Luka Doncic Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Luka Doncic just finished a remarkable season on Tuesday.

After playing a key role on the Slovenian National Team squad that won the 2017 Eurobasket, the 19-year-old[1] went on to win Euroleague and Spanish ACB MVP honors, while leading Real Madrid to continental and domestic titles.

There has never been a player who accomplished as much by such a young age.

The Ljubljana native has accumulated 4,404 minutes of pro experience over the last four years, defending Real Madrid in the two toughest leagues outside the United States and his country in the most competitive tournament among nations.

Most recently, the six-foot-eight passing wizard averaged 22.5 points per 40 minutes on 59.2% true shooting and compiled a 22.8 PER in 73 appearances last season[2].

With Sergio Llull injuring his knee during the summer and subsequently missing the vast majority of the year, Doncic was the top shot creator on the team and was relied on to run a ton of offense – logging 26.8% usage rate and assisting on 30.5% of Real Madrid’s scores when he was on the floor.

Most people view him as best suited for a role as secondary shot creator but Doncic showed this year, at the highest level of European basketball, that he is capable of doing more than just breaking down a scrambling defense or running offense for short stretches. And soon we will get to see to which extent his shot creation prowess can translate to the NBA.

On the other end, Doncic regressed. Tasked with a larger burden on offense, his commitment to off ball defense declined. And it was once again proven true that he is not suited to defending at the point of attack, consistently needing to be paired with a smaller player capable of handling opposing point guards.

There were still glimpses of intelligent help defense, though. And his contributions on the glass continued to be pretty strong.

PASSING

Creating for others remains the best part of his skill-set.

Doncic has remarkable court vision on the move and can anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they become evident. He excels in transition as well but the true foundation of his game is operating in pick-and-roll.

Doncic enjoys an advantageous point of view thanks to his height but has also developed the ability to freeze help defenders with his eyes. I can’t believe there are teams that still hedge against him, as he’s proven time and time  again that he can absolutely destroy them seeing over the top, spotting whomever is over in the blink of an eye and firing bullet passes no big man can outrun.

Off dribble penetration, Doncic has shown he can pass across the court to the opposite corner against the momentum of his body, make wraparound pocket passes and toss up lobs in traffic – averaging 7.1 assists per 40 minutes last season.

Just as a significantly, Doncic has really improved his ability to take care of the ball. A reckless passer who was constantly trying to thread the needle earlier in his career, he turned it over on just 15.3% of his possessions this past year – an acceptable rate for someone with his high usage and assist rates.

SHOOTING

Doncic took a step forward as a catch-and-shoot shooter. One year ago in the 2017 Euroleague Final Four, Fenerbahçe beat Real Madrid in the semifinal in large part by playing off Doncic when he spaced the floor. Such a strategy was no longer viable last season, as he improved into a more consistently capable open shot shooter, if not yet a knockdown one.

His catch-and-shoot stroke looks good more often than not, as he does great shot prep, rises up in balance and has compact mechanics. His release gets a little bit quicker every year, though the fact he gets little elevation off the ground and his launch point out in front might cause him to struggle a little bit more against lengthier NBA wings closing out to him.

Doncic took some shots coming off pindown screens and coming to the ball for dribble hand-offs from time to time but doesn’t have a dynamic enough release to take shots on the move with regularity at this point of his development.

He nailed just 31% of his 348 three-point shots last season, at a pace of 7.5 such attempts per 40 minutes. That percentage was so poor because Doncic had to create a large portion of his long bombs off the bounce, including a good deal of them late in the shot clock.

He showed development as a shooter off the dribble as well, taking them in very diverse ways; raw step-back pull-up off suddenness and going between the legs into a step-back pull-up in isolation, turnaround fade-away jumper in the post, stop-and-pop and pull-back pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll, shot fake into a one-dribble side-step three-pointer escaping a closeout.

Doncic has range out to the three-point line on some of these shots but for the most part these tough looks were responsible for his lousy percentage from beyond the arc. However, he established himself a good shot maker from mid-range. Doncic hit 58% of his 370 two-point shots, while making most of his living on these pull-ups.

There is some skepticism regarding his ability to create good enough separation in isolation to make as good a living on these looks at the NBA level, though. Doncic doesn’t have an explosive first step, a particularly advanced handle or a whole lot of shiftiness. His best resource for setting himself up so far has been leaning into his man as he initiates forward momentum and then taking a hard step-back, with the exception of when he is able to destabilize the opponent by going between the legs into his step-back – something that can be taken away from him if the defender is on top of the scouting report.

FINISHING

Doncic can get deep into the lane off pick-and-roll by playing with pace and putting his man in jail. He can also mix in the eventual spin move to gain some ground as he charges forward.

Doncic can go up off two feet with power if he has some space to load up but isn’t an explosive leaper off one foot in traffic. He also hasn’t shown much ability to over-extend around rim protectors, lacking elite length for someone his height.

But Doncic is a fairly resourceful scorer on finesse finishes; spin move into lefty finger-roll layup, lefty speed layup, shot fake off stopping on a dime into a righty scoop finish, neutralizing shot blockers by wrong footing his leap or stepping through, running floater, floater off a jump-stop.

His large 228-pound frame also invites contact, as Doncic averaged 7.7 foul shots per 40 minutes last season.

He is not as capable of getting to the basket one-and-one, though. The most concerning aspect of his game is his inability to get by big men on switches, even unathletic types. His lack of shiftiness and explosiveness really hurts him here.

DEFENSE

While he is capable of running point on a full time basis on offense, Doncic is not suited to defend the point of attack on defense. He is too big to be able to get skinny over picks at the point of attack and while he has shown some hustle to try making plays in pursuit in the past, that sort of tenacity seems to have gone away.

Doncic also struggles to stay in front of smaller players out in space, so he is not a good option to pick up these types on switches either.

Against similarly sized players, he can bend his knees to get down in a stance, has multiple lateral slides in him to try staying in front, can leverage his bulk to chest up and contain dribble penetration by less physical types, and can use his eight-foot-nine standing reach[3] to contest shots.

However, his post defense, once stout, has regressed, as he no longer put up that much of a fight when wings took him to the block.

His effort away from the ball was the biggest issue, though. His closeouts left a lot to be desired and he lost his man from time-to-time, aside from the fact he struggled to navigate screens chasing around shooters who get their looks off movement. Doncic also doesn’t play with enough intensity to fly around disrupting plays in the passing lanes.

But there were still glimpses of potentially elite help defense here and there. When he is locked in, Doncic can execute the scheme, rotate in to pick up the roll man and go up off two feet to contest shots via verticality or even pick up the eventual block every once in a while – recording 27 blocks last season.

