(First posted at Upside & Motor.)
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.
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.
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