved himself tough enough to hold his ground in post defense and shut the Greek veteran down in very impressive fashion.

ATHLETICISM

Doncic’s athletic ability isn’t up to speed with his size, though. Playing against fully developed men, the 17-year-old hasn’t shown particularly impressive quickness and hops off the bounce at this point of his development.

Doncic can get off the ground out of one foot to finish with power in transition or on a straight line drive unimpeded and play above the rim as a target for lobs on weak-side cuts along the baseline.

But he doesn’t have great speed playing downhill in pick-and-roll or on straight-line drives off a live-dribble, also lacking burst to turn the corner and attack the rim with explosiveness. Doncic hasn’t flashed much ability to hang in the air and finish around length either.

He’s for sure athletic enough to make pitch in some on defense, though. While his contributions through blocks and steals are marginal, Doncic collected 20% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season – according to RealGM. That’s a remarkable rate for any perimeter player, let alone a point guard.

POLISH

Because of his size, Doncic can play any spot around the perimeter at the European level. But regardless of position, at his core, he’s a lead ball-handler who looks to create shots for others as his priority.

Doncic has impressive court vision and has proven to be the sort of passer who anticipates openings a second before they happen, assisting on 20.2% of Real Madrid’s scores when he was on the floor last season – which is more impressive than it sounds because he often shared the floor with either Rodriguez or Sergio Llull, and they were the ones responsible for running offense.

Doncic is too aggressive trying to threat the needle with some of his assist attempts on the move, though. At this point of his development, he is a turnover machine, coughing it on 27.6% of his possessions last season.

His handle is solid for someone his age, though he hasn’t yet shown many dribble moves to create separation side-to-side to get decent looks off the dribble. He is a capable pull-up shooter if the opponent gets stuck on a screen or sells out to take away the lob to the roll man and leaves him open but not at all the sort of shot maker who stresses defensive schemes, like his teammates Llull and Rodriguez are, for example.

Off the catch, Doncic is an average open-shot gunner as of now. He’s sort of a set shooter, getting very little elevation off the ground, but his release is quicker in comparison to what it looked in junior ranks and the mechanics look clean – nailing 36.8% of his 68 three-point attempts last season. Doncic hasn’t shown much in terms of shooting coming off screens yet, though.

Defensively, he stays on a stance defefending off the ball and has shown signs he’s an attentive team defender rotating inside to take up space but struggles chasing opponents around screens. In that area, his size is actually a disadvantage as he’s often gotten stuck on picks. Doncic is also not above getting caught watching at the ball and beaten backdoor from time to time, which is to be expected from someone his age.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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7-footer, Stretch Big

DeAndre Ayton Scouting Report

(First posted at Upside & Motor.)

CONTEXT

There is already a ton of hype surrounding DeAndre Ayton.

The 18-year-old born in the Bahamas is the next big teenage phenom NBA teams dream of years before he’s even eligible for the draft. On some corners of the internet, he’s already written of as a legend in the making.

His participation at the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit and the 2016 Centrobasket helped shed some light into the specifics of his skill-set, though didn’t necessarily provide a full picture of where exactly he is at in this stage of his development because both teams he was a part of were pretty weak.

PHYISICAL PROFILE & ATHLETICISM

The first thing that stands out about Ayton is his combination of size, length and athletic ability. According to Draft Express, he was measured in Portland at seven-feet tall with a 243-pound frame and a seven-foot-five wingspan. That’s remarkable for someone his age, though perhaps more impressive are his coordination and agility at that size.

Defensively, Ayton’s athleticism translates in his ability to guard above the foul line. He was asked to defend middle pick-and-rolls by extending outside the lane. Ayton isn’t polished enough to keep opponents from getting dribble penetration by positioning himself well but proved able to recover and block shots from behind on drives opposing guards turned the corner around him.

Ayton also showed some potential picking up smaller players on switches. In the game against Mexico, he found himself on Jorge Gutierrez three times and proved himself able to keep pace on straight line drives well enough to block from behind or prevent him from attempting shots at the rim, though in a previous game against the Virgin Islands, Walter Hodge didn’t have as much trouble getting by him and finishing at the basket before Ayton caught up to him.