And he remained an elite defensive rebounder for a perimeter player – collecting 20.9% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.


[1] DOB: 2/28/1999

[2] According to our stats’ database

[3] According to ESPN’s Mike Schmitz

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Kevin Huerter Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Kevin Huerter was the 49th-ranked prospect in the 2016 high school class[1].

In his two years at Maryland, the 19-year-old[2] accumulated 2,071 minutes of college basketball experience. Other than that, he has 184 minutes with the United States National Team at the 2016 U18 FIBA Americas and 2017 U19 FIBA World Cup under his belt[3].

Most recently, the six-foot-seven swingman averaged 17.1 points per 40 minutes[4] on 64% true shooting and compiled an 18.4 PER in 32 appearances last season.

Maryland played the 50th-toughest schedule in the country[5] and had a +17.3 pace-adjusted point differential with him on the floor[6].

His stock has been on the rise over the last month and after a very strong appearance at the 2018 Combine, he is now expected to end up a top 20 pick.

Huerter was given the chance to showcase a very versatile skill-set on offense. He took 54.3% of his shots from three-point range and was assisted on 59.8% of his field goals[7] but did more than just spot-up as a weak-side floor-spacer, proving he is able to nail shots on the move and create for others off side pick-and-roll as well.

On the other end, the native of Clifton Park, New York acted as a weak-side defender for the most part, though he found himself guarding on the ball when Maryland switched aggressively on ball screens against select opponents. He is a so-so individual defender and lacks elite athleticism to fly around in terms of creating events in volume but proved to be exceptional at executing the scheme.

SHOOTING

Besides basic weak-side spot-ups, Maryland created shots for Huerter off his movement as well. He got looks coming off pindown screens, staggered screens, off dribble hand-offs, off roll-and-replace and as the trailer in transition.

Huerter catches it on the hop, has compact mechanics and pulls the trigger very quickly. For the most part he manages to get his shots off comfortably prior to or over closeouts but his low release, launching the ball out in front, can be costly against closeouts by wings with elite length. Sometimes he doesn’t get that great an arc on his shot and his misses tend to be short.

Huerter nailed 39.4% of his 350 three-point shots over his two years at Maryland, at a pace of 6.8 such attempts per 40 minutes. Other than the types of shots he takes, his 74.8% foul shooting on 127 free throws also creates the expectation that he will be a very good shooter in the pros as well.

SHOT CREATION & FINISHING

To keep the defense honest, he can put the ball on the floor attacking closeouts, curl off pindown screens, turn the corner off a live dribble on hand-offs and run side pick-and-roll to keep the offense moving.

Huerter can maintain his balance through contact and euro-step to maneuver his way through traffic but lacks an explosive first step and isn’t particularly fast with the ball. As a result, he took just 20.5% of his shots at the rim and earned just 3.6 foul shots per 40 minutes last season.

Huerter can go up strong off two feet with some space to load up but isn’t an explosive leaper off one foot in traffic. He flashed some ability to hang in the air and finish through contact but was a basic up-and-down finisher with a strong preference for laying it up with his right hand for the most part – making just 23 unassisted shots at the rim all year.

Huerter did convert 71.2% of his 66 total shots at the rim but half of them were assisted, as he proved to be an instinctive cutter off post-ups and reading his defender overplaying the likelihood of him sprinting to the perimeter for a catch off a pindown screen.

But his best skill off dribble penetration is his passing, as Huerter proved he is very versatile in the ways he looks for others off the bounce – assisting on 20.2% of Maryland’s scores when he was on the floor last season.

He is not only able to execute drop-offs and kick-outs against a collapsing defense but after getting deep into the lane off a hesitation move and tying up the help defense, he can deliver well-timed bounce passes and wraparound passes to the roll man or find shooters on crosscourt passes to the opposite end, including against the momentum of his body at times.

Some of that high level passing came at the cost of higher risk but part of his turnover rate (2.9 turnovers per 40 minutes) can also be explained by his struggles handling pressure, as Huerter was often seen picking up his dribble as soon as a path to drive off the ball-screen wasn’t immediately available.

In instances where he was tasked with creating against a set defense late in the shot clock, Huerter flashed a between the legs crossover and a spin move to try shaking his defender off balance or charging his way forward on momentum. He can unleash floaters off jump-stops and 1-2 footwork but the results were mixed.

As he lacks an explosive first step and doesn’t have a lot of shiftiness, Huerter more often than not looked to create separation for stop-and-pop pull-ups or step-back fade-away jumpers in isolation. Showing some nice shot making ability, he nailed 51.9% of his 81 two-point shots away from the basket last season.

Huerter also showed he can take smaller matchups into the post in a pinch, though only basic righty hooks came out of it for the most part.

DEFENSE

His primary role was as a weak-side defender and he excelled at executing the scheme.

Huerter proved he is attentive to his responsibilities rotating in to bump cutters or roll men, clogging driving lanes, helping crowd the area near the basket on actions on the side of the floor, coming off the weak-side in help defense to challenge shots at the rim and reversing switches on the fly.

He is not an impact player, though.

Huerter hustles on closeouts but isn’t fast enough to run the shooter off his shot often and can’t contest shots effectively with his eight-foot-five standing reach[8]. He flashed some nice instincts reacting to the ball but his six-foot-seven wingspan doesn’t help him get steals in volume. He can leap off two feet in a pinch but isn’t a real shot blocking threat for the most part.

Huerter was active trying to front the post against Keita Bates-Diop in the game against Ohio State but generally doesn’t seem suited to offer versatility in terms of being able to pick up bigger players on switches due to his unimpressive 194-pound frame and below average length for someone his height.

He is also probably not a fit to exchange onto smaller players regularly. Defending on the ball, Huerter proved he has multiple lateral slides in him to stay in front of similarly-sized players out in space but hunches rather than bends his knees to get down in a stance, doesn’t contain dribble penetration through contact and can’t get skinny negotiating screens at the point of attack.

His contributions on the glass were good but also not particularly special, as he collected just 14.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor over his time at Maryland.


[1] According to ESPN

[2] DOB: 8/27/1998

[3] According to our stats’ database

[4] According to sports-reference

[5] According to Ken Pomeroy

[6] According to our stats’ database

[7] According to hoop-math

[8] According to the measurements at the 2018 Combine

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

Luka Doncic Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

Luka Doncic continues to build on what has to be the most remarkable résumé for a teenage basketball phenom ever.

Slovenia won the 2017 Eurobasket last month and the 18-year-old[1] was not only a rotation player in this winning run, leading the squad in minutes, which alone would be very impressive for someone his age, but was in fact a key reason why such an accomplishment was possible to begin with, ranking third on the team in plus-minus – according to FIBA.com.

