UCLA has three players who will be drafted in the first round of the next two or three drafts and four more who will get decent shots of making the league via the Summer League, D-League routes. Among the least touted is center Thomas Welsh.
The seven-footer was a top 50 prospect out of high school and has been part of the USA Basketball program but his production over 78 appearances at the collegiate level hasn’t impressed many. Draft Express currently ranks him as the 34th junior in the country and he doesn’t appear as draftable in neither their 2017 nor their 2018 board.
But Welsh is the sort of prospect worth keeping track of because his game has the skeleton of a skill-set that might be of interest and there is a path for him to develop into a legit low end rotation player in the near future.
Welsh is not much of an asset in the shot creation process.
He has flashed the ability of getting around his man and elevating out of two feet with some vertical explosion but for the most part his footwork in the post is not particularly fluid and his touch on turnaround hooks is only so-so. Welsh has also never shown any power moves, up-and-unders or a turnaround, fade-away jumper.
Though he’s a decent passer scanning the defense with his back to the basket, Welsh has never shown much in terms of being able to facilitate offense from the elbows or passing out of the short roll, assisting on just 3.6% of UCLA’s scores over the last two-and-a-half seasons – according to basketball-reference.
And he is also not a rim-runner in the two-man game. Welsh does not roll hard to the basket, taking just 14 shots at the rim in 11 appearances this season, according to hoop-math, and averaging only 2.6 foul shots per 40 minutes.
He is active on the offensive glass but lacks length to rebound outside of his area (seven-foot wingspan), hasn’t shown much toughness fighting for 50-50 balls and doesn’t have a quick second jump, collecting just 9% of UCLA’s misses when he’s been on the floor this season and transforming just seven of his 20 offensive rebounds into putbacks.
But despite these weaknesses or lack of strengths in areas you’d expect a seven-footer to make an impact, Welsh remains someone of interest due to his shooting. He has excelled rolling to a spot in the mid-range area on pick-and-pops and spotting up near the baseline.
Welsh has nailed 54.2% of his 72 two-point jumpers this season, after hitting 50.3% of 171 such attempts last season, with almost 90% of these makes assisted on each year, which means he’s taking these shots off the catch. His .590 effective field-goal percentage over the last two seasons is extremely impressive when you consider he is not a volume finisher at the basket and doesn’t take three-pointers yet.
His release is getting quicker, the ball gets out with ease and the touch on his shot is great. The base for a team to try developing him into a stretch five who can space the defense out to the three-point line is there.
Defensively, Welsh adds value close to the basket.
He hasn’t been asked to switch onto smaller players with any regularity, so it’s unclear how well he could do it. He also hasn’t yet developed into the sort of defender who contains dribble penetration by playing smart position defense. And he doesn’t have enough quickness to closeout to stretch big men at the three-point line.
Another weakness is his below average strength for someone his size. Despite his well-distributed 242 pounds, Welsh can get backed down in the post and pushed out of the way fighting for position under the defensive glass.
But Welsh is consistently attentive to his boxout responsibilities and plays with pretty good energy chasing the ball off the rim, collecting 27.2% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor this season.
He is not a particularly explosive leaper coming off the weak-side in help-defense but steps into the front of the basket to contest shots by dribble drivers. Welsh has a nine-foot-three standing reach and has shown quite a bit of intelligence of how to leverage it, often blocking shots without needing to leave the ground, as he’s averaged 3.6 blocks per 40 minutes this season.
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