His top skill at this stage is his shot blocking rotating off the weak-side. He can shuffle his feet and rise up off the floor very easily out of one foot, averaging 5.4 blocks per 40 minutes at the 2016 Centrobasket – based on stats available at fiba.com.

Though he’s flashed the ability to elevate almost as explosively out of two feet out of standstill position on a couple of occasions, Ayton wasn’t as impressive a rim protector stepping into the front of the basket. Guys like Victor Liz and Juan Coronado managed to finish around his nine-foot-three standing reach on a few drives in the game against the Dominican Republic.

On offense, Ayton hasn’t shown to be particularly impressive changing ends of the court, which is disappointing for someone with his athletic prowess. He played with pretty poor guards both with the World Team and the Bahamas National Team and was not given enough opportunities diving to the basket out of pick-and-roll, though he did flash appealing coordination catching the ball on the move around the elbow, taking two steps and exploding out of one foot to finish with power uncontested in the game against the Dominican Republic on a possession the Dominicans tried pressing at half-court.

As a part of those teams, Ayton’s athleticism translated best in his ability to generate second chance opportunities. He plays with nice energy pursuing the ball off the rim at a high point, has long arms to rebound outside of his area and second-jump-ability to fight for 50-50 balls and attempt tip-ins – averaging 5.4 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes in Panama. That pressure he put on opposing big men also led to 6.6 foul shots per 40 minutes, which he converted at an 82.4% clip.

SKILL LEVEL & POLISH

Defensively, Ayton is hit-and-miss with regards to his boxout responsibilities. Jarrett Allen, Angel Delgado and Eloy Vargas were successful establishing inside position under the glass against him. But Ayton’s pursuit and massive rebounding area assured him as an above average rebounder against those levels of competition, grabbing five defensive rebounds in 26 minutes at the Hoop Summit and averaging 11.6 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes at Centrobasket.

Ayton looked huge against his age group in Portland but a little less physically imposing against grown men in Panama. Nonetheless, he proved himself strong enough to establish decent position in the mid-post area but played with guards who consistently failed to enter the ball to him well in both settings.

Whenever he did get the ball with his back to the basket, Ayton showed some glimpses of appealing skill but is evidently still a work in progress. His footwork is fluid, if not necessarily well polished yet. He doesn’t have power moves or shot-fakes but flashed nice touch on a turnaround right-handed hook within five feet. That touch was also present on non-dunk finishes around length at the basket when he spot-up along the baseline.

Ayton flashed a little bit of passing, especially on a couple of possessions when he passed it quickly to cutters on give-and-go’s, but mostly still struggles handling double-teams, turning it over twice in the game in Portland and nine times in four appearances in Panama.

As a dribbler, he was not particularly comfortable with the Bahamas National Team, looking to give up the ball to a teammate as soon as he could after collecting a defensive rebound. But Ayton did show great coordination grabbing a loose ball at half-court and taking it to the basket at full speed unimpeded on one occasion in the game against Mexico.

Playing for a bad team that couldn’t get him decent interior looks, Ayton relied heavily on his outside shot at Centrobasket. His shot selection is suspect, as he was prone to taking quick shots whenever he went a while without touching the ball. And the results are mixed at this point of his development.

Ayton elevates with great balance off the catch, his mechanics appear pretty clean, his touch looks pure and the arc on his shot seems great when the ball goes in. But quite often he releases on a flat straight line to the front of the rim. Ayton missed seven of the nine three-point shots he took at Centrobasket and his unimpressive 44.9% two-point shooting was a consequence of his so-so mid-range jump-shooting – almost all of them taken out of standstill position, as he was rarely put in the pick-and-pop.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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3D wing

Bruno Caboclo Scouting Report

CONTEXT

The Raptors are a very well managed franchise – one of the few teams in the league with talent to win now (ranking in the top five in wins last season) while also possessing a number of prospects who could maintain them relevant without a significant drop-off when Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll decline as they enter their 30s.

The downside is that those younger players don’t have a clear path to regular playing time. Even Norman Powell, who earned a rotation spot late in the season and got some postseason experience as well, really only logged 725 minutes in his first year. Delon Wright, an older rookie who looked ready to step in right away, appeared in just 27 games due to Cory Joseph’s presence.