Igor Kokoskov organized the team very well, with Goran Dragic taking priority running high pick-and-roll and attacking off curls around pindown screens at the elbow, logging a 33.2% usage-rate – according to our stats’ database.

With that as the case, Doncic was for the most part a secondary ball handler.

He still had plenty of opportunities to push the ball in transition, given he is such a great defensive rebounder, and run pick-and-roll against a set defense, with and without Dragic on the floor. In those instances, the six-foot-eight maestro showcased once more his court vision is amazing.

Doncic can not only anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they come open but also make shooters on the opposite end of the floor open; working his man into the screen, getting him on his back and manipulating the help with hang dribbles and hesitation moves, playing at a pace that is impressive when you get to see guys like Dragic and Bogdan Bogdanovic do so, let alone an 18-year-old.

Opponents forced his hand during this tournament, though. Doncic saw a lot of teams going out of their way to guard pick-and-rolls two-on-two, while others like Greece and Latvia felt comfortable switching behemoths such as Ioannis Bourousis and Kristaps Porzingis onto him from time-to-time.

With that as the case, Doncic assisted on just 20.6% of Slovenia’s scores when he was on the floor, which is a good percentage, but one that is below what we’ve come to expect from him. Though on a good note, it limited his exposure to risk and kept his turnover problem under control, as he turned it over just 12 times in 262 minutes.

Earlier in the tournament, he was given space to pull-up from three-point range off the pick-and-roll often and proved he is capable of making enough shots to discourage the opponent from going under picks and dropping the big man way back consistently. His release on such uncontested dribble-in pull-ups looked quite fluid and he hit a few shots from NBA distance.

Later in the tournament, defenders played up on him, both in the pick-and-roll with big men showing higher as he goes around the screen and in isolation. Doncic has an advanced handle to maneuver his way around traffic but doesn’t have enough quickness to just lose his man on hesitate-and-go’s, so he didn’t get all the way to the rim a whole lot in this event, taking just 17 of his 101 field goal attempts in the restricted area – based on the shotcharts available at FIBA.com.

But Doncic is pretty big, able to maintain his balance and his momentum forward through contact, and can still put a good deal of pressure at the last line of defense even if he is not attacking the basket furiously. He once again proved himself a very resourceful finisher from the in-between area, nailing 18 of his 30 shots in the lane, and averaged five free throws per 40 minutes.

When opponents were able to bottle him in the mid-range, Doncic leaned on step-back and stop-and-pop pull-ups that went in at a 4-for-10 clip. Much like his three-point jumper, he can make these shots when the big man lets him rise uncontested but hasn’t shown to be an aggressive enough shooter to make this not the shot that the defense is willing to give up to him.

He finished just 21.8% of Slovenia’s possessions with a shot, foul shot or turnover when he was on the floor, though. With Dragic leading the way, Doncic had to operate as a floor-spacer and ball mover a lot of the time. His catch-and-shoot three-pointer looked pretty good more often than not, as he does great shot prep, rises up in balance and launches it comfortably.

But the ball continued to go in at a below average clip. Doncic can certainly nail open shots but struggles when he is forced to speed up his release, both with a hand in his face on effective closeouts and when he is asked to sprint to the ball, come off screens or relocate. Overall, he hit just 31.1% of his 61 three-point attempts, also due to some poor shot selection on pull-ups.

Defensively, the picture is becoming clearer.

While Doncic can run point on offense full-time thanks to his remarkable dexterity operating in pick-and-roll, he is not suited to defend the point of attack on the other end. Doncic is too big to go over picks consistently and often compromised the integrity of the scheme behind him when the opponent ran him into a ball-screen. Smaller guards can also just blow by him out in space.

But as a weak-side defender, Doncic might develop into a difference maker, despite the fact he doesn’t create a lot of events, other than helping clean up the defensive glass, which he was exceptional at, collecting 28.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor, which ranked 14th in the tournament – according to our stats’ database.

By simply being intelligent and disciplined executing the scheme consistently, helping crowd the area near the basket and rotating in as the last line defense to contest shots at the rim with verticality, and then finishing possessions securing the defensive rebound, Doncic ranked second on the team in defensive rating, behind Anthony Randolph.

[1] Who only turns 19 in February

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

Luka Doncic Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Luka Doncic has the most impressive résumé of a teenage basketball phenom walking around the Earth right now, having earned 1,613 minutes of EuroLeague and Spanish ACB[1] experience last season. The 18-year-old[2] was not just a rotation cog but also a viable option to finish games for Real Madrid – a dominant powerhouse that enters every game with the expectation it is supposed to win.

The Slovenian is a giant shot creator[3]whose biggest value is as someone who runs offense on lineups that go super big across the perimeter but who can also share the floor with a smaller point guard and space the floor or create against a scrambling defense as a conventional wing. 48.3% of his live ball attempts were three-pointers last season.

The biggest issue for teenagers at the pro level is dealing with the physical nature of the game, which often makes them a liability on defense. But there is no such problem with Doncic, who has even proven himself strong enough to hold his ground in the post against veterans a decade older than him.

That said, there are concerns regarding his ability to defend on the ball, which as a result opens up questions about who exactly he needs to be surrounded with.

SHOT CREATION

Doncic’s top asset at this point of his development is his court vision. He can create corner three-point shots without necessarily threatening to dribble into the lane. He is very perceptive and can whip a pass to the corner as soon as he notices an opponent easing his stance for a split-second or focusing a little too soon on taking an extra step inside to help crowd the interior on a potential dribble drive.

His court vision also pops when the opponent hedges against him in the pick-and-roll. He can spot breakdowns in the rotation behind the play and pick them apart.

Doncic is a very impressive playmaker out of the pick-and-roll for someone his age, playing at a deliberate pace where most 18-year-olds tend to go at one speed only. He doesn’t have particularly impressive explosiveness attacking off the ball-screen but has a good handle to manipulate his man around the pick, put him on his back and force the other defenders into tough decisions as he penetrates the lane.

Doncic has proven himself an excellent passer who can anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they come open and whose height affords him an advantageous point of view in traffic. He’s able to not only make simple pocket passes, drop-offs and kick-outs to the strong-side but also lob it up with great timing and pass across his body to weak-side shooters on the opposite end of the floor.

Aside from that, Doncic consistently passes ahead in transition to speed up the pace of the game, touch-passes or swings the ball to better shooters when they are close to him on the weak-side and tosses some awesome entry passes.

