While this year’s draft is short on big men outside of the lottery, there are a whole lot of wings and combo guards that fit the 3&D mold. Many players project as high level role players in the NBA – either due to their skillset or their production. But that makes you wonder, “Why can’t we look at more high upside prospects?” Depending on the situation they fall under, any of these players could exceed expectations. (That seems super obvious.) A player like Zhaire Smith may just be scratching the surface on his potential. Even a mid lottery selection like Mikal Bridges could expand his game just a little and be a team’s second or third best player. As of right now, none of us know how these prospects will end up. We don’t know if they’re even on Sean Marks’ radar. But we can still do our research.
Mikal Bridges, Wing, Villanova (CMP: 8.75)
Bridges (the Villanova one) is ready to play in the NBA right now. Bridges is probably the best 3&D prospect in the entire draft – with the pedigree, skills, and measurements to be a high-level role player. Bridges has improved his shooting every season at Villanova, going from a 30% shooter to a 44% shooter – all while extending his range beyond he college 3 and back towards the NBA stripe. His shot release is clean and concise, and is able to shoot it coming off of handoffs and movement due to solid footwork. Bridges’ athleticism and soft touch shines when he flashes to the rim. He’ll likely be successful as a cutter or attacker off of closeouts as a pro. While he may not be a ballhandling threat as a pro, he does have a solid understanding of reading defenses, rarely forcing his offense and setting up teammates. Defensively, Bridges has length, smarts, and quickness to fuel his defensive repertoire. He shows great anticipation in the passing lanes, and competes both on and off-ball. Bridges will be able to comfortably guard positions 1-3 at the NBA level.
Seemingly, Bridges’ major flaws could be coachable. He was never an elusive ballhandler, scoring more off the catch and shoot and spotting up. That puts a damper on his ability to truly attack defenses going to the rim or off the dribble. His shot may be a little streaky at times, but that could be said for any great shooter. While Bridges’ length and height make him a decent candidate to start at small forward and play spurt minutes at the 4, he lacks the necessary bulk to do so successfully. He may struggle defending stronger forwards in the vein of Jayson Tatum. But Bridges’ advanced age for a prospect may limit his upside.
So…why am I writing about a consensus lotto pick? The Nets could end up in the middle of the first round – for the cost of a Kenneth Faried, Dwight Howard, Nicolas Batum, or Ian Mahinmi (to name a few). We have yet to see a yellow grey NetsDaily banner, but it doesn’t mean Sean Marks isn’t working. Bridges – due to his lack of upside – may be the type of player that falls in the draft in favor of more higher potential prospects. Still, Bridges is a player that could thrive with the Nets – his lack of ballhandling ability is an area Kenny Atkinson has worked on with several players. He may fill the Otto Porter mold the Nets were looking for last summer.
Zhaire Smith, Wing, Texas Tech (CMP: 14.50)
Can a lobs and blocks guy be 6’4”? Because Smith can be that player. The definition of functional athleticism, Smith rises…and rises. He possesses superb speed, and may score a majority of his points in transition, with solid handle. Smith seems to always be moving, active enough to crash the boards and even set screens in the pick and roll. Interestingly, Smith played center in high school, and may still be developing as a swingman. While he only attempted 40 threes in his freshman season, his 45.0% shooting percentage from deep is a positive sign. Smith’s athleticism and activity is explicit on the defensive end. Despite his average stature, Smith was willing to defend every position when needed. He’s quick and strong enough to fight around screens, and isn’t afraid to get right into the offensive player. He makes solid reads, and is fairly disciplined defending on ball. Smith is the type to play the passing lanes, and emphatically block shots on the weak side or in transition.
As an offensive player, Smith is sashimi. While he did shoot at a solid clip at Texas Tech, his future as a shooter could be a wildcard. He barely took any threes in high school because he was a center. His jumper is very…armsy, with a lot of elbow action in the shot. He may need to refine his standstill shot before even venturing into shooting off the dribble consistently. As a ballhandler, Smith also may need more time to learn more advanced moves, rather than being a straight line drive dribbler. On the defensive end, Smith may tend to be a little wild at times due to his activity.
Smith is a player that skyrocketed up draft boards due to his very solid season at Texas Tech. He possesses the athletic tools necessary for an explosive, energetic wing off the bench. While the Nets have solid shooters in their second unit, they really lacked in players to give them a little extra oomph on the defensive end. He could make a living off of backdoor cuts in a spread system like the Nets. In the mid-first round, he’ll be there for the taking. Can the Nets overlook his raw game?