As a consequence, Toronto ended up sending these two to Summer League, which elevated the level of competitiveness of the team, which went 4-1 in Las Vegas, only losing in the semifinals because it blew an eight-point lead entering the fourth quarter. But the issue with having two overqualified guys at Summer League is that it takes opportunity away from other prospects to try expanding their skill-sets in a competitive environment.

Specifically speaking, that opportunity was taken away from Bruno Caboclo. With Wright and Powell running offense throughout the week, the 20-year-old played the exact same role he had in the D-League last season, which was as a weak-side spot-up shooter who didn’t have any plays run for him.

WEAK-SIDE OFFENSE

Caboclo parked in the corners throughout the week, with three-point shots accounting for 31 of his 47 attempts from the field in Vegas.

He has not shown to improve much since the end of the season. Caboclo remains a capable open-shot shooter, nailing 35.5% of his shots from beyond the arc, but a gunner who struggles when an opponent rushes his release, as he pulls the trigger rather methodically still.

Caboclo flashed some ability to make shots on the move – once out of screening for the pick-and-pop and one other jogging around a screen, setting his feet quickly and letting it fly in balance. But Toronto didn’t give him many opportunities to check if that’s a skill that can be truly counted on.

Attacking closeouts, Caboclo showed once again he’s not particularly explosive off the bounce but has strength in his 218-pound frame to maintain his balance through contact and get into the lane. He did not finish as well in traffic as he had in the D-League, unable to attack length at the rim with any burst (even out of one foot) or score well enough on non-dunk finishes, as he shot seven-for-16 on two-pointers.

From a team offense-standpoint, Caboclo rarely caught-and-held the ball and proved himself very willing to make the extra pass around the perimeter. But he once again showed he’s not particularly instinctive as a cutter, very rarely diving baseline to the basket, which is disappointing considering he’s flashed the ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs running the break in transition a couple of times.

SHOT CREATION

Caboclo took a few guys one-on-one here and there and found himself with the ball in his hands late in the shot clock a few times as well. On those instances, he looked about the same as he had in the D-League; his handle is good enough for him to get a mid-range jumper off or for him to dribble his way into a quick post-up but he doesn’t have any shiftiness to shake opponents side-to-side to get dribble penetration and is prone to getting the ball stripped from him in traffic – turning it over on 20.1% of his possessions, according to RealGM.

Caboclo’s long strides were not as affective against this caliber of competition as they were in the D-League, failing to get around Patrick McCaw and David Laury on grab-and-go’s and unable to get by Adreian Payne on a switch more than once.

Caboclo showed willingness to pass on the move but can only identify open teammates when they are evident at this point of his development, as his six assists in five appearances reflect.

WEAK-SIDE DEFENSE

Caboclo mostly guarded the corners as well in Vegas, as the Summer League team didn’t experiment with having him play some center as the D-League team did towards the end of the season. Caboclo didn’t even play power forward, as Pascal Siakam and EJ Singler were tasked with guarding interior players for most of the minutes Caboclo was on.

As a weak-side defender, Caboclo proved attentive to his help responsibilities. As a function of his role, he does not disrupt a ton of plays in the passing lanes (which is disappointing considering his length) but makes rotations where his massive standing reach makes a difference contesting shots at the rim. His contribution on the glass is significant as well, as he collected 15.5% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.

Caboclo is only so-so closing out to shooters, though. I thought he didn’t have enough closing speed to run guys off the three-point line but he did it a couple of times (albeit with iffy balance, allowing a path for dribble penetration into the lane), which then makes you wonder why doesn’t he succeed at it more often. Nonetheless, his length is a great asset to contest these outside shots effectively.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Pure Passer, Shot Creator

Tyler Ulis Scouting Report

(First posted at Upside & Motor.)

CONTEXT

I was one of the people skeptical of Tyler Ulis’ ability to make any sort of impact at the pro level. My rationale was that while his intelligence is very appealing, he simply lacks a baseline combination of physical profile, athleticism and aggressiveness to make up for his deficiencies.