According to our stats’ database, Doncic assisted on 27.8% of Real Madrid’s scores when he was on the floor last year. That came at the cost of him turning it over on 21.2% of his plays, though. Doncic is not only aggressive taking chances of thread-the-needle type passes but he’s also consistently looking to pass off dribble penetration and opponents have noticed it too.

That is not to say he is a subpar scorer. Doncic averaged 15.6 points per 40 minutes on 20.3% usage-rate last season, which are decent marks when you consider he is a teenager playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world against the highest level of competition in the continent.

Doncic is not very fast. He can’t just blow by his man one-on-one or completely leave him behind as he turns the corner and attack the rim furiously. Other than a crossover, he hasn’t yet develop a particularly diverse set of dribble moves either. Being able to burn big men on switches is probably the biggest concern about his skill-set right now.

But despite those limitations, Doncic gets all the way to the basket a fair amount. He is strong enough to maintain his balance through contact and his momentum forward.

He can elevate off one foot or two feet to go up strong with space to take flight but acts mostly as a below the rim finisher in traffic. Doncic’s preferred method of finishing against rim protection is a right-handed toss but he’s also flashed the core strength to go up, absorb contact and finish on his way down.

He’s yet to develop dexterity drawing foul calls, though, as he averaged just 4.2 free throws per 40 minutes last season.

And even in instances where he’s unable to get all the way to the rim, Doncic has proven himself a resourceful scorer from the in-between area, as he’s shown great touch on running tear-drops and floaters off jump-stops.

Doncic is not a particularly dynamic pull-up jump-shooter at this point of his development. He is not yet the sort of guy who can rise up for stop-and-pop jumpers off the pick-and-roll without a moment’s notice.

But he can make shots off the bounce, even from just behind the FIBA three-point line. Perhaps he relies too heavily on step-backs to create separation and that will be a concern regarding his eventual transfer to the NBA but he’s been able to get decent looks off against the level of competition he’s faced so far. Doncic has also proven himself able to nail step-in threes off the pick-and-roll when his defender dies on the screen and the big drops.

WEAK-SIDE OFFENSE

Much like his shooting off the bounce, Doncic is still only a capable gunner off the catch. Real Madrid used him off the ball as a floor-spacer quite a bit and he nailed some open shots but not enough to completely discourage opponents from playing off him some[4], as he hit just a third of his 228 three-point shots last season.

He seems to be on the right track to develop into at least an average open shot shooter, though. His release is not lightening quick but the ball goes out faster than it did a couple of years ago. Doncic gets little lift off the ground and shoots almost a set shot but the mechanics up top seem pretty clean and he’s not a hesitant shot taker.

Doncic has flashed the ability to take shots relocating to an open spot around the wing and even coming off a pindown screen from time to time but his release doesn’t suggest he’ll become someone a real asset making shots on the move in the immediate future, though he’s already developed an awareness for how to get open for such looks. Doncic averaged 5.6 three-point shots per 40 minutes last season, which is not an unimpressive mark when you consider he ran offense half-the-time he was on the floor.

Doncic is also an asset operating off the ball as a cutter. He’s shown a knack for recognizing good opportunities to dive to the basket and can play above the rim as a target for lobs.

DEFENSE

Doncic has the size of a wing and does a good job defending as such.

He’s shown lateral quickness to stay in front of similarly-sized players in isolation and the strength to contain dribble penetration through contact. He’s also proven himself able to hold his ground in the post against players 10-15 years older than him, which suggests he might become an asset to pick up big man on switches in time.

As a weak-side defender, Doncic executes the scheme; staying in a stance off the ball, looking to guard two players when Real Madrid loaded up the strong-side against the pick-and-roll and rotating to the basket area when he was called upon to act as the last line of defense. His contributions through blocks and steals were marginal, though.

He’s proven himself able to run shooters off catch-and-shoot looks on closeouts and tends to do a decent job of subsequently sliding his feet laterally to stay in front.

But his most tangible impact on defense comes on the glass. Doncic collected 21.2% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season, which is a remarkable mark for any perimeter player, let alone someone who logged minutes at point guard.

The biggest concern regards his ability to defend smaller players, both in the pick-and-roll and out on an island. He can bend his knees to get down in a stance but seems to be too big to be able to go over screens cleanly at the point of attack. Doncic also doesn’t have the burst to keep pace with go-go guards as they turn on the jets to blow by him or shake him side-to-side.

[1] Which Next-Step Basketball ranks as the best domestic league in Europe

[2]Who only turns 19 in February

[3] Real Madrid lists him at six-foot-six, 218 pounds

[4] Fenerbahçe really exposed his current limitations as a shooter in the EuroLeague semifinal

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

Milos Teodosic Scouting Report

CONTEXT

After six years at CSKA Moscow, Milos Teodosic is said to be seriously considering a transfer to the NBA. It’s possible this is simply a negotiation tactic to incentivize the Russian powerhouse to cough up what will probably be one of the richest contracts, if not the richest, ever given in European basketball. But the mere thought of the Serbian making the jump to the United States is tantalizing.

The six-foot-five combo guard is a magician who combines genius passing with above average gunning — excelling both out of middle high pick-and-roll and as a secondary shot creator. He also tosses breath-taking passes in transition, which could materialize more often in the NBA due to the higher level of athleticism he will have around him.

Given his height and 196-pound frame, Teodosic offers some flexibility on defense, at least in the sense that no matter where he’s put he’ll be a negative contributor, mostly because of his lack of athleticism, though his general level of engagement is what’s questioned more often. Because of that, Teodosic isn’t always a good option to finish games, despite of all the value he adds on offense.

I’m not one for raising up concerns about intangibles, given the lack of available information regarding how these players behave in settings closed to public consumption and just how they think overall, but Teodosic’s general demeanor on defense draws the assumption that he just does not gives a shit.

I also try not to overvalue appearances in single-elimination games but it must be brought up Teodosic was part of several teams that endured a number of EuroLeague Final Four failures during his tenure at CSKA and that his performance in many of these instances were consistently disappointing, before breaking through with a title in 2016.

OFFENSE

Teodosic is one of those remarkable assist men who can anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they come open. His court vision is incredible and he can create three-point shots and alley oops to teammates without necessarily needing to attack the lane – just noticing on pure instinct a defensive breakdown before actually running the play.

Teodosic is not an explosive athlete and doesn’t go deep into the lane a ton these days but can at least consistently offer the threat of dribble penetration in pick-and-roll by playing with pace and exploring his craftiness to turn the corner around ball screens. Especially if he gets the chance to work off a live dribble, which he got to do a fair amount given Dimitrios Itoudis’ preference for two-point guard lineups.

