The Unsung Heroes of the NBA Draft
We saw the media storm Zion Williamson as if he was the prophet to the coming of a new face set to be chiseled into the legends of the NBA Mount Rushmore. He has not stepped a foot onto an NBA court, yet is set to fulfill one of the most pressure filled responsibilities of players in his position. One of the most iconic pictures from media day was of Zion and Goga Bitadze set to answer to the media, where not a soul was coming to Goga, but rather they stormed the table to get what every fan has been begging since the start of his career at Duke, any inkling of news about Zion Williamson.
Now I am taking the opposite approach, as many analysts and NBA gurus have stated before, this draft is supposed to be a three-man draft. We have taken 60 people and have said that we only see three of them as potential franchise movers. Now, for me, I only stand with my credentials having worked in division one men’s basketball scouting and analyzing film, but from the hours and hours of film that I have watched over the years, every years there are players who creep the cracks of the completely inconsistent scouting and development tract that these players are assigned.
I write this article for the players who, in my opinion, could be the unsung heroes of this draft, the players that I felt could truly be difference makers that weren’t drafted in the lottery, but deem BIG UPSIDE, or so they say. Every year I have come up with players that I have watched and have seen characteristics of difference makers, leaders, or pure work horses that are overlooked for the young, potential filled projects that are seen as sexy. For every freshman taken in the top-5, there seems to be that junior or senior that slipped that makes a big impact on teams and becomes molded with their core. So for all this, maybe useless, intro I introduce to you the unsung heroes of the 2019 NBA draft.
Sekou Doumbouya — 15th Overall
Since the fall of Darko Milicic (and a few others) there is such a strong stigma against international players, a tendency to stave away from the unknown and this “soft European” style of play. I think we can finally say that this mentality is going away. Just this year the Giannis Antetokounmpo (MVP), Pascal Siakam (MIP), Luka Doncic (ROY), and Rudy Gobert (DPOY) rounded out four of the five player awards, and there is one thing in common…international.
Sekou Doumbouya, a native of Guinea, started playing basketball at the late age of 13, only five years ago, and comes in as the youngest player in the draft. He does not only come in with NBA ready body, 6'9" 230lbs, but also with professional experience, not quite to the extent of recent rookie of the year Luka Doncic, but along the same lines. This puts him in a very interesting category, as most 18 year old prospects don’t come in with this type of body or body of work.
Now film is not easy to find, it is what scares people the most. When March rolls around and most American basketball fanatics are flipping to see the breakouts of March Madness, they don’t see these international prospects thriving in their respective leagues. Do not fear, for I am here to break down the strengths, weaknesses, and player comparisons.
Now as we look at the film of his highlights which show in-game footage of Limoges CSP, the first thing you are going to see is his athleticism. It’s what he is, and frankly what most guys are when they are 18 and looking to make as much impact as they can. Sekou is a spark plug, and with his size and length (6'11" wingspan) he is truly a bulldozer in transition. This is his game at the moment on offense, he likes to run, he likes pace, and he wants to get to the bucket. His ball control can improve, but offensively he has the body control and the momentum to really make problems for defenses if he gets a head of steam. This leads very closely with his defensive tendencies. Sekou has the body to defend multiple positions, his length and energy cause problems, and it what’s going to get him on the floor the most in the early parts of his career. Coach Dwane Casey played 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown Jr. in the starting lineup numerous times last season due to his ability to defend, even when his offense was apparently non-existent. Sekou has shown to have the ability and agility for lateral quickness that extends to rim protection. He’s a fast big bodied man, but with the lack of experience and age it shows big gaps where he can improve also.
Sekou Doumbouya’s weaknesses stem heavily from his technical side. Film from his workouts and in-game footage shows some loose ball handling, which will improve, but also how to work in the half court. He spends so much time moving, his feel for slow paced basketball needs work. He is also very right hand heavy when finishing, his improvement in varying his finishing will lend to more successful offensive game. His overall offense is much weaker than his defense, which is usually a positive for rookies as offense can be focused on and we tend to see improvements in shooting and scoring quicker than defensive struggles. His shooting mechanics are fairly smooth, and he looks like could develop a shot, but he is very inconsistent in actually making his shots from beyond the arc. He is currently a 27% 3P shooter in his career, though it has improved, and a 62% FT shooter. In a land where shooting is so incredibly valued he stands to become great when he makes these improvements.