193 minutes of Summer League play isn’t enough to prove me completely wrong. Summer League is essentially a higher level of the collegiate game; aggregating guys that aged out of that system, guys that were born in different countries and never went through that system, and only a couple dozen or so NBA-caliber rotation players. It makes sense that someone who was great in college would manage to be great in Summer League, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will earn NBA minutes, as recent history is full of examples.

But Ulis’ performance last week should make me reconsider some of my assumptions, especially with regards to whether he can play with the sort of aggressiveness needed for someone his size to beat the odds.

That’s an issue best raised, in my opinion, by Jonathan Tjarks in a post about JJ Barea. Paraphrasing him, Tjarks argued that while people often complain about how Barea (and guys like Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson fit that narrative as well) tends to dribble the air out of the ball and hunt for his own shots constantly, that’s really the only way he can survive in that league.

AGGRESSIVENESS & OPPORTUNITY

I’ve never thought Ulis had shown the inclination to play that way at Kentucky. It must be mentioned that he always played on loaded squads, with plenty of lottery-caliber talent that needed to be given their shots, so he wasn’t given the proper opportunity to stand out as a scoring threat. But the counter to that would be it wouldn’t get any easier for him to assert himself in the actual NBA.

Yet, that’s exactly what he did in Las Vegas, on a team fairly loaded for Summer League standards. Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss were shut down after the first few days but Alan Williams, Dragan Bender, Troy Williams and Kyle Kuric stayed on until the end, and there was never any doubt once Booker was gone that Ulis was the reason they reached the semifinals.

According to RealGM, his 22.7% usage-rate last week was about the same as his 23.2% in his final season at Kentucky but I felt Ulis was a lot more willing to pull-up from range regardless of the shot clock, whenever he felt that was the right thing to do given how the defense reacted, which there was never any doubt he could properly.

It should also be mentioned the Suns did right by him. Ulis was not only put in middle pick-and-roll constantly but was also given a lot of double high ball-screens to get him very good separation from his defender as he went downhill.

SHOT CREATION

Working with the aid of a screen is key for Ulis because while he has hesitation moves and great control of the ball to try getting by his man one-on-one, he has short strides and isn’t particularly explosive, so he can’t get separation.

Ulis is somewhat limited in pick-and-roll as well, as he can’t turn the corner with the sort of burst to attack length at the rim with power. But he proved able to play with the right mix of aggressiveness and productivity last week to maximize what he already had in terms of intelligence and polish.

Ulis pulled up off the dribble quite a bit in Vegas and made a bunch of mid-range shots, stoping on a dime after getting separation through those double high ball-screens or snaking his dribble out of the pick-and-roll.

While there should be skepticism regarding his ability to continue making as many tough shots as he did last week and he wasn’t remarkably efficient or anything (really only nailing 43.4% of his 69 two-point shots), Ulis hit enough such looks, after proving willing enough to take them regularly, that defenses adjusted. Accounting for the threat of his scoring, opponents looked to run him off his shot.

Ulis squeezed his way through traffic for some uncontested layups but whenever he penetrated into the lane, he looked to keep his dribble alive and search for opponents napping or teammates moving to open spots, assisting on 36.9% of Phoenix’s scores when he ran the offense, while also maintaining giveaways at a minimum, as he posted a 3.45 assist-to-turnover ratio.

DEFENSE

The biggest concern regarding Ulis as a pro is his defense.

Ulis has lateral quickness to stay attached to his man’s hip and puts in the effort to stay in front. He’s also shown a lot of heart trying to get physical fronting big men whenever he’s found himself caught on a switch and proven to be an attentive team defender.

But Ulis lacks the strength to contain dribble penetration through contact and length to contest mid-range shots effectively or make plays from behind after navigating over ball-screens, aside from not being the sort of athlete who can make any real difference in help defense.

That said, Ulis’ performance in Vegas was encouraging on that end of the court as well. He looked to be very aggressive trying to strip opponents with his quick hands, coming up golden with 17 steals in six appearances.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Catch&Score Finisher, Stretch Big

Marquese Chriss Scouting Report

(First posted at Upside & Motor.)