Flexible enough to pass across his body to the opposite end of the floor off dribble penetration and toss wraparound passes in traffic, Teodosic assisted on 43.6% of CSKA’s scores in his 1,255 minutes last season – according to RealGM. His aggressive style of squeezing tough passes through tight windows came at the cost of him turning the ball over on almost a quarter of his possessions, though.

He’s declining from an athletic-standpoint and doesn’t get all the way to the basket a lot nowadays, lacking the lift to finish against length. But his dexterity, or perhaps simply his inclination, for drawing contact improved a lot lately. After averaging just 3.6 free throws per 40 minutes from 2013 to 2015, Teodosic averaged 5.8 foul shots per 40 minutes over the last two seasons.

The vast majority of his scoring still comes out of his jump-shooting, though. The owner of a quick trigger, he has a diverse arsenal of pull-up jumpers – able to hang dribble into his shot, stop-and-pop in a pinch, crossover into step-backs over average-sized point guards. But it’s questionable how much of that can consistently translate against longer defenders in the NBA, given his low release.

Teodosic can also step into uncontested pull-up three-pointers to make sure the opponent consistently overplays him at the point of attack; going over screens or even hedging-and-recovering, which is a doomed strategy against someone with his court vision spotting weak-side breakdowns. But it’s questionable how much of that can translate to the further out three-point line.

His catch-and-shoot stroke is expected to be fine, though. Teodosic has proven himself an excellent open shot shooter and should offer his potential NBA team the same flexibility he did CSKA, and Olympiacos before that, in terms of sharing the floor with another ball-handler, nailing 39.8% of his 1,725 three-point shots over the last six seasons. He’s even able to shoot on the move some, coming off pindown screens and operating as the back-screener on Spain pick-and-rolls a fair amount.

DEFENSE

Teodosic is a very poor defender at the point of attack. He consistently fails to bend his knees to get down in a stance, lacks the lateral quickness to stay in front of his man in isolation and rarely puts in enough effort to navigate over ball-screens then track his man back with urgency in order not to compromise the integrity of the scheme. Given his general size, he should be able to act as a threat to get into his man’s air space and bother shot attempts but that doesn’t materialize often.

As a weak-side defender, Teodosic is committed to executing the scheme. He does sprint to run shooters off the three-point line, positions himself well to try guarding two players when CSKA packs the strong-side and proved himself attentive to his rotation responsibilities crowding the area near the basket when he was called upon to act as the last line of defense.

Teodosic lacks the athletic ability to make a real impact, though. Opponents often have a clean straight-line path to the lane when he closes out to them, he doesn’t have the lift or the length to act as a deterrent around the rim and generally doesn’t play with the sort of energy that results in events that finish possessions. His contributions through steals, blocks and defensive rebounds are marginal.

CSKA allowed 110.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor last season, which was his worst defensive rating in six years with the team.

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

Lonzo Ball Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Lonzo Ball is the one player in this draft class, other than Markelle Fultz, who has already shown potential to become a franchise-altering foundation piece. The passing magician led UCLA, a team that had lost 17 of its 32 games the previous year, to 31 wins in 36 matches and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen this season.

Driven by Ball’s natural inclination to speed up the pace of the game and ability to create three-point shots for others without necessarily needing to get deep into the lane to collapse the defense, the Bruins ranked second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency – according to Ken Pomeroy.

Though it should be mentioned he had the fortune of playing with a good collection of talent around him, as stretch four TJ Leaf and alley oop finisher Ike Anigbogu will be drafted in the first round, pick-and-pop threat Thomas Welsh will be signed to one of those preseason deals and shooters Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford will get D-League looks, Ball was nonetheless fairly considered the catalyst of UCLA’s resurgence as a national power.

He alleviated some concerns regarding his ability to control an offense and make it run on his rhythm, create for others in the half-court within a more structured system and also make shots from long range, despite his unorthodox mechanics.

But Ball, as is the case with most 19-year-olds[1], still has areas to improve in terms of getting to the basket against a set defense, hitting the eventual stop-and-pop jumper and making the sort of difference on defense that his physical profile (six-foot-six height, six-foot-nine wingspan – according to Draft Express) suggests he should be able to.

TRANSITION OFFENSE

His ability to up the tempo often starts with his defensive rebounding. According to our stats’ database, Ball collected 14.3% of opponents’ misses in his 1,232 minutes on the floor last season, which is an impressive mark when you consider UCLA often had two big men in the lineup for the most part and all of them good rebounders on their own.

After grabbing a miss, Ball is an excellent decision maker in terms of pushing the ball up the court himself or moving it ahead with outlet passes that excite the crowd and encourage his teammates to consistently run the floor. UCLA ranked 21st in the country in pace and 20th in three pointers attempted.

Ball has also proven himself a good finisher in transition, either taking it end-to-end all the way to the basket if the opponent opts for prioritizing covering shooters or filling the lane when somebody else is running the break, as he’s able to play above the rim as a target for lobs. According to hoop-math, he finished his 123 shots at the basket at a 79% clip, with the majority of those coming in transition.

HALF-COURT OFFENSE

Ball wasn’t as a prolific an interior scorer in the half-court, though, with only 40 unassisted makes at the rim in his 36 appearances (discounting his seven putbacks) and earning only 3.1 foul shots per 40 minutes – according to sports-reference.

In isolation, he has enough of a handle to crossover slower defenders and some shiftiness for hesitation moves but lacks speed to just blow by his man and strength to maintain his balance and his momentum forward through contact. Due to those limitations, Ball consistently avoided attempting to take his man one-on-one, which is generally fine (everyone prefers team-oriented ball these days), except for the times the opponent switched a big onto him and he failed to make them pay for it.

Out of the pick-and-roll, Ball has shown a little more quickness turning the corner and attacking the basket on a straight line drive. He generally doesn’t rise up in traffic with particularly impressive explosiveness but showed some improvement using his length to extend himself finishing against iffy rim protection.

Those are encouraging signs there’s something to be developed there but Ball doesn’t slash all the way to the rim frequently, with only 10.2% of his shots coming out of the pick-and-roll – according to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz.

That percentage is also pretty low because Ball has no semblance of a stop-and-pop mid-range jumper against an opposing center dropping back to prioritize rim protection at this point of his development. Pull-up two-pointers are the most inefficient shot in the game but lead ball handlers need to be able to take those every now and again to dissuade the opponent from just sagging off him completely. Without any real threat of that shot, real good defenses will manage to take away the lob without bringing in a weak-side defender, also making it difficult to create that mighty valuable corner three as well.