Now: Loul Deng Lite
Ceiling: Pascal Siakam (or current trajectory)
Darius Bazley — 23rd Overall
One the highest rated prospects just a year ago, now more of an unknown commodity as Bazley skipped his year of requirement needed before the NBA. He spent the last year as an intern for New Balance where he was training to prepare for the NBA. Another young guy (just turned 19), whose length and athleticism are going to wreak havoc. One the trends between Sekou and Bazley is guys that know how to move, and to stop once they get going. Bazley is just a long as Sekou, but he is much more of a finesse player. He also comes into the league as a much better shooter, in his high school programs as well as Nike and USA leagues he shot close to 80% from FT and shot 40% from 3 at NBPA. He runs well, he can play with back to the basket, and finish with both hands. He’s a very good rebounder, which is partly lent from his crazy vertical. Take a look at his highlights.
One of the biggest weaknesses of Darius Bazley is not having a high level coach under his belt, and there isn’t a good indication of where he is currently since training with New Balance. He’s raw, and the difference between him and Sekou is defense. He’s a smaller body, and while he does get up, he gets bumped a lot. He is only 200lbs, and his feel for the game is slightly off. There is a certain type of player whose always had the size and athletic advantage in high school and Bazley fits this. I think he’s going to be really good, I think his athleticism is special, and his finesse and shot put him in a better place than most of the guys who got along on natural skill. I think he’s beyond raw, and while his potential is high it will take a little bit of time before he reaches it, but he is going to be learning from Paul George who is exactly who he should try to emulate his game after. His fit will be good, but his shot needs to become more consistent, the more it does the more of an absolute need he will be in OKC.
Now: More athletic Nicholas Batum
Ceiling: Paul George Lite
Shamorie Ponds — Undrafted
The previous two players were both first round draft picks, but what about the guys that were missed on completely, who are the guys that are gonna make an impact on NBA roster and actually get consistent playing time AND make the contribution to winning basketball as a core member of the starting five? Shamorie Ponds is a guy I believe has potential to be a solid starter in the NBA and really make a difference for a team.
Shamorie is a little different than the first two unsung heroes as his athleticism isn’t what makes him great. We see guys who really succeed in the NBA that get picked late or go undrafted are the guys that truly have a feel for the game. Look at guys like Josh Hart, he was never a freak athlete and didn’t have the highest natural ability, but what he brought was consistency and dependability with his high IQ plays and knew his role. Ponds is someone who I feel can do that, but holds a higher ceiling, I don’t see him as just a rotational player, but as a true PG that can make a difference, think Jeff Teague in his prime.
Now what really brings my projection of Shamorie Ponds to being this missed prospect in the draft is his ability to find his way to the basket. He isn’t the fastest, and he can’t jump the highest, but he’s aggressive and he’s crafty. What I love about this guy is he is a fighter, and this lends well to my thought that he is going to work hard to become the great player he can be. Ponds is a competitor that just wants buckets, in the beginning of his career he’s going to be spark plug off the bench and can really make an impact right out of the gate on that end. One of the big benefits I see is that he won’t be the primary scorer on any team at the beginning and it’s going to help him really secure a role, at Saint Johns he was the sole offensive engine that created a focused defensive sheme against him. He’s going to get more room, and it will definitely give him time to learn, exploit the defense with his aggressive drives, and do what he does — get buckets. On the offensive creation end he has improved as he became the primary focus on offense at SJU. He has become a better playmaker and has shown he can run a unit. It’s not his primary strength, but it’s more of a neutral skill within his game.
As with any undrafted player, there is obvious flaws to his game. It starts with his size, at only 6'1" you’d expect him to be a great athlete to be able to compete, but really he is just slightly above average. This affects his game in a lot of areas. With the focus from the defense he got in college, his shot never developed as much as what you’d hope, and his small stature really does limit his defense. With the size increases we’ve seen in the NBA, with point forwards, or 6'6" point guards, defense isn’t going to get easier. If there is one thing that frightens me in Ponds really realizing his potential is that he needs to stay on the floor, and if he gets exploited on defense it’s not going to be easy. There are a lot of guys who can score, but they only care about the next points they can put up, and the huge gap in their skills is seen in their defense. The difference I see with Shamorie is he has shown he can run an offense, and he has shown he works hard, his play style is playing with a lot of energy and that’s the type of players that typically figure it out. Look at Montrezl Harrell, he is a guy who didn’t possess mastery of anything, undersized for his position, but his energy is ultimately his greatest skill, and he dominates in that.
Now: Scoring Ish Smith
Ceiling: Jeff Teague