CONTEXT

Marquese Chriss was the fastest rising prospect during the final month before the NBA draft, with Draft Express projecting him to end up in either Boston through the third pick or Phoenix through the fourth.

But the Celtics ended up opting for Jaylen Brown, a prospect that fits best what the Cavaliers will look for when they eventually trade Kevin Love, and the Suns opted for teenage phenom Dragan Bender, someone who has flashed a combination of size and skill-set rarely seen before.

Phoenix, however, remained interested in Chriss. As he stayed on the board longer than anticipated, bypassed over the next three picks, it traded the 13th and 28th picks and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic to Sacramento, a team that had problems getting the majority of the top prospects to work out with them, for the opportunity to select Chriss with the eighth pick.

In a way, it worked out perfectly for the Suns. Had they taken Chriss fourth, Bender either wouldn’t be available or the Kings would be hard pressed not take him. By working the odds and at a reasonable cost, Phoenix managed to get the prospect with the highest upside and also the one with the highest chance of developing into a star soon enough for the general manager to keep his job.

That’s not to say the 19-year-old should be expected to become a meaningful contributor right away. At least we can’t say that based on his performance at Summer League, which while better than Bender’s, wasn’t particularly impressive either.

ATHLETIC ABILITY

Chriss should be better prepared to pitch in sooner than Bender because of his very impressive combination of physical profile and athleticism.

He appeared in just three games before getting shut down but those were enough to notice Chriss not only already belongs out there among grown men from a physical-standpoint, but stands out.

Logging most of his minutes with Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, two players who need the aid of a screen to get separation, Chriss set a bunch of picks on the ball. He’s shown to be an iffy screener, who doesn’t always look to draw contact in instances where he was not looking to slip instantly, but showcased soft hands to catch the ball on the move and flashed his ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs.

Chriss also managed to translate his athetic ability into production in the offensive glass. His seven-foot wingspan is average in the context of his six-foot-10 height, so he can’t rebound outside of his area all the much and needs to be relentless in order to generate second chance opportunities. And that’s what he did in Vegas, playing with the sort of motor you’d like to see of someone with his athletic prowess, pursuing the ball off the rim with energy and looking quite explosive elevating out of two feet for some tip-dunks.

According to RealGM, Chriss collected 11.5% of Phoenix’s misses in his 90 minutes on the floor and put pressure in the opposing big men to earn 14 foul shots in that timespan, which translates to about 6.2 free throws per 40 minutes.

Another aspect that is very appealing about Chriss regards his fluidity. He moves very easily for someone his size, flashing smooth footwork attacking off the bounce and with his back to the basket.

TOUGHNESS AND DISCIPLINE ON DEFENSE

That said, he didn’t play with the sort of toughness needed to maximize that agility in Vegas. Chriss should have plenty of strength in his 233-pound frame to establish whatever position he wants more often than not but that was not the case last week. Even against smaller players on switches.

In the game against the Celtics, RJ Hunter pushed him off the low post all the way to the wing and instead of trying to bully him anyway – it should have been a matter of pride at that point – Chriss opted for a step-back three-pointer instead. When he had Jaylen Brown on him, Chriss looked like he wanted no part of trying to back him down into a short-range look.

Maybe also due to that softness or perhaps a pure lack of discipline, Chriss wasn’t that attentive to his boxout responsibilities on the defensive glass. As established above, it’s unquestionable he can pursue the ball off the rim quicker and at a higher point than most of his competition but collecting just 21% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor was somewhat unimpressive, even if he shared most of minutes with Alan Williams.

That lack of discipline materialized more evidently in other aspects of defense as well. Chriss was terrible closing out to oppsing big men at the three-point line, doing so off balance and opening up a path to the middle for them to attacking him off the bounce.

His athleticism and agility should make him a phenomenal asset picking up smaller players on switches but that wasn’t the case in Vegas. He absolutely proved able to keep someone like Damion Lee in front out on an island one time but that was maybe the only time he was really engaged. On most of the other matchups, Chriss played straight up, failing to get in a stance and was unable to stay in front when smaller players shifted him side-to-side.

He did not show to be a particularly instinctive defender coming off the weak-side to help, stepping into the front of the basket in rim protection, making plays in the passing lanes and avoiding fouling – averaging 7.1 personal fouls per 40 minutes.