And, yet, despite those limitations, Ball leads the point guards in Draft Express’ top 100 in points per play and posted a mighty impressive .668 effective field goal percentage in his one year at Westwood. And that’s the case because he hit 41.2% of his 194 three-point shots, while averaging 6.1 attempts per 40 minutes.

Ball was notorious for his unorthodox mechanics coming into college and most people suspected his ability to make shots wouldn’t hold up but he managed to speed up his long release on those step-back bombs when opponents go under the screen on the pick-and-roll, showed range way beyond NBA distance and flashed some diversity as far as how his three-pointer can be a viable option; showcasing side-step one-dribble pull-ups after escaping a closeout and even some ability to let it fly quickly after coming off pin-down screens.

Concerns remain over his ability to get those shots off at the next level, against longer defenders who are able to press him 35 feet away from the basket, especially because his misses can be particularly gruesome. But I think Ball has proven he can certainly make open shots[2]. If he has reasonable time to rise up comfortably, he gets pretty good spin on the ball, the arc on his shot often looks great and it’s not uncommon to see him get all net on his makes.

Thanks to that ability to act as a credible threat spotting up off the ball, Ball offers positional flexibility on offense, giving his coach the option of having another point guard out there with him, which was the case at UCLA, where he often shared the floor with Aaron Holiday. And, given the limitations he’s shown creating against a set defense as of this point, this might be how Ball makes the biggest impact. He’s a player with such a high IQ that when he gets to attack a defense that has already been moved, Ball can absolutely pick them apart.

As a secondary shot creator, someone who catches the ball on the second side of the floor and has the opportunity to get into the lane against a scrambling defense, because his catch-and-shoot three-pointer demands a closeout, Ball is perfectly capable of causing disruption via dribble penetration. Even if the scouting report clearly states that his top priority attacking off the bounce is passing, it’s just very difficult for opponents not to try preventing him from reaching the basket, which as a result opens the big man roaming baseline at the dunker’s spot.

But in order to truly become the superstar Ball has shown he might be, he will need to be a lead ball handler who is responsible for igniting the chain of reactions that break down the defense late in games, when it’s more difficult to run deliberate offense. And even though he has his deficiencies as a scorer, Ball has a chance of developing into that player because he is one of those wizards who can anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they come open.

Much the same way Ben Simmons and Luka Doncic do, Ball can identify weak-side defenders taking an extra step inside too soon and get corner shooters a look without even necessarily needing to get deep into the lane and suck in the entire defense.

And when he does drive off the ball screen, his height helps him to see over traffic and he’s proven himself able to hit the big rolling to the basket on well timed lobs or pass across his body to the opposite end of the court, assisting on 31.4% of UCLA’s scores when he was on the floor – a fairly impressive high figure when you consider he didn’t get to monopolize possession off the ball within the Bruins’ motion-oriented offense.

That said, Ball’s risk taking approach, often looking to squeeze jaw-dropping passes into tight windows, has a cost and he turned it over on a third of his possessions creating out of the pick-and-roll – according to research by Draft Express.

DEFENSE

On the other end, Ball’s upside is also playing purely as the one, defending opposing point guards, facilitating for his coach to surround him with more size on the wing and triggering the switching most teams are looking to pursue more and more these days.

The plan would be relying on his length to envelope these smaller players one-on-one and contest, block or deflect shots and passes from behind when they put him in the pick-and-roll.

Ball, however, may be at too much of a quickness disadvantage for that to be a sound strategy on an every night basis. De’Aaron Fox sure made it seem that way on his 39-point performance in the Sweet Sixteen. But it’s tough to tell for sure because Ball’s effort hasn’t always been up to a higher standard.

Ball certainly looked like he gave a crap on defense, a lot more than had been the case at Chino Hills, bending his knees to get in a stance and attempting to navigate over screens a fair amount. His intensity still wasn’t anywhere close to what you would see in a plus-defender, though, as there was also plenty of instances where he died on screens and put in great jeopardy the integrity of the scheme.

UCLA often hid him off the ball and that seems like it will be his destiny in the pros as well, based on what he’s shown so far. And as a weak-side defender, Ball showed instincts and used his length to make plays in the passing lanes, averaging 2.1 steals per 40 minutes, and helped finish a lot of possessions with his defensive rebounding, as mentioned earlier. As a result of his ability to create events, Ball actually ranked fourth on the team in defensive rating among rotation players.

The problem there as well is if Ball ends up on a wing who can drive at him. His length and decent lateral quickness should help staying in front of most players his own size but he has a thin 190-pound frame in the context of his six-foot-six height and generally doesn’t play with any force or toughness, lacking strength to have any hope of containing dribble penetration through contact.

FITS

Ball ranks second on Draft Express’ top 100 and under that scenario, four teams have the best odds of drafting him – according to Tankathon:

BOSTON CELTICS (via Brooklyn, 21.5% chance at the second pick): Boston would probably be the best possible scenario for Ball to land with, not just because they are a very good team already but because they are a team with a clear need for what he does and have a roster tailor-made to cover up his weaknesses.

For the third straight year the Celtics have struggled during the postseason when Isaiah Thomas rests, as Marcus Smart just hasn’t developed into a lead ball handler who can run a viable offense against these types of better-prepared defenses. Ball could fill this void, while surrounded by some combination of Smart, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder protecting him on defense.

Perhaps pairing Thomas and Ball for long stretches will prove untenable on defense but if those wings and Al Horford/Ante Zizic can make it viable, then they could surely fit on offense, much in the same way Ball did well at UCLA while paired with Holiday.

Ball’s already shown he has no problem fitting into a motion-oriented offense, will provide gravity when Thomas is on the ball and can set up the offense when Thomas sprints around staggered screens to catch the ball on grab-and-go’s, which the Celtics do a fair amount.

Then when it’s time for Boston to consider re-signing Thomas to a lucrative long-term contract in the summer of 2018, perhaps hesitant about how someone with his stature might age, Ball’s presence should expand their set of options.

PHOENIX SUNS (18.8%): It’s complicated.

Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are under contract for multiple seasons. Bledsoe even had a bit of a comeback year this season before Phoenix decided to just cut it short one month before the end in an attempt to lose every game the rest of the way.

But it’s unclear how much does it matter.

Technically, Ball can play with both of them. He can spot up off the ball and attack a scrambling defense with Bledsoe initiating offense and then run the show when Knight subs in, as he’s done better in the pros as an off guard.

But the likelihood is those vets will be traded sooner rather than later if the Suns can land Ball, as they’ve proven with the decisions they’ve indicated this last year (their signings policy, their coaching hire, their minutes distribution) that the intention is to go through a full rebuild.