Khyri Thomas, Guard, Creighton (CMP: 28.25)
Thomas is a defensive demon. With great measurements for a combo guard, Thomas can make an impact right away on defense. He suffocates offensive players with his defense, showing excellent footwork and anticipation. It’s super cliché, but he never takes a play off. Thomas is a player that can switch seamlessly on defense. He creates deflections on defense and is quick to recover after getting screened. On the offensive end, Thomas excels as a spot up shooter, hitting consistent marks in all three of his collegiate seasons. He uses his shot to create opportunities off the bounce, where he can get to the rim on simple drives. He’s strong enough to finish through contact or twist his way to avoid a shotblocker. As a playmaker, Thomas doesn’t hesitate, throwing push ahead passes and spotting open teammates on the perimeter.
While he projects as a combo guard, Thomas may be best as a secondary or tertiary ballhandler. Because of this, setting lineups with him could be difficult, as he more than likely should be the smallest player on the floor. His handle isn’t too advanced, and he likely won’t break opponents down with slick moves. Thomas could struggle if a player with the same intensity as him applies some pressure. Despite his fearlessness, Thomas isn’t an above the rim finisher, and will be more suited to drive and kick, rather than drive and score.
The NBA’s perimeter players are more skilled than they ever have been, with the ability to shoot from the perimeter off the dribble almost compulsory. Teams will need stoppers, and Thomas is one of the best pure perimeter defenders in this year’s draft. Even if in a complementary role, he could be useful for teams looking to at least annoy strong perimeter players. The Nets are starting to trend in the right direction defensively, forcing lots of midrange shots. A stopper like Thomas could bring NBA ready promise to the often-shaky Nets defense.
De’Anthony Melton, Guard, USC (CMP: 30.00)
Right now more of a “D” prospect rather than a “3&D” player, Melton is a player that does a little of everything. Although his raw numbers at USC in 2016-2017 were average, his skillset has propelled him into the first round. Melton is a solid ballhandler, comfortable initiating the offense and setting up his teammates off penetration or in pick and roll. As a scorer, Melton shows excellent body control when attacking the rim, contorting his way past bigs. He plays under control and doesn’t try to force things. Melton’s intangibles shine on defense. He defends with discipline, always in his stance. Melton is very active in the passing lanes, but is also able to recover quickly. He also tracks down rebounds well for his size, understanding angles to grab boards amongst the trees. Melton also shows good anticipation on defense as well, with his 1 block per game showing his true versatility.
Alright. So Melton’s shot doesn’t look bad. But he doesn’t make a lot of his jumpers. It could be due to inconsistent mechanics or poor hand positioning, but Melton will need to improve his jumper to succeed in the league. Melton also wasn’t a dominant scorer at USC, as evidenced by his low scoring numbers. He isn’t an explosive or agile player, so he could struggle against NBA level athleticism. Melton hasn’t played competitive basketball in a year after being declared ineligible by the NCAA. It’s a huge nitpick of mine, but a year off of playing basketball could really hurt the development of a prospect.
Melton would be a solid, do-it-all combo guard for the Nets at pick 29. Despite his lack of shooting, he could be a player that does everything at a solid level. His rebounding at the guard slot could be an interesting skill for the Nets, especially if they decide to play undersized again (highly likely.) Melton is an under-the-radar prospect could be a defensive leader and table setter for the Nets off the bench.
Josh Okogie, Wing, Georgia Tech (CMP: 30.50)
On an underachieving Georgia Tech squad, Okogie was one of the few players that shined. He handled a large portion of the offensive load, where he scored solidly, attacking off the bounce and shooting decently. The most interesting part of Okogie’s offensive game is his propensity to get to the free throw line, attempting nearly 7 a game. He’s not afraid to get into the defense and draw contact after a quick first step. When not getting to the line, Okogie shows ability shooting off the bounce. He also showed confidence shooting off the catch-and-shoot from the NCAA three-point line. As a ballhandler, he always looks to pass ahead and find open shooters. Okogie is decisive, strong, and agile, which will help him defend multiple positions in the NBA. He shows good footwork and anticipation on-ball, and he uses his length to contain penetration. Okogie also plays with constant energy on both ends, despite the heavy workload he had at Georgia Tech.
While Okogie shot solidly from the perimeter, many question his shot mechanics. He has a low release point and slow shot. This could hurt him if he’s matched up against longer defenders. He isn’t a great ballhandler, so that could force him into a lower usage role as a pro. Additionally, Okogie will need to improve his ballhandling if he wants to continue drawing fouls at a high rate at the rim. On the defensive end, Okogie was a little too active at times, committing nearly 3 fouls a game. He had the tendency to swipe and initiate contact, which is something he’ll have to work on.
Another solid candidate for pick 29, Okogie will fit well into the Nets’ scheme. While many have projected him as purely a 3&D prospect with a smaller role than he had in college, he could be a pace pushing swingman for the Nets. His ability to attack, and his energy on the defensive end are positive signs for him in a spread system. Additionally, Okogie may have untapped potential, because his system at Georgia Tech was cramped and lacked talent. He impressed at the Draft Combine, and could be showing more in pre-draft workouts. Also, my favorite writer on The Ringer, Danny Chau, likes him too!
Up Next: 3&D Candidates, Part 2