SKILL LEVEL

Chriss also didn’t flash many instincts on offense, in terms of making plays for others and recognizing he was about to be doubled in the post or drive into a crowd. Through three games, he was responsible for one assist and 10 turnovers.

Nothing drew much attention with regards to other aspects of his skill level. Chriss missed all seven of his three-point shots last week but based on how he looked taking outside shots at Washington, it is reasonable to expect he’ll be a perfectly fine open-shot shooter at the pro level as well and perhaps even the sort of guy who can drag opposing big men off screens and operate in the pick-and-pop, which he was not given a lot of opportunity to showcase in Vegas.

Within close range, Chriss has proven able to score around length at the basket with nice touch on non-dunk finishes, as his body control in traffic is also of help there as well. His 42.3% two-point shooting was more a reflection of his need for polishing his shot selection, especially working off the bounce.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Pure Passer, Shot Creator

Thomas Heurtel Scouting Report

Very few players have been given the sort of opportunity to dominate an offense the way Thomas Huertel has over the last two seasons. Head-coach Dusan Ivkovic decided, I assume, that the best way to make up for the fact that he is a massive defensive liability was having him dictate everything.

That’s still confusing, though, given Huertel developed into a pretty good spot-up shooter since transferring to Turkey, nailing 40.2% of his 489 three-point shots over the last two seasons – according to RealGM. And Efes had players in other positions who could have used more shot creation opportunity.

Heurtel didn’t always just bring the ball up and went through no-pass or one-pass possessions 100% of the time. Quite often he started off the ball or gave up possession pretty early into the shot clock and went through a few screens to then get the ball on the second side for a catch-and-go or sprinted to the top of the key to get it on a dribble hand-off for a middle pick-and-roll.

Out of middle pick-and-roll, Heurtel has proven able to stop on a dime and pull-up in balance, even from three-point range. He’s proven able to make these shots at an appealing rate.

His top priority is always going around the ball-screen and getting into the lane. Heurtel does not have a tight handle, can’t maintain his balance through contact and is a bit reckless with some of the chances he takes trying to thread the needle on cross-court passes, turning the ball over on over 21% of Anadolu Efes’ possessions when he was on the floor these last two years.

He’s almost always looking to pass out of dribble penetration and has shown great court vision when his decision making is on point, assisting on more than 40% of Efes’ scores on each of the last two seasons – one of the highest marks in the continent.

Heurtel is quick enough side-to-side and has some hesitation moves to get decent pull-ups off on straight isolations but mostly needs the aid of a screen to get downhill. He is less of a threat the deeper he gets into the lane as he lacks burst to attack length at the rim with any sort of explosiveness.

For as many points as he created, Heurtel often gave up just as many on the end, where he was pretty terrible.

Defending at the point of attack, he often got stuck on screens and died on the play. When he did navigate over the pick, Heurtel’s quickness never translated into an ability to recover in time to his man to contest shots or deflect passes from behind.

One-on-one, Heurtel has no lateral quickness to keep opponents in front or strength in his 180-pound frame to contain dribble penetration through contact.

His contributions through steals and blocks have always been marginal, though he’s consistently grabbed more defensive rebounds than the year before in each of the past four seasons.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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7-footer, Croatian, Stretch Big, Tall Passer

Dragan Bender Scouting Report

(First posted at Upside & Motor.)

CONTEXT

The biggest issue for teenagers at the pro level is dealing with the physical nature of the game. That was part of the reason why Dragan Bender logged just 491 minutes for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season and why he struggled at the Las Vegas Summer League as well. The youngest player in the event, the 18-year-old showed once again he’s simply not yet ready to make a significant contribution at the senior level.

The other problem is that, exactly as it was the case at Maccabi, Bender was not given the proper opportunities to showcase how exactly he is able to help a team at this stage of his development. His top skill, the reason why he was drafted fourth overall, is his passing. For someone who stands at seven-foot-one, Bender showed in the junior ranks remarkable court vision and timing to help create shots for others.