Building a team around the basketball IQs of Ball and Dragan Bender has tremendous upside but Phoenix’s front office will need to go to work on collecting the athletes and shooters needed to supplement those two. Marquese Chriss and Devin Booker are already in place but they will obviously need more. Perhaps the fliers they took on potential placeholders like Elijah Millsap and Jarrell Eddie can be seen as a first step.

Under that direction, Alex Len and TJ Warren will be tough fits and will probably need to be moved on from eventually. Len as soon as this summer, as he’ll be a restricted free agent.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (15.7%): The Lakers took a full season to collect information on their prospects and came out of it without any clear answers.

D’Angelo Russell ran point for most of the year but didn’t seem to meet Luke Walton’s expectations and was eventually moved to a different role late in the season, when it was Jordan Clarkson’s time to get a chance to run the show in uninspiring fashion.

Brandon Ingram was pretty bad for the most part, except for that last month where it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not because so many teams stop trying.

Julius Randle collected numbers but it’s still unclear how he fits on a modern lineup, as he’s unable to protect the rim and doesn’t yet shoot three-pointers.

So, with that as the case, there’s nothing that should prevent the Lakers from drafting Ball if they have the chance and feel like he’s the best option available. He should certainly fit the way Walton would like this team to play on offense.

That said, adding Ball won’t quite help what was the worst defense in the league last season, ranking 30th in scoring allowed per possession. What that means is sooner rather than later they will have to consider moving two of Russell, Clarkson and Randle, as building a good defense around them surrounding Ball is probably unlikely.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (12.6%): We know what Sam Hinkie would do if Ball is the best rated player on their board when the Sixers are on the clock but Brian Colangelo’s priorities aren’t yet clear.

And the thing is Philadelphia just can’t catch enough of a break to head in a specific direction.

The fit of Ball with Ben Simmons can work fine on offense but would be very challenging on defense, as Simmons needs more of a 3&D point guard to supplement him and Ball is missing half of that skill-set. But if Joel Embiid is back and he is real and he is reliable, then it could be a worthy experiment.

When Embiid was on the court this season, the 76ers defended at an elite level and he really only had Robert Covington and TJ McConnell helping him out.

But it will probably always be unknown to which extent Embiid can be counted on and Philly gave up their hedge for his unavailability in exchange for Justin Anderson and two second round picks. Meanwhile, Jahlil Okafor is yet to show he’s interested in playing any sort of defense, even when he’s been the top center available and the one responsible for leading their efforts on that end.

As it’s always been the case in Philadelphia, it’s just hard to say what would make the most sense in a team context because they’ve never had the building blocks all healthy long enough at same time to figure anything out.

[1] He turns 20 in October

[2] He also hit a good deal of contested shots off the catch as well but it’s tougher to have an expectation those will translate

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

Markelle Fultz Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Markelle Fultz announced last week he is declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, terminating his brief cup of coffee at the University of Washington.

With that as the case and with the trade deadline gone, giving us a clearer picture regarding which teams are expected to have the higher odds of winning the lottery, it seems appropriate to start thinking some more about how the projected number one pick in the draft is expected to fit with each of these specific teams.

I’ve profiled his base skill-set with more depth last month but for the tl;dr crowd, here are the basics:

  • Fultz is considered one of the very best prospects of the last decade because his skill level is remarkably well polished for someone who won’t turn 19 until May. He does not have jaw-dropping quickness but can get wherever he wants on the court due to his dribble moves and ability to change speeds or directions with suddenness.

Consistently able to get separation to pull-up from mid-range and get to the basket in volume, Fultz has proven himself a very good scorer, as he’s averaged 26 points per 40 minutes while shooting 61.6% at the rim, 43.8% on two-point jumpers and 41.3% from beyond the arc – according to hoop-math.

He’s also shown to be a team-oriented player who makes the right reads when he manages to draw two to the ball, whether that’s passing across his body to the opposite end of the court, turning the corner out of the pick-and-roll, making the pocket pass when he gets downhill, hitting a big man spot up at the dunker’s spot at the last second or simply moving the ball around the horn when he gets a kick-out – assisting on 35% of Washington’s scores when he was on the floor this season and turning it over on just 13.4% of his possessions, according to our stats database.

  • Fultz’s combination of physical profile[1] and athleticism suggests he will offer positional versatility, giving his team’s general manager some flexibility for how to build a team around him. A model to follow is great but sometimes the market forces you to deviate from the plan and Fultz is envisioned as someone who can keep options open. Boston, for example, wouldn’t need to make a choice between Isaiah Thomas or Fultz. They should be able to just play together.

Offensively, Fultz is already there. He’s shown no problems playing without monopolizing possession of the ball. If anything, he’s shown a natural inclination towards being a ball mover. And he is a good catch-and-shoot three-point shooter.

But Fultz is not there yet defensively. In order to make these lineups with two point guards work, he will probably be the one guarding opposing wings and while he has good enough height and the length for it, Fultz probably lacks the strength[2] and toughness to do it often at this point.

He’s expected to bulk up eventually, though. And that expectation that he’ll meet the physical demands needed to guard bigger players soon enough is part of what makes Fultz such an appealing prospect – the idea that you’d able to plug him into whatever role you need of him.

  • Only one other prospect is in a reasonable discussion with Fultz for the top spot in this class: UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. Every other player is either not as well polished in as many aspects of the game, not as athletic or doesn’t offer the same potential – given Fultz’s age.

Ball, himself, also doesn’t meet these standards. He has several holes in his game, doesn’t have the same level of leaping ability and is seven months older than Fultz.

But Ball is not only better than Fultz in one specific skill (passing), but it seems as if he might be historically remarkable at it. At that point, it becomes a matter of who do you think has a higher chance of translating into difference-making greatness at the next level: someone who is good-to-very good at most things or someone who is historic at one thing.

  • Despite his individual statistical greatness, Fultz was unable to carry Washington into decency. When draft discussion becomes more prominent in more popular vehicles, he is probably going to get some crap for it. Discussions will be had about whether Fultz (who appears to have more of a laid-back nature and plays gracefully at his own pace[3]) has enough of a killer instinct to carry a team on his back.

But I tend to think that things are simpler: the team around him was poorly assembled and poorly coached, at least to compete in what was probably the best conference this season.

It could be argued that once it became clear Washington’s season was going poorly, Fultz had a responsibility to try forcing the issue some more. Since he can do more, more was expected of him. But then part of what makes him so appealing, the efficiency and team-oriented style of play, wouldn’t be there for us to praise him for it.

FITS

Boston has the highest odds of landing the number one selection, via Brooklyn’s pick, which they have the right to swap for. Very aware of it, the Celtics were cautious at the trade deadline, despite rumors that indicate Jimmy Butler and Paul George were available.

Given the way things played out, it seems fair to determine Boston is valuing its chances of getting Fultz (perhaps even Ball) higher than landing a player in his prime who still probably wouldn’t make the team good enough to beat Cleveland in the near future.

You can argue that they are underrating how much of a difference guys like those two can make and overrating how great Cleveland really is at this point. Nonetheless, the strategy here seems clear: Boston will be content striking a deal similar to the one New Orleans made for DeMarcus Cousins but it will not overpay for anyone. It wants to retain its assets and financial flexibility to try pulling off being good now and being good later, and their inactivity at the trade deadline indicates they feel this team is good enough for now that they don’t want to give up even an inch of their potential to be good later.

And if they get Fultz, then they are well set up for that.

Given the versatility of his skill-set on offense, Fultz can be paired perfectly well with Isaiah Thomas – spotting up on the weak-side when the diminutive star is on the ball or setting up the offense when Brad Stevens opts for having Thomas sprint around a series of screens to destabilize the defense and get him head-start attacking off a live dribble.

Fultz’s presence could also solve a pressing issue Boston has dealt with over the last two seasons, especially against playoff-caliber defenses: the lack of a functional offense when Thomas rests. The Celtics have rolled with Marcus Smart as their lead guard in those minutes this season but the Oklahoma State product hasn’t made any strides as a scorer, which figures to be a bigger problem in the postseason – when good defenses scheme to expose this exact sort of weakness.

When Thomas’ contract is up, Boston will have a tough decision to make, regarding whether or not it wants to pay him star money long term, while aware guards his size don’t age very well. But if they are comfortable doing so, Fultz’s presence shouldn’t be a restriction to keeping him both long term.

Fultz is not a particularly impressive defender at this point of his development but has the physical tools to become someone capable of checking opposing wings often. Given the track record of Boston’s coaching staff developing guys like Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart[4], there should be an expectation that if the Celtics were to land Fultz, he would at the minimum become a functioning part of a very good defense.

That sort of optimism wouldn’t be the same if he were to land with the Lakers, though.

Luke Walton got his team playing reasonably decently earlier in the season but things appear to be going off the rails over the last month. All this losing is good for the overall picture of the organization, as it helps them keep this year’s top three protected pick and improve their odds of getting Fultz.

That said, some of the enthusiasm that typically follows the start of an inevitable and unarguable rebuild appears to have been sapped by the reality of the grind and struggle that truly constitutes such a thing.

Early on, every pull-up three-pointer off the pick-and-roll by D’Angelo Russell, every grab-and-go off a defensive rebound by Julius Randle, every time Brandon Ingram initiated offense, every close loss were reasons for optimism. Now the losses aren’t that close anymore, Ingram is having a remarkably poor season scoring off the pick-and-roll, Randle looks like a tough guy to place in a modern team despite his empty numbers and Russell is losing playing time at the point.

They’ve also changed management in-season and it’s unclear how much of what’s already in place fits the vision Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have for the future of this team.

Fultz could re-ignite this franchise and fit alongside Russell or Jordan Clarkson much in the same way he would alongside Thomas in Boston, if both or either of those guys remain a part of the plan. His natural inclination towards moving the ball would be totally match Walton’s intentions of eventually turning this team into a carbon copy of the Warriors’ program where he was developed.

That said, if the Lakers were to keep their current course (very unlikely, given the opinions of such a path Johnson has stated publicly in the past), adding Fultz to this mix might be one unreliable defender too many. All of sudden it becomes tough to envision how Walton can build a good defense around a collection of Fultz, Russell, Clarkson, Randle and Ivica Zubac, with only Ingram and Larry Nance, Jr. projecting as potentially impactful defenders long term.

That, of course, doesn’t mean the Lakers should think twice about drafting Fultz if they have the chance. But it does mean they will to consider moving on from some of their other prospects eventually, as guys like Randle and Russell come up for extension soon enough and someone like Clarkson is asked about in trade inquires.

Yet, the outlook for Fultz would probably still be better in LA than it would be Phoenix, given the Suns don’t appear to be very good at this developing thing.

Forget the fact Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss didn’t look any good this season. Those two are teenagers and always had a small chance of looking any differently than they did right away.

Devin Booker is the top prospect in their system, averaging 20 points per 36 minutes in his first couple of seasons as a pro and looking a lot more capable of creating offense for himself and others than he did at any point at Kentucky.

But other than him, no one has gotten that much better through the years. TJ Warren still doesn’t shoot three-pointers and still doesn’t create for others. Alex Len has logged fewer minutes than Tyson Chandler this season despite the fact he’s appeared in 16 more games. Tyler Ennis and Kendall Marshall are long gone by now.

I guess Markieff Morris is the true success story this franchise has to show for over the last half-a-decade but his breakout in 2013-2014 was such a long time ago that Earl Watson was still playing.

Phoenix plays fast and has a bunch of veterans who understand what they signed up for to mentor their young prospects. They are trying to head in the right direction but there’s just no track record that indicates they’d be able to do so.

The Suns have Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight under contract for a while longer but their presences truly mean nothing if they can get Fultz. They will both be traded eventually, given they just don’t fit the timeline of rest of their young core.

Meanwhile in Philly, the picture is pretty clear. Brian Colangelo has not changed Sam Hinkie’s approach and didn’t invest anything of long-term consequence at the point guard position.

Ben Simmons will run every bit of offense when he is on the floor for now, that’s for sure, but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to defend opposing point guard on a full-time basis. Given he’s never shown to be the most interested defender, the 76ers will probably need to pair him with a 3D point guard to take those assignments away from him. As mentioned early, Fultz has the physical tools to be expected to develop into someone who can do that.

Obviously, if the Sixers could get Fultz, they wouldn’t just pigeonhole him into such a bit role. They will then try to recreate the reasonably cohesive dynamic LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have in Cleveland, though Simmons still needs to develop that catch-and-shoot three-point shot to act as a credible threat away from the ball.

And if Joel Embiid’s perennially uncertain health status ever stabilizes, then it’s hard to fathom the ceiling Philly could enjoy over the next decade. If it materializes, then they will probably have to build a statue for Sam Hinkie.

[1] Six-foot-four height, six-foot-nine wingspan – according to Draft Express

[2] Currently listed at 185 pounds

[3] Think about how someone like Russell Westbrook, who plays furiously at break-necking speed, is perceived as the greatest alpha-male these days

[4] Though it should be noted these guys were naturally inclined to playing hard on defense to begin with, which helps any coaching staff

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