But, while he did flash some ability to handle the ball in pick-and-roll from the perimeter with the Croatian National Team at the U18 European Championships in the summer of 2014, Bender doesn’t have the handle to bring the ball up the court and just dribble his way into a ball-screen against pressure as of now. Just like any other big man, he needs to be given the ball at the right spots, which the Suns failed to do throughout Summer League.

Perhaps concerned with his inability to match up well enough physically against opposing big men, Phoenix had Bender start Summer League logging most of his minutes as a true perimeter player, starting first and third quarters alongside both Marquesse Chriss and Alan Williams. Given Chriss’ ability to spot-up beyond the arc, that should have offered them the flexibility to have Bender and Chriss switch spots in the offense regularly but that never happened.

When Chriss was shut down after the third game, Bender was moved up a position and there was hope Bender would finally be able to get the ball a little more in the high post and be put in the pick-and-roll as a screener. But that still only happened very sporadically. Bender was, throughout Summer League, a pure weak-side option.

WEAK-SIDE OFFENSE

And as a pure weak-side option, Bender is just not good enough right now.

He is a capable open-shot shooter; elevating with good balance, fully extending himself and looking to possess clean mechanics up top. But, as was the case with Maccabi when he hit 33.8% of his 77 three-point shots last season, the ball just didn’t go in enough in Vegas, as he missed 25 of 34 three-point shots – according to RealGM.

It remains unclear if Bender can work out of the pick-and-pop as well, as he was not given many opportunities to do that. He has not shown to be the sort of dynamic threat who can come off screens but flashed some ability to move into a spot, set his feet quickly and let it fly.

Attacking closeouts, Bender lacks an explosive first step to blow by his man on catch-and-go’s and is prone to getting the ball stripped in traffic due to his dribble, reflected in his sky-high 25.2% turnover-rate in the context of his 20.1% usage rate. Lacking strength to maintain his balance through contact, he often can’t get all the way to the basket on dribble drives and when he could, Bender lacked burst to attack rim protection with any force. He’s flashed a nice touch on floaters to finish from the in-between area but is a lousy pull-up shooter at this stage of his development.

INTERIOR OFFENSE

Bender was put in the pick-and-roll maybe three times during his entire week in Vegas. When he was, he showed soft hands to catch the ball on the move but was unable to go up strong in traffic. Due to his role as a floor spacer, he did very little in the offensive glass but when he generated the eventual second chance, that inability to elevate out of two feet with some explosiveness also prevented him from transforming some of these rebounds into immediate putbacks.

Bender got the ball in the low post a few times but lacked strength to hold a deep seal and bully his way into short-range looks, even against smaller players on switches. He more often than not opted for a face-up jumper, which looked good but also didn’t go in enough, as he missed 12 of his 17 two-point shots. Playing without any sort of physicality, Bender earned just 12 fouls shots in five appearances.

DEFENSE

At the start of the week, he guarded mostly wings and proved able to bend his knees to get in a stance. But his week as a perimeter defender was so-so at best.

He’s too big to navigate ball screens but Bender showed some lateral agility and straight line quickness to keep pace with smaller point guards like Russ Smith, Briante Weber and Demetrius Jackson when he picked them up on switches and had plenty of help behind him.

But out on an island, closing out to wings like Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Miller, Abdel Nader and David Walker, he couldn’t stay in front. These bigger types, who have longer strides, didn’t have much trouble going around him and Bender didn’t contest shots from behind as effectively as you’d expect from someone with his length.

As a big during the second half of the week, Bender was also a mixed bag. He proved attentive to his help defense responsibilities and flashed some of his potential as a rim protector rotating off the weak-side, particularly in the game against Denver, elevating off the ground well enough for his nine-foot-three standing reach to make a difference.

But, as it happened in Israel as well, Bender was also a foul machine in such instances. Showing himself not polished enough to elevate vertically contesting shots at the basket, he averaged 5.5 personal fouls per 40 minutes.

Bender looked to box out but that’s another aspect of the game where his lack of strength hurts him thoroughly, as he can get pushed out of the way. But perhaps more concerning, Bender just didn’t play with the sort of energy needed to pursue the ball in traffic against the caliber of athleticism he faced his past week, collecting just 13.9% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor, which is a very disappointing mark for someone his